Recently, a fellow mom from a Mother’s Forum I belong to shared an adorable photo of her son. He absolutely loves playing with dolls and one morning, she found him holding a naked Barbie doll while watching videos on their iPad. She discovered that he had woken up early to look up YouTube videos on how to make doll clothes from tissue paper and felt. While watching the tutorials, he designed and created his own clothes for the doll. She shared the photo to show how proud she was of him for being himself and letting his vivid imagination and creativity run free. I thought this was amazing. Sadly though, she felt compelled to put in a disclaimer addressing the comments she knew she would get, to let the group know that he has lots of traditional “boy” interests as well, and that she really didn’t want to hear any opinions about his sexuality.
I empathized greatly with her since I have to go through the same motions when explaining my boys’ interests to other people. My boys love pink and purple. Along with trucks, trains, and spaceships, they also love female superheroes, butterflies, and flowers. Way too often, I’ve found myself having to defend them to other parents. Like the day my son was at a playdate and the kids were playing superheroes. I had a mother walk up to me to say, “Your son is pretending to be Wonder Woman. Isn’t that funny?” Or the day my son picked out Care Bears & My Little Pony stickers from a prize box at a party. I had parents go out of their way to walk up to me and express how they thought it was “weird” that my son picked out those stickers when there were “boy” stickers available.
If someone can logically explain to me how a kid liking shows about magical ponies or bears is “weird” or how a kid pretending to be an awesome, super strong superhero is “funny”, I’d love to hear it. I know it’s probably the Momma Bear in me coming out, but the only thing that I found “weird” or “funny” was parents who went out of their way to try to express sexist sentiment to me about my children. Were these parents intentionally trying to insult me or my children? Probably not. Did it enrage me anyway? Like you wouldn’t believe. I found myself having to maintain my composure and give the same speech the lady from the forum felt the need to give. “No, I don’t think there is anything weird about it. He also loves monster trucks and mud too. I think it is great that he likes anything he wants to like without limits.”
Why do these people feel the need to put kids into a box? I challenge you to do a reality check on your own perceptions. If you saw a little girl wearing an Iron Man costume, how would you react? What if a little boy was wearing an Elsa costume? In both scenarios, the child is wearing a costume of a superhero character who is a different gender, but only one of the scenarios would cause people to openly question your child’s sexuality. The latter scenario happened recently when the singer, Adele, made headlines after she got accused of “turning her kid gay” for letting her son wear a princess costume to Disneyland. Why is this the case?
I wish that people would stop this crazy notion that a boy who likes things that are traditionally feminine, like dolls, princesses, or ponies, is somehow weird, wrong, or less of a boy. #1 Who cares? #2 By teaching boys that liking “girl” things makes them lesser, I believe that we are inadvertently teaching them that females are lesser. #3 Did I mention, who cares? I just think it is completely absurd for people to call out a small child on what they play with, wear, or like. I want to encourage a supportive environment for kids, free from judgment, so kids can figure out who they are and just let kids be kids!
I sincerely believe that if we want to raise kindhearted children, we should encourage boys to engage in nurturing play in any form. However, I must admit that I struggle with how to approach this myself. Every parent plays a juggling act with their kids. On one hand, you want your kids to be free to be themselves without barriers, but on the other hand, you want to protect your children from being the outcast and/or being bullied.
I’m not asking you to sympathize with my plight of raising white male children. I know that, from birth, they have it easier in the US (that’s another discussion for another day). Regardless, I feel like the macho stereotypes we dump on our boys is incredibly damaging to the feminist cause. Our sad reality is that overt sexism still exists against women. Women get paid less than men. Women have less opportunity to move up in their careers. Gender inequality is an astronomical and complex problem in our society. However, if we want to tackle this issue head on, we can’t do so by only focusing on empowering half of the population. We need men to be on board the mission as well.
I want to raise boys who are feminists, which is why I do my best not to beat stereotypes into their heads from an early age. I want to teach my children that both sexes can be nurturing and sensitive. I want to battle sexism by doing my part to raise a generation of compassionate boys who will help to support and promote the next generation of empowered girls. The momentum we have been making as a society to address gender inequality over the last few years is amazing. Let’s do ourselves a favor and not forgot about the little boys out there who need our guidance to help make the world a better place.
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