I’m going to walk down a path here, and I don’t know if anyone will follow.
I also go into this knowing that my points can often be misconstrued and twisted when the nuances in my positions are deliberately ignored.
Be that as it may, many of you have emailed to ask that I chime in on this, so here we go.
You may have heard about nine-year-old Grayson Bruce and his now-famous My Little Pony backpack. Here he is, alongside his mother and the notorious piece of apparel:
As the story goes — at least according to one side of it — young Grayson brought his My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic gear to school, which prompted other boys to bully him. Grayson says that he was “called horrible names,” “punched,” and “pushed.” The school allegedly responded by, in part, telling Grayson to leave his My Little Pony accessories at home, claiming that it was causing an undue distraction.
The way the media and Grayson’s mom tell it, the school has given the bullies a total pass.
I’m not actually sure if this is true — and I suspect it isn’t. If the kid was literally assaulted by groups of boys, I find it hard to believe that none of the offenders have been punished.
I’m not accusing the mom of dishonesty, but I do think she’s demonstrated a capacity for hyperbole, as evidenced by this quote:
“Saying a lunchbox is a trigger for bullying is like saying a short skirt is a trigger for rape.”
She just compared her son to a rape victim. Tragically, many young boys in this country have been sexually assaulted, and it’s rather unconscionable to minimize those atrocities by likening them to a child being harassed over My Little Pony.
Now, if the world was full of sane and lucid human beings, it probably wouldn’t be necessary for me to offer the following qualifier, but it isn’t so I must:
Clearly, I neither condone nor support any person — man or woman, boy or girl — who would physically assault or verbally abuse any other person merely for their taste in cartoon programs, or for any other reason. These bullies ought to be punished and punished severely. Like the rest of humanity, I am unequivocally against bullying.
If Grayson were my son, I certainly wouldn’t tell him that he deserves this treatment — far from it. I’d take him aside, as my dad did with me, and tell him that he must always be prepared to stand up for himself. I’d tell him that nobody ever has the right to abuse him. I’d tell him that he may even need to respond physically, and I’d give him the two caveats that my dad gave me: 1) You may hit back in self-defense. 2) You may hit back in order to defend some other innocent person.
Never instigate. Never provoke. But always stand tall with conviction and courage.
That said, I’m very uncomfortable with the reaction to this story. Seemingly everyone’s taken the same stance on this latest viral Outrage Du Jour. They say the school is wrong, the boy should keep wearing the backpack, and we should all celebrate the individuality and self-expression of a male who watches a TV show about unicorns.
Unfortunately, I can’t quite get on board with all of that. And I can give you three reasons why:
1) As long as the bullies are made to suffer serious consequences (I cannot emphasize that enough), I’m not sure I have any problem with the school’s reaction here. The administrators have been accused of “victim blaming,” but that’s just one of the new euphemisms we toss around anytime someone in authority looks to find a pragmatic solution to a difficult problem.
It would appear that we are no longer allowed to assign any responsibility to the victimized party, nor are we permitted to search for an answer that at all, in any fashion, to any extent, involves even the slightest modification of behavior on the victim’s part. Nowadays, if I am mugged and robbed while walking down a dark alley at night in west Baltimore, it would be highly offensive of you to breathe even the mildest notion that perhaps I ought to avoid such strolls in the future. The false dichotomy is presented: either you arrest and charge the muggers, or you urge caution and discernment on my part.
You are not allowed to do both anymore.
It isn’t fair or right that a boy’s enthusiasm for a show called My Little Pony — featuring unicorns named Twilight Sparkle, Applejack, Fluttershy, Rainbow Dash, and Pinkie Pie — would lead to bullying, but it does. I suppose it shouldn’t cause a distraction, but it does. What, now, must be the priority of the educational system? To protect a boy’s right to wear unicorns on his backpack, or to maintain order and focus in the classroom? It’s not as though a child’s My Little Pony gear represents some heroic stand for a virtuous ideal or important ethical principle.
It’s just a child’s cartoon show, designed and marketed towards girls, but also watched by a certain collection of passionate male fans. Is this the hill to die on? Really? As a parent — knowing that the undeniable oddity of a boy wearing a girl’s backpack will lead to a certain level of mockery and chaos among his peers — why would you permit him to continue? Because he wants to?
