Does Barbie Need a Man? (page 2)
"My Barbies need a man," says my four–year–old daughter Hannah the very first time she lays eyes upon Groom Ken. There he stands, all boxed up and ready to wed, on the shelf at Target. "We have to get him."
Truthfully, her Barbies kind of do need a man. She has seven, nearly all inherited from the older girl next door. One is Bride Barbie, complete with a wedding gown and veil, tiered cake, and ready–to–toss bouquet. Because Hannah is enchanted with all things marital, her Barbies have been marrying each other for some time now. When they're not having weddings or changing their outfits, they are busy being doctors—Hannah's other great obsession—and conducting emergency surgery on each other.
I don't buy Groom Ken, though I'm sure he'll be in my cart soon enough. The truth is, I have some mixed feelings about bringing him home. It's not that I think that a Barbie without a Ken is like a fish without a bicycle. It's more that Groom Ken is a reminder that we are fast approaching the point when Hannah will need to navigate a world in which Barbie almost always marries Ken instead of another Barbie, a world in which her two moms don't quite fit.
For now, as far as Hannah knows, my partner Jane and I are just as married as the moms and dads of her friends. The fact is, I have a hard time imagining anyone being more married than we are after nearly 25 years together. So yes, I tell Hannah, Mommy and I are married. It's the truth, legal or not. And it's what I want Hannah to absorb: Her family is all right. Her family is normal. Her family, in fact, is really pretty dull.
I realize, of course, that we are exceptionally lucky. We live in Golden Valley, a Minneapolis suburb that is home to an unusually high number of gay and lesbian couples. The other parents in our neighborhood seem unfazed by our presence. We live in a county where I was allowed to adopt Hannah as her second, legally recognized mother. We send Hannah to a preschool that has an explicit nonbias policy and a rainbow flag hanging in the corner of the room, where she can dig in the sand with other kids who have two moms, should she choose to do so. But I also realize that we have carefully made choices—about where we live, where we work, and who we socialize with—that protect our relationship and our family.
We want to give Hannah a world in which she will not be shamed or shunned because of her family. Can we do that? Realistically, probably not. And this is the worry that keeps us up at night: that our children will be teased, harassed, or discriminated against because of their families.
According to the National Study of Gay and Lesbian Parents, 85 percent of gay dads and 82 percent of lesbian moms worry about their kids facing prejudice because they have gay parents. It's a real concern. A longitudinal study of lesbian–headed families found that nearly 20 percent of the children experienced some homophobia from their peers or teachers by age five. That number increases to 43 percent by age ten.
I don't think that Hannah has experienced any outright homophobia yet, but she is definitely being asked more questions. As she has grown from toddler to preschooler, her friends have moved from noting that she has two moms to asking why she doesn't have a dad. They're not yet old enough to insist that she has to have one, and they're mostly satisfied with being told that families are different, but the questions keep coming back.
I have no idea how Hannah will respond to these questions as she ages. Will she be sad that she does not have a known and present father? Will she care? The National Lesbian Family Study suggests that children who have the option to meet their sperm donor after they turn 18 sometimes regret that they have to wait, but a full 70 percent of the children of permanently unknown donors say they have no regrets.
But Hannah, of course, is not a data point. I don't know the extent to which her family's difference will bring her grief and how much it will strengthen her. How does anyone react to the things in life that set them apart? Sometimes they are invincible hurdles, sometimes barely noticed bumps in the road. And sometimes they are stepping stones.
Yet those who oppose gay and lesbian parenthood believe that Hannah will face much bigger challenges than homophobia. Their bogeymen include: the lack of appropriate gender roles, the risk that children will be more inclined (or will feel pressure) to become gay themselves, poor psychological development, and the risk that children will be sexually abused.
Reprinted with the permission of the Greater Good Science Center.
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