Unpacking a Backpack

My Facebook news feed and WordPress reader today are surprisingly full of things related to My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.

All because of a 9 year old boy’s “girly” backpack. Or perhaps because of the reactions to it, from the bullies in his school to the administrators dealing with the situation.

The backstory is a kid wore his My Little Pony backpack to school and got picked on. His mom complained to the school staff, and in addition to whatever else they did, the principal said the kid should leave the backpack at home.

I’ve read comments and blogs raging against bullies, saying this response is the same as “She deserved it because she wore that dress.” (Full disclosure, that was my initial take and I even posted that comment online.)

And I’ve read blogs declaring “I wouldn’t let my kid wear that, because boys should be boys.” One poster made what I think is a valid point – are we really comparing a kid picked on for wearing a MLP backpack to rape?

I’m sitting comfy in my house in Nebraska, far removed from Grayson’s life and surroundings. I only get the side of the story presented in the angry blurbs on FB, saying “The school sided with the bullies!” I don’t know what all the school said to the family, or whether the bullies have been disciplined, and how severely, if so.

So naturally my limited information qualifies me to speak in absolute terms about what’s going on in that kid’s life.

I am however a fan of the show, along with my four kids (14 yr old daughter, and boys ages 13, 8 and 3). My wife is decidedly opposed to all things Pony.

Here are some general observations:

1. Violence against others is unacceptable. Assaulting someone (physically, verbally, socially) has no place in a civilized society. Such actions deserve swift and stern discipline – knowing that the point of discipline is not merely to punish but to educate and rehabilitate toward a more desirable behavior. Consider this a teachable moment.

2. The sad fact is that your hobbies, your lifestyle, your chosen associations, your style of dress, your interests, and pretty much anything you do are subject to ridicule from people around you. The more you deviate from whatever is the societal norm, the more you can expect to get some negative attention. Should it be so? Nah. But is it so? Yes. There needs to be some recognition of this.
Even so, let me refer you back to item #1, which trumps this.

3. We need to get past the idea that some hobbies are only for boys, and some are only for girls. Most hobbies are gender-neutral until society weighs judgment. You like cars? Great. Work on cars. You play the violin? Awesome. Be the best at it that you can be. You love musicals? Fantastic. There are some powerful stories and songs worth anyone’s attention. Baseball’s your thing? Lovely. Go to town telling me about the ’86 World Series. You pwn noobs in video games online? Rock on. Be 1337 (‘leet’ as in ‘elite’ as in ‘highly skilled’). You find a cartoon both funny and meaningful? I’m glad you like it. Enjoy.
Which of the above are for boys and which are for girls? And who says so? And why should I care?
I care because see item #2, which we’re all going to have to deal with on some level when we discover how our interests line up with what society expects.

4. MLP is actually a great show on many levels. It’s got an edgy humor that admittedly is not for everyone, but each episode also has a moral story that never gets preached at the audience. Think Veggie Tales without the Bible references. The show IS marketed for young girls, but obviously can appeal to others because it’s done well. See item #3.

I know this is the “Viral Outrage of the Day” or whatever. Next week or next month, we’ll be talking about something else and this won’t matter.

I think those life lessons listed above do matter (except maybe #4). And I hope those are the sort of calm and reasonable approaches we can take when we all freak out and choose sides on the next debate.

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One thought on “Unpacking a Backpack”

  1. Since this is related but lengthy, I wanted to post my own experiences growing up, and the judgments I faced. Sorry, it’s practically a blog post of its own:

    I grew up taking piano lessons, sitting on the bench in the living room plucking my way through assigned songs in the afternoons or on Saturdays while I heard the neighborhood kids running around playing. There were some kids who thought that was lame or even gay.

    I also discovered video games and enjoyed them immensely. When done well, just like a good book, video games invite you into a world someone else has created, a story where you get to interact and play a part. That excites me, even though some kids thought that makes a person a nerd or a loser or a pasty kid afraid of the sunlight.

    Later I discovered role-playing games, where I and my friends could come together to tell stories of our own, mixing in strategy by taking advantage of the rules systems, mixing in some elements from sci-fi or fantasy epics that inspired us, and mixing in an element of luck with dice, leading to hours of fun and camaraderie… even though some people thought that’s the devil and some people thought that’s just playing pretend for adults.

    I spent most of my schooling drawing pictures, and I have always been interested in comic books. Stories told alongside vibrant art? Yes please. I saw how the art form grew past what many seemed to think (mindless humor devoid of any higher purpose, like watching a Road Runner cartoon on paper). The worlds I found in those pages spoke to racism, sexism, cowardice, greed, injustice, and fear. They told stories of flawed people, average Joes who choose to make costly decisions and sacrifices for the sake of others, and good guys who weren’t willing to lie on the ground bleeding but got back up again to stand for what’s right, because someone had to. That inspired me to draw and write my own crazy stories, and I spent hours with a friend creating artwork – twisted stuff from the head of a naive teenager, sure. People wondered about those hobbies, because that form of art isn’t serious art, or everyone knows how meaningless comic books are, or simply “Why are you spending so much time with that friend? Are you gay?”

    After joining the military and rededicating myself to my faith in Christ, I would often go to the Chapel on temporary duty while my crew mates would go to the club or the beach. The Chapel gave me a quiet place to reflect, and more often than not had a piano in need of a pianist. Those hours spent on my own helped me remember who I wanted to be when everything around me said, “Come be just another one of the guys.” I had a coworker express surprise when I mentioned my wife back home… because he assumed I was “gay” – and he clearly meant it as a derogatory comment, not merely a guess about my orientation. And I’ve had plenty of coworkers who aren’t too interested in what “one of those Bible-thumpers” has to say, too, even if I haven’t brought up the subject of religion.

    I learned to deal with all of that. I’d rather be authentic about my interests and passions than hide them to fit what someone else expects. There are enough sheeple in the world.

    And I’ve taught my kids to accept the difficulties and challenges that come with being themselves. My 13 year old boy has made no secret about his enjoyment of MLP, though he doesn’t wear costumes or obvious paraphenalia. Some neighborhood kids made fun of it. His true friends have said, “Ok, well, whatever, that’s cool for you, I guess.” He’s learned a valuable lesson about friendship being more important than silly differences of opinion as a result of this.

    Life can be challenging. The decisions we make color how others view us, whether we like it or not.

    Like

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