Sure, we don’t want to teach our kids to hide “who they are” for fear of abuse from small minded bullies, but we also don’t want to teach them that “because I like it” is enough of a justification to do something that will cause problems for other people. The other people in this scenario would be, not the bullies, but the teachers and neutral students who’d rather not be bothered by the whole ordeal.
Speaking of hiding who they are, that’s bring us to…
2) I don’t believe that Grayson’s affinity for My Little Pony has anything to do with “individuality” or “self-expression.” This is a cartoon show produced by a subsidiarity of the multinational conglomerate known as Hasbro. The Pony gear is mass produced kid’s apparel, which his mother likely bought at Toys ‘R Us, Target, Walmart, or some such place. This stuff is packaged, marketed, and sold in bulk. Individuality? Hardly. Call it whatever you want to call it, but “individuality” isn’t involved here.
As mentioned above, many bloggers and internet commenters have lamented that Grayson is being made to feel ashamed of “who he is.”
So he is defined by his affection for cartoon unicorns, is he? That backpack speaks to the very substance of his soul, does it?
This is precisely the problem with modern culture (well, one of the many problems). We all walk around following fads and trends — some of which are DESIGNED to elicit glares and guffaws from non-trendy “prudes” — and then we act as if we’ve been attacked on a molecular level when someone expresses distaste for our plastic-wrapped, calculated, corporately constructed “image.” I’m not accusing nine-year-old Grayson of falling into this category, but this does describe many in the Outraged Mass who choose to hoist up a My Little Pony backpack, and march under it like a battle flag.
To prove my point, the “Bronies” have turned Grayson into a martyr for their cause.
What are Bronies, you ask? I was unfamiliar myself until recently. Evidently, these are a sub-culture of grown men who love My Little Pony. They gather together on internet forums and discuss the show. They congregate at Brony Conventions.
They are involved in a fad that is one in a long line of similar fads, all bound by one goal: to do bizarre things, then dare anyone to call it a bizarre thing.
I, for one, will take the challenge. It is bizarre for grown men to be such passionate lovers of a little girl’s cartoon show about unicorns.
Yes, it is bizarre. But bizarre ain’t unique these days. It isn’t individualistic or bold. It is precisely what it purports to attack: collectivism.
But the boy, Grayson, isn’t yet a Brony. He’s just a kid and, for now, the show is just a show. It’s frivolous and unimportant. Better for his mother to steer him away from it before it becomes something more than that. The problem with the Bronies isn’t solely the fact that My Little Pony is girly, it’s that adults shouldn’t be obsessed with children’s cartoon shows. It isn’t healthy.
3) This next part probably won’t come as a surprise, but here it is: I wouldn’t let my son wear a My Little Pony backpack to school. I don’t think anyone should.
I wouldn’t let my son wear the backpack, I would discourage him from being a fan of the show, and I would and will guide my son away from “girly” things and towards “boyish” things. If my son wanted to wear a skirt, I wouldn’t let him. If he wanted me to buy him a Barbie doll, I wouldn’t buy it. If he wanted his room adorned in My Little Pony paraphernalia, I wouldn’t do it. Both my son and my daughter will not be able to do everything they want to do, nor “express themselves” in every way they wish to express themselves. In fact, my wife and I will have a lot to do with shaping their “selves,” thereby shaping their expression.
The one thing lost (besides sanity, reason, rationality, and coherence) in this modern idea of “genderless” parenting is that boys do need to be taught how to be boys, and girls do need to be taught how to be girls. We can’t sit back and say, “hey Junior, a boy is whatever you think a boy should be.” Junior doesn’t know what a boy should be — that’s where you come in. That’s why you’re the parent. This doesn’t mean that all boys should like to play in the dirt and read books about dinosaurs (although I think both are valuable pursuits), and it doesn’t mean that all girls should like to play dress up and brush their doll’s hair.
