Yesterday I started in on ruining Christmas for everyone, or at least Jimmy Kimmel and some of his fans, by pointing out that his “Give your kids a terrible present and film it” challenge was… not actually that funny, when you realize that the humor goes way over the heads of most of the kids being filmed, and probably made them feel pretty bewildered and miserable.
Have I rained on the parade enough? Of course not! Why stop with one criticism where two will do nicely? So here’s my second problem with the video.
2) Some of the “humor” in the gifts involves gender policing.
I like Feministe’s definition of gender policing: Goading kids, in a variety of ways, to conform to culturally-set gender roles. (Adults get it too, of course.) “Sit like a lady.” “Boys don’t cry.” “That’s a girl toy.” “Don’t you want to be a mommy?” I think I will always be haunted by the time I was in Target, and heard a woman near the makeup aisle say to her little boy, who could not have been older than three and was grabbing for the lipsticks, “No honey, that’s for girls.” He is three, and he likes shiny, colorful things: give him a break! Was “don’t take things off the shelf” not the more important message here?
Of course the tools get blunter as the kids get older. Calling guys fags and girls dykes has at least as much to do with gender policing as with homophobia (using one club for two purposes, very efficient!) and some have suggested that the real root of homophobia and transphobia is, in large part, the threat that queer people pose to the rigid boundaries of masculinity and femininity. It’s essential that men and women learn the unspoken rules for their gender, don’t you understand? Otherwise guys will stand at the wrong urinal and women will never learn to wear high heels and show their bodies off for the benefit of [straight] men! So you better start early!
We are so twisted up about gender that the media has found they can make money off of gender-policing toddlers:
A favorite weapon of the gender police is teaching boys and men that the worst possible thing in the world anyone can say to you is to call you a girl or imply that you’re feminine. Violence is a totally understandable response. Emasculating men by putting women’s underwear on them was a torture technique used at Abu Ghraib. Some prison officials have decided to embarass inmates by making them wear pink clothes and sleep on pink sheets while others have incorporated pink underwear as an overall program of psychological abuse and humiliation.
This is bad enough if you’re a gender-typical, heterosexual-to-be kid – hearing that women and all things associated with them are embarrassing, trivial, and vaguely gross, and therefore men must do everything in their power to be Not Women, is terrible for both boys and girls, though in different ways obviously.
But if you’re a kid who’s growing up to be gender-variant or gay?
Gender-policing is miserable. Your parents might take you for psychotherapy if you don’t conform to gender norms, especially if you’re a boy. You might be forced into aping gendered behaviors that feel “wrong” to you, as a way to try to solve the “problem” of your gender expression, all the while knowing that failure will stress out and disappoint your parents and worrying (as kids do) that it might make them stop loving you. (It’s not so far-fetched – 20-40% of homeless youth identify as GLBT, most of whom were either kicked out of their homes or left because they were being abused over their gender and/or sexuality.)
Gender-policing tells you: you are wrong, you are bad, and you may be really, really screwed up. Or maybe you’re just screwed.
So how is Jimmy Kimmel promoting gender policing?
If you watch the video, there are several instances of parents’ choosing a “bad present” for their kids, mostly their sons, that is based on the present being for the “wrong gender.” At 1:27: “I got… a GIRL activity book with STICKERS!” protests one boy. “I am NOT a GIRL!” he insists. “I’m not a boy!” his sister notes, as she opens what might be a Star Wars book, and the littlest girl echoes “I’m not a boy either!” But it’s the boy who dissolves into tears over the “worst present EVER.”
At 2:36, the gender police go into overtime. A boy rips open his present and then pauses. “Open it up!” prompts his dad. “You didn’t want that for Christmas?” “You STINKIN’ parents!” is the reply, delivered with a nervous half-grin, and then he hurls the present on the floor, because it’s a “Hello Kitty” t-shirt with a pink design and sleeves. “Take this BACK! I want a refund!” he shouts, as he rushes the camera and hits his father on the leg (very manly use of violence.) We cut away to another child… and then back again, and now the boy is sobbing with rage. “[Santa] put you on the naughty list! BECAUSE YOU GAVE ME A STUPID HELLO KITTY SHIRT!” he screams, burying his face in his hands.
Away to another family… and back to our kid again, who is now totally beside himself. “You’re stupid parents! I hate you! I hate you all!”
And another family, where a boy exclaims “I got PONIES???” with what does not seem to be relish over the pink and white My Little Ponies. “I don’t want ponies. They’re for girls,” he says with disgust.” He looks about… 5? Maybe 6? His sister is standing right there. Girls. Barf. Who wants girl stuff?
By the way, I doubt it’s coincidence that young Mr. Hello Kitty shirt gets the most screen time because not only is he really angry, he’s also the fattest kid they show. And everyone knows that fat people are HILARIOUS! (Pro tip: never Google “fat people are funny” in hopes of finding a page about fat stereotyping. Just don’t.)
So, that’s, what, seven negative messages about girls and boys who have or like girl “things” in under five minutes? Culled from all the hundreds or thousands of videos people submitted? Nice work, Jimmy Kimmel. Guess you’re not shooting for having any women or LBGTQ viewers. Good to know.
And parents: that’s your idea of a creative “bad present”? Other parents came up with “half-eaten sandwich” or “your grandfather’s hammer” or a “Mr. Potato Head” that is just a potato, but you had to go with the easy mark. Awesome. Transphobia, homophobia, and gender-policing: Hilarious!
Thanks Funny Cat. I thought so.