Wear That Earring Like a Man

My daughters are growing up in the post-feminist era. When a guy comes on TV talking about how it’s OK to hit a woman as long as you use an open hand, nobody has to teach them what to do. They were born knowing how to hiss. They just tighten their teeth and blow.

When they see a panel of men discussing an important issue on TV, they will instinctively ask: “Why aren’t there any girls?” They didn’t need to go to consciousness-raising sessions. They didn’t need a class in Women’s Herstory. They’ve never even read a single self-esteem book.

And since nobody ever told them that girls aren’t supposed to be good at certain things, the older daughter passed me at math when she was 9, and the younger daughter could outrun me almost as soon as she could out-walk me.

When young jock Hannah, 9, and I were riding past a park the other day, I commented on the scene. “Isn’t that nice?” I said. “It’s a boy and a dad playing baseball.”


She was apparently born with the sarcasm gene and said mockingly, “Oh yes, a boy and a dad--how very nice. Why is it always a boy and a dad? A girl and a dad playing baseball would be nice. A girl and a mom playing soccer would be better.”

Being a post-feminist mom isn’t easy, especially if you were raised to be a pre-feminist klutz. But consider the plight of the post-feminist boy. This brave new role was on exhibit recently in our neighborhood earring store.

I had long ago abandoned my stand against the girls getting their ears pierced. I knew it was a hopelessly old-fashioned attitude on my part, and after throwing out a few lighthearted comments about “primitive mutilation rituals,” I took my older daughter to the doctor when she was 11 for a $60 sterile-technique piercing. When she was a little older, she came home and announced that she had gotten a “double pierce” for free from a hippie selling earrings on the street.

The second daughter, benefiting from her sister’s pioneer work and community trends, got her ears done at an earring store this year. (After all, Samantha and Danielle and Sarah and Lily all had theirs done.) When she lost all her earrings and the holes closed up, I sprang for a second mutilation ritual last week, keeping my opinions to myself.


In the shop were a man and his 9-year-old son. Both of them were dressed in conventional T-shirts, jeans and boots. If the son had any trouble convincing his dad that all the cool young dudes had pierced ears, there was no sign of the struggle. The dad paid his nonrefundable $16 for the birthstone stud, the antiseptic and the piercing procedure. He signed the release absolving the store from blame should his son die in the cause of trend-following.

However, when the shop clerk went to shoot him in the ear, the boy began to squirm. After several tries, he refused. “I can’t do it,” he cried out. The father attempted to reason with him. “Look, Jason, we can’t get our money back. Now sit still and take your earring like a man.”

He actually said that. Can you imagine what he’ll say when Jason tries to walk in high heels? “Don’t wince, boy. Remember you’re a Walton.”

But Jason was squirming and appeared close to tears. So my Hannah went ahead of him. It was almost as if she were saying: Well, I’ll show this boy how to hang tough at a piercing. She sat perfectly still and took it. Like a girl.


Now the father looked truly humiliated. I tried to console him. “Boys aren’t raised to suffer for fashion,” I said. He didn’t seem consoled.

Hannah stood there right next to Jason, saying, “It doesn’t hurt, really.” Jason didn’t seem convinced.

Finally, Jason’s father took him to a corner of the store for a serious dressing-down. I imagined him saying things like, “You get that earring or I’m gonna whup your hide, boy.”

I said to my daughter, “Maybe he’s afraid he’ll cry when it happens. We should leave.” Not wanting to witness such an ugly scene, Hannah left looking proud.


I’m sure she pondered the essential mystery of modern life. How can boys be so good at baseball but such sissies at earrings?