But there’s quite a wide gulf between rigidly forcing our children to fit every superfluous stereotype associated with their genders, and acting as though their sex ought to have no bearing on their behavior and habits at all. “Gender” (or “sex,” as science calls it) might not be relevant to everything, but it isn’t irrelevant to everything, either.
Shows like My Little Pony, starring unicorns named “Rainbow,” probably aren’t particularly useful to kids of any chromosomal composition. They’d all be better off reading books and playing outside. But they especially don’t do anything to help a boy become a man. They don’t assist a young boy in his quest to discover true masculinity. They don’t provide any answers to him.
It’s quite easy to look at these things from a utilitarian perspective. Why is pink girly? Why can’t a boy play with dolls? Why shouldn’t a boy wear makeup? It’s true that, on the surface, these all appear to be mechanically neutral things. A color is just a color, a doll is just a bit of plastic and fake hair, make up is just a dash of face paint. What’s the difference?
Yet these associations aren’t entirely inventions of toy manufacturers. They aren’t just societal conventions. And even if they were just societal conventions, I’ve yet to hear anyone articulate a good reason to dismantle them. As Chesterton said, modern progressives tear down a fence without knowing why the fence was erected in the first place. And where does that leave us? With more confusion and listlessness, as far as I can tell.
Still, one kid watching My Little Pony can’t lead to the utter destruction of culture and tradition.
I’m not saying that.
I’m not the one making a big deal out of this.
I’m just trying to offer a different perspective, even if it’s the perspective of a dwindling minority.
I was ready to jump on the My Little Pony hate train, until I remembered that both boys and girls from my generation liked Care Bears. Fluffy, pastel-colored Care Bears whose special powers involved “combining to form a ray of love and good cheer which could bring care and joy into the target’s heart.” Super manly, right? So, I wonder if it’s simply that more and more shows, toys, etc, are being marketed as specifically targeted towards girls or boys, therefore it’s not so much the subject matter but the marketing that makes you think it bad for boys to watch?
Thank God you are the dwindling minority.
Amen. Finally someone with some com mom spence and perspective!
So, I am a former elementary ESL school teacher. I once had a student who had just moved here from Egypt and spoke no English at all bring a pink and purple pencil case and two princess fairy spiral notebooks to school. He showed them to me before anyone else in the class saw them. I ended up calling back one of my other students from Egypt, a girl, and having her translate for me. I told him that here in America, those things were usually used by girls, and I was worried the other boys in the class would make fun of him. I suggested that he could use them at home, and I would give him some plain colored notebooks and a pencil box to use at school. He agreed this was a good plan. Honestly, I didn’t think much about this. I was trying to protect him from the comments I knew the other boys would say. I would by no means have allowed these boys to bully him, but I also knew I couldn’t protect him from other students’ comments 24/7. Kids can be cruel. I’ve seen it firsthand. I honestly think this boy’s school was trying to help him not become a target, as I was doing with my new student. I really don’t see why this turned into such a big deal.
Matt, I hope your son never wears black, because that means he’s going to turn into a sullen goth! I hope your daughter never gets a short haircut, because that means she’s going to turn into an angry, man-hating dyke!
Congratulations on perpetuating stereotypes. You should be proud of yourself. Ohwait, it’s clear from your post that you are.
To me, asking a kid to not wear a particular backpack is more like asking him to avoid certain major roads than dark alleyways. It’s not the end of a world to ditch the backpack, but it’s already been paid for and he likes it. It would be a inconvenience for him to get rid of it now. Avoiding dark alleyways is one thing, being asked to take another road just to avoid harm is another.
Also, that show rules.
I’m sorry, what? We’re worried about “inconvenience” now? I don’t know about you, but if I knew of a major road where there were a lot of accidents on a daily basis, I would avoid driving on that freaking road. Getting into an accident because of someone else is pretty inconvenient for me, and getting bullied because I insist on wearing a my little pony backpack is also pretty inconvenient. It comes down to what is more important, what I actually have control over and what I wish I had control over, BUT I DON’T.
I typically agree with your posts. This time…nope. The issue was about the school banning the backpack. It was wrong. Period.
