I brought dinner to my dear friends who just celebrated the birth of their 3rd daughter. Their dad, D, had read my post about buying Stephen and Adrian Frozen posters. While he respected my decision to let them choose their own posters, he worried that allowing boys to have girly things might subject them to teasing, or earn them an unwanted label. He said that teasing or bad labels might follow them through school and have a long term impact.
I think he has some good points for consideration, and we had a good discussion (hopefully to be continued!) about gender and parenting.
So I’m going to give you some of my thoughts, and throw it out there for further discussion.
I think there’s a double standard for boys and girls (my friend D agreed), and it’s becoming reverse-sexism. American women, thank the Lord, can basically do anything they right well please. Girls are free to like blue, superheroes, cars, trains, blocks, sports, or karate. They can wear cammo and go hunting. And–look at Katniss–that just makes a gal cool. A girl who tends toward “boy” things is lovingly called “tomboy,” a term of endearment (D says he’s proud of his “tomboy”). After all, what kind of father would tell his daughter she “can’t” do something just because she’s a girl?**
But on the flip side, boys can’t like pink or purple. They aren’t allowed to like princesses, babies, ice skating, or faeries. And I, their mother, am expected to tell my sons that they “can’t” do things because they’re boys. Boys who cry and like “girl” stuff are not called any nice terms of endearment…nastier terms come to mind…
And what about the parenting events? I see loads of father/daughter balls, mother/daughter teas, father/son camping trips…but mother/son ????? Because girls close to their dad are “daddy’s little girl” but boys close to their mom have an Oedipal complex. (Kudos to Chick-fil-A for sponsoring a mother/son event, Mother-Son Date Knight) So it frustrates me that in addition to not celebrating the mother/son bond, apparently I also have to be the “girl stuff” gatekeeper and protect my boys from pink. Society is harsh on boys; are my white males no longer the most privileged people on the planet?
In raising my boys, here are the issues that have arisen thus far:
1. I did NOT buy Stephen the pink Dora the Explorer shoes he wanted when he was 2. This was mainly because I knew Daddy wouldn’t approve and I didn’t feel like coming back to return them.
2. I DID buy Adrian a pink baby doll because he adopted every baby doll he came across. When Stephen returned home from school, he asked, “What is that pink girl thing doing in our house!?” But Adrian loves her to this day.
3. I DID paint Adrian’s toes a lovely shade of peach when he was 2. He’d found me painting my toenails and wanted to join in. I probably would have agreed under any circumstances, but the current event was that I was pregnant with 2 more boys and had tragically despaired of having a daughter to paint nails with. I removed Adrian’s paint shortly thereafter at Eric’s
demand request upon seeing his son’s peach hued toes. (My friend D looked horrified at the mere mention that I’d ever painted my son’s toes!)
4. I DID buy Stephen and Adrian Frozen posters. We all love them!
As they get older, I’m sure their preferences and fears of social embarrassment will change. At 5, Stephen refused to bring a picture we’d colored together to Kindergarten show-and-tell because he said it had too much pink and purple. He was afraid kids would make fun of him. It made me sad that he was afraid to display artwork he was proud of just because of the colors. How much should we encourage our children to follow their own interests, and how much should we teach them to conform to society’s expectations?
**Footnote: I do think society is strict on women as far as their appearance. Makeup, bras, and shaving your legs are not going out of style any time soon….unfortunately for us tomboys….