“Go quick, mom. So we don’t miss the party!”
So says our little one, urging my partner Kathy back from the washrooms toward the large crowd of people gathering for May Day in Allan Gardens. A sea of the most unapologetically political groups in the city surround us: Idle No More Toronto, No One Is Illegal, Two Row Society, the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP), Migrante, The Greater Toronto Workers Assembly, Maggie’s. And others.
Our youngest picks up the hand drum and pounds away as we flood out of the park and onto Carleton Avenue. Lining the route are dozens of police and their bikes, and I am reminded of a march that the grade seven and eight students at the school I work at took part in years ago. Coordinated by OCAP, it was a response to cuts that the Liberal government under Dalton McGuinty had made to those living in poverty.
When the marchers reached the government buildings, our students had gathered to listen to people speak. Looking up at the stage, I suddenly noticed that one of our more, shall we say, assertive, grade seven boys had lined up to say a few words at the microphone.
Unscripted. Unedited. Not vetted. And before the news cameras. A feeling of trepidation in the pit of my stomach took hold as J* stepped up to the stage.
“As we were walking, I stepped over to a cop and asked him what he thought about the Liberal’s cuts to the poor.”
(So far so good. ‘Cop’ being more irreverent than police officer, but far shy of ‘pig’.)
“He said to me ‘I don’t have an opinion’. And I replied, ‘How can you not have an opinion about something as important as this?!?”
The crowd erupted. This was, after all, a 12 year old with enough moral conviction to challenge an adult (who had a gun) on his decision not to declare a side. I was unwinding the knot in my stomach when J* turned slowly to face the government buildings behind him.
“And by the way, McGuinty,” he said. “Fuck you.”
Desmond Tutu once said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse, and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”
People have described the way in which Kathy and I raise our children as “gender neutral parenting“. Nothing could be further from the truth. What exactly would a ‘gender neutral’ home even look like? Would the walls be bathed in yellow paint? Would Disney be purged from the bins of books and Barbie quietly tucked into the donation box, her awkward leg popping out at an odd, twisted angle?
How does censoring our abysmal cultural gendered artifacts help young ones engage in conversations about gender injustice? About power? About what Disney princesses and Barbie bodies represent? “Gender neutral” does not capture the active process of discussing, disrupting and dismantling our highly gendered realities. These then are our terms: gender engaged parenting, or, with a nod to educator Paulo Friere’s critical pedagogy, gender critical parenting.
Our little one is right. On International Workers’ Day we shouldn’t miss the party, the chance to dance and drum and take to the street.
Because it’s never neutral. Ever.