Yeah, thanks for the good sense as usual Matt. It can be a tough issue to address in our society that has gotten so confused. There is usually just enough truth in their complaints that it is hard to separate that from the garbage. Regardless, I’m with you. My children need me to teach them how to be a man or a woman and I’ll do so.
That doesn’t mean a boy needs to be into sports and cars (God knows I’m not) or a girl needs to be into pink and frilly dresses (my wife certainly isn’t), but we are different and our children need us to show them the way. Not leave them wandering in the wilderness.
Great blog, great comment! I 100% agree with both. What good are we as parents if we aren’t willing to guide our own children in who they are to become?
You don’t let your son wear a MLP bag to school because not only is it awkward, but gay, and gay goes against Christianity. Before someone replies by saying that you can still make it to heaven by being gay, no you cannot. The proof? Because if you were a real gay christian, you would know that god destroyed a city, reasons why? Prostitutes, adultry, and HOMOSEXUALLITY. No one decides to listen to me because I am only 13 though, some people listen to me when I reach out to them, I have changed lives, but christians have changed today, and no one today is really a christian anymore.
Haha, it really does seem like that sometimes doesn’t it? Don’t worry, I’m thirteen, too and can attest that there truly are the fabled real christians in this world. Albeit far and few between.
you say he can hit back in ‘self defence’ but didn’t jesus teach turning the other cheek?
Wow, there’s quite a mixed bag of comments here. Though they all seem to be either “You’re completely right in every way” or “Go die I hate you.” You bring up quite a few good points throughout this, though I can’t agree entirely. There are gender borders, and I wouldn’t blame you for not letting your son have a MLP backpack, however, I don’t feel that every little thing a child does or enjoys needs to “assist a young boy in his quest to discover true masculinity.” It’s not as if he has to stop because it isn’t a virtuous guide into becoming a REAL MAN.
Guessing that by ‘pragmatic solution to a difficult problem’ you mean, Ignoring the real problem of educating the other children on individuality and you know, not being a violent little dickhead. That is what schools are for, right? Education? Or did I miss something?
Maybe being beaten up in school is not the same as rape but it’s still fucking awful!
I can’t believe what I’m reading.
I walk into a pub wearing a red t-shirt and the rest of the clientele kick the shit out of me for some reason; maybe they associate it with a sports team that just beat the pub’s regular’s favorite or something. I’m to blame apparently, for wearing an item of clothing that insights violence.
You say its not individuality because it’s made and sold in bulk. But tons of people express themselves through clothing do you not? So are you saying just because our clothes are made in bulk it means we aren’t expressing ourselves…yes he’s kind’s portraying himself in a non-boyish way by wearing My Little Pony gear, but if he likes that it shouldn’t matter what others think he still shouldn’t be bullied because of it.
People with your mindset will be extinct within a matter of a few decades. Your kind is outdated and a burden on society. Enjoy your last days, you are of a dying breed.
You know, it’s funny. You say that, but really, conservative Christians are outbreeding leftists by huge margins. Democrats are aborting themselves out of existence. It appears that people like Matt will own the future.
Might doesn’t make right by any means. The point is that this kind of worldview is becoming more and more on the fringe and can’t be taken seriously as people become more aware of things and get outside of insular security bubbles they’ve made for themselves
Eh, both sides are getting more polarized. All I know is that the death of Christianity has been predicted many a time before and has yet to materialize. If Communist China can’t stamp it out even though they tried, I don’t think American liberals will be able to. (no, Communists and Liberals aren’t the same thing, just making a point)
No one said anything about Christianity itself dying out: more that antiquated views that are generally damaging to society, particularly in terms of treatment of minorities, will die out, for the most part. Religion as a phenomenon in America is far more susceptible to patterns of people’s interest more than strict adherence to doctrine in all facets of life, since it’s both severed from and yet connected with the secular aspect of society: free from government intrusion or support (for the most part)
Communism exists on a spectrum to begin with, but liberal as a term is just as multifaceted, since you have the older understanding of it that’s closer to conservatism today.
That’s a big discussion that goes far beyond the subject of this article. You’d have to go issue by issue. People are wising up and becoming more tolerant of homosexuals and more inclusive towards minorities, yes. But how about big-government leftism? How about over-intrusive government in our everyday lives? Not that I actually WANT to go into that here, I just think it’s ridiculous when anyone says, “You’re the dinosaur! The world will be owned by people other than you!”
Homosexuals and minorities, barring those that are demonstrably damaging in some way that anyone could see (pedophiles come to mind), don’t deserve to be treated like they do. Disagreements on politics have existed for centuries, but I don’t think one can conflate being a minority with being a particular political party, except perhaps demographically speaking. Social issues make it a bit easier to condemn others, since they’re easier to discern by comparison to fiscal, foreign or domestic policy.
Pingback: It’s Not About A Backpack, It’s About Raising A Happy Human Being -
There are several things wrong with your argument.
1. Yes, victim blaming is ALWAYS wrong. No one has the right to assault or harass you, no matter the environment or what you’re wearing. That little boy has the right to show up at school (not a dark alley. A SCHOOL. A safe and public environment) wearing a backpack he likes without being bullied, and without being punished because he was bullied. The school probably didn’t do anything to punish those kids. Schools, especially elementary schools, try to be passive. It doesn’t look good if they put a bunch of kids in detention. I wouldn’t be surprised if they saw the backpack as the source of the problem, told the boy not to wear it so they could diffuse that problem, and gave the bullies a little slap on the wrist. But it wasn’t the little boy who distracted the learning environment with his backpack. It was the boys who teased him who did. Therefore THEY should be punished, not him.
2. There’s nothing wrong with him wearing that backpack in the first place. The idea that it isn’t ok for him to wear a backpack with unicorns on it because it’s distracting is sexist (yes, sexism can happen in young children too) because had a girl been wearing that backpack, nothing would have happened to her. And to tell kids it’s ok for a girl to wear something but not a boy soley based on “well it’s a girly thing” isn’t ok. Gender stereotypes are a social construct. WE, as a society, invented them. There is nothing inherently wrong with him liking a show about brightly colored horses who talk about friendship. Saying that that is inherently feminine and therefore wrong for him to participate in only separates boys and girls.
3. Yes, you are forcing a child to be what they’re not. You are forcing them not to express their individuality. That doesn’t change just because it’s mass produced. You’re confusing “individuality” with “one of a kind” or “unique”. Choosing how to express yourself as an individual is not based on how many other people like what you do or how rebellious and off the grid your interests are. And if I can tell people as a girl “Hi, I like Batman comics and Ninja Turtles are awesome” as a way to express my interests, this boy should be able to say “Hi. I like My Little Pony” without being teased.
Sex and gender are not the same thing. “Sex” is only biological. You are biologically male (XY) or female (XX)-usually anyway. “Gender” is the social construct of how we express sex, the idea that certain things are ok for boys and certain things are ok for girls. Those social constructs have changed over the years. Did you know that in the 1920s, it was considered normal for boys to wear pink, skirts, and curls in their hair? And yet you say that those are all things you wouldn’t let your son do to express himself. Funny, huh?
2. Bronies are NOT a group of grown men unnaturally obsessed with a little girl’s television show. It is the name of ALL people who like MLP, including children and girls. I’m sure you grew up in a different time, but today’s youth-even into their twenties and thirties-were raised on cartoons. Cartoons are how we defined our interests as children. And unlike the previous generations, we haven’t felt the need to abandon this aspect of our childhood simply because we grew up. There is nothing about cartoons that is inherently childish: it’s just a form of media like any other television show. And there’s nothing wrong with MLP for that matter. It’s a well written, well animated show with good morals and relatable characters. What about that is wrong for an adult? Because the colors are girly? Because it’s about horses? Because it strives to maintain a family friendly atmosphere? It’s funny how as an adult I can watch old shows like SpongeBob, Dexter’s Lab, Batman, or Transformers and people say it’s “nostalgic”, but when I like a similar show like MLP I’m “a freak”.
I feel sorry for your kids. Also you say sexism as if its a bad thing. It means treating people differently according to their gender which all healthy cultures have always done.
Very interesting article. I came across this after a long discussion with a friend about my generation (I’m in my early 20s) and how my generation takes on major forms of regression into the college and even post-college years. This generation is selfish, and rather than focusing on finding their place to make a difference in the world, young people are finding more and more pieces of entertainment to indulge in. I don’t have much of an opinion on a little boy liking My Little Pony, but I think there is something to be said about the grown men who obsess over it. Remember that when one decides how they will dress and present themselves, they are choosing the identity they want to be associated with. Should grown men really be identifying with a little girls’ cartoon? Or even any cartoon for that matter? I know a lot of guys in their 20s who like Pokemon, and even though I have fond memories of watching the Pokemon cartoon as a kid, I can by no means condone the idea of being a “big fan” even into adulthood. Anyway, my reply may be long and scatterbrained, but I think it would be great if you wrote and article that goes in depth more on the “brony” culture and explains just why it is a problem. An article that delves deep enough to explain that it is more than simply a cartoon, and explains the regressive state of mrn putting off adulthood.
Enjoying any fandom (be it Star Trek, Dr. Who, Pokemon, Naruto or the like) is not the same as making that your entire identity. One can love something without obsessing over it and the Bronies the OP brings up aren’t anything he can make a sweeping generalization about, because all he knows is secondhand and nothing direct from communication with Bronies.
Your claim of regression is, again, something that might apply to some, same as any fans of a show have their minority that behave in an unseemly manner, but the fallacy of composition is often used in arguments of this nature and you’re no exception. What is true of the parts is not true of the whole: maybe you should start getting to know people overall instead of reducing them to something that you don’t see eye to eye with them on. Most of my friends that enjoy similar things that I do aren’t people I agree with on religion or politics necessarily: but I don’t let that cloud my judgment and association with them. There are people I wouldn’t want to associate with from conventions, but that’s something that can be excused within the context of a convention, since they can learn (ideally) that they should tone down some actions or attitudes.
Being a big fan into adulthood doesn’t mean you neglect being an adult by any means: there are factors that you don’t see that affect people’s individual progressions and advancements, such as the job market, etc.
I agree with the points you make. However, when you said “maybe you should start getting to know people overall instead of reducing them to something that you don’t see eye to eye with them on”, I think I may need to confirm that indeed many of my good friends ascribe to this “brony” fandom and when I label things such as this as “regression” it is not simply because I “don’t see eye to eye”, but rather because I have recognized a failure to launch among many of these people. For example, I know a 21 year old male who does not have his driver’s license. This is not because he is unable, but rather because he has not shown any motivation to do so. He is addicted to playing on the computer and doesn’t really care about ever doing anything else. It’s sad really, and it’s things like this that make me question my generation’s addiction to entertainment. And in the end, I do realize this is not true for everyone, but I have witnessed it firsthand among many people, and it’s not something I can condone.
You’re making two different arguments entirely: 1 is saying that it’s because of the fandom association that these people are having difficulties, the other is unrelated to being a fan at all and focuses on technology as the cause.
Make up your mind as to which one is the line of argumentation. The second one may be more valid than the other, but there are many factors as to why. I don’t have my driver’s license, though that’s not to say I’m not amassing knowledge regardless in terms of driving. The difficulty is time on the part of my parents as much as myself because they have things they’re involved in and can’t make the time. They’re trying, so don’t make this about either side, but put the blame equally on both of us.
I know plenty of people who are pretty huge fans of series, like Dr. Who or MLP, and yet they have a good job, living on their own with a roommate and have their license. To say that all people reflect on what is true of some is, again, the composition fallacy.
The issues you see may be more complex than what you observe initially: don’t forget that.
You said: “To say that all people reflect on what is true of some is, again, the composition fallacy.”
I said: “And in the end, I do realize this is not true for everyone, but I have witnessed it firsthand among many people, and it’s not something I can condone.”
But I honestly have better things to do than even talk about this anymore anyway. Let’s just go about out lives and agree to disagree. Heck, it’s not like either of us know who the other person is anyway haha
Those examples can be condemned and advised individually: a blanket statement against all Bronies because you know of some that have some issues leaving the nest is no different than thinking all Star Wars fans are fat nerds in their parents’ basements. Case by case basis, simple enough.