The other day, while at my son’s dance class I overheard him and few other boys talking about butts. I looked at another mom and said, “Geesh, they’re such boys…” Then I felt sick to my stomach for saying this and for even thinking this way. You see I have real issues with blanket statements about childhood and child development that assign certain behaviors as “all boy” or “just so girlie”. From the time Henry was born we have made it a point in our household to let him figure what he likes and what he wants to do rather than project our own gender stereotypes on him. He wants to play with barbies? Sure, no problem. He wants to be a superhero and have an alien themed birthday party—have at it. He wants to paint his nails with sparkly nail polish and play in the dirt, but simultaneously hate touching worms…NORMAL. He is a child. Yes he has a penis. So yes he is a boy. But his actions and his behaviors do not fit into some stereotype that makes him “all boy.”
I just came across a top 10 list of “signs that you are a mother of a boy,” written by another mother blogger. I cringed at almost every point this author made. Comments like: there will be dirt everywhere on your child and dirt everywhere in your house when you have a boy. Well shoot…of course there will be dirt everywhere and all over your kid…BECAUSE THEY ARE KIDS. Kids, whether boys or girls are supposed to get dirty. Folks need to stop pretending that little girls don’t like dirt. I have vivid memories of mud puddle sloshing contests after school at my baby sitters house during many rainstorms as a child. My daughter plays in the garden dirt whenever it’s not covered in snow.
Here’s another from the author: your son will discover his penis and never let it go. Yes and no. Yes, my son touches himself occasionally. I mean really…if I had a penis, I’d probably tug at it a few times now and then. It’s this thing…this thing that hangs off you like a mini arm. Of course it’s going to be fascinating. But so is a vagina. Is my son all up in his business all the time? No. My sixteen month old daughter tongles herself in the tub more than I’ve ever seen my son play “pull the pickle.” Is that a phrase? If not, I just made it up and I love it. Pull the pickle. I digress.
And finally the author closes by stating that little boys grow up to be men and they are not as affectionate. WHAT? This blows my mind. Maybe her father and husband are cold hearted snakes but my father has always been affectionate. I would argue that my father was and is more affectionate than my mother (no offense, Mom). My husband is affectionate. He talks about feelings. My son is affectionate. He can be cranky and grumpy but he is a child. This is what children do. This isn’t something inherently “boyish”. You know why “we” think men are not affectionate? It’s because “we” as a society tell them that’s it not okay to be emotional. “We” tell them to “be a man” and stop crying or stop sharing feelings.
What would a list look like if it were about girls? Top 10 signs that you’re a mother of a girl? Well it exists in case you’re wondering. Google it. And it’s just as abhorrent. I could argue that almost every point on this list can be applied to boys.
I’m on a soapbox I realize. And many of you might not agree with me. Look, I know that there are scientific studies that say there really are differences between men and women. Fine. I do think it’s important to celebrate our differences. But let each of us decide who we want to be not just what we’re told to or expected to “be.” Can’t we just let our kids be…kids?! You know, we want our girls to grow up and be strong women, as least I do. We want them to be independent and full of confidence. But our boys…we want them to be “men.” They have to be loud, and dirty, and cold with their affections. They have to be fascinated with trucks and pulling their wanker. Why can’t we just encourage them to be who they want to be without our own preconceived notions of what it means to be a “boy”? This is my wish for my son.
[…] As you go out into the world, I have one wish for you: I hope that you always love the color purple. When people ask you which color you like best, I want you to always shout, “Purple is my favorite!” as loudly and proudly as you do now. Because as you grow bigger and venture beyond our family to pre-school and sports teams, some misguided folks might try to convince you that the things you love are actually off-limits to you. […]
Yes, thank you for writing this and allowing so many of us with the same beliefs to share. I often hear, he such a boy or all boy. I always cringe. I hope my child has so many different experiences and chooses them because he is interested and curious. I want him to explore. I want him to be a good person. I want him to grow into a unique man of his choice.
I too find this cropping up regarding my 18-month-old son. Especially when the older, extended family members remark on his behavior. He does love to play with trucks and cars, and enjoys books about things that “go,” however he just as much enjoys caring for his stuffed animals by feeding them and tucking them in for naps with a kiss and a pat. I am still at rookie level in parenting, but I would assume that any girl could find these activites enjoyable as well. I for one played with plenty of Legos and race cars as a little girl.
And, as another commenter mentioned and as you touched upon in your post, I am also frustrated by boys’ clothing–at least baby and toddler boy clothing. We project such limiting expectations on them with sports and vehicle themes. Why do they always have to say something, too? Like, “Tough like Daddy,” or “Certified hunk”? That last one is especially nauseating because it dares to sexualize my baby boy! I received a tshirt as a gift once, size 12mo, that said, “Lock up your daughters.” I was mortified! Why should they be locked up? Is my baby a sex-crazed maniac? How awful. I threw it away because I couldn’t even bring myself to donate it. It should have more accurately said, “Lock up your daughter’s baby dolls to avoid fights and tantrums at our play date because I will want to nurture them.”
emily–agree on of your points here! and yes, my little girl, now 16 months is enjoying both dolls and racecars. even her brothers star wars action figures. sometimes more than her little people figures. i wonder if its a product of just wanting to be like her brother or if in fact she thinks these toys are more fun and interesting to play with!? thanks for reading and commenting!
I love this post. A lot. I’ve had similar “oh crap” moments with my kids (Xander, especially, since he’s older). I’ve often said things like “He’s SUCH a boy”, and had a similar “what have I done” reaction. You articulate the why of it so well. Let him be who he is, without my BS directing him. Excellent writing.
thanks for reading emily!
I love you take on gender “roles.” It occurs to me that the notion that gender is fluid is something that you are instilling in your children that will serve them well as they grow. If only the rest of society would accept this, we’d have a much more loving, peaceful world.
thanks for reading this aunt dee. love your comments.
I have had these thoughts about my son as well. Especially about being in touch with his emotions and being able to express himself freely without feeling shame. I do love their differences as well and don’t intentionally try to steer him towards more “feminine” stereotypes, which seems equally as harmful. I love this, I hope we can appreciate what makes each person unique. And it seems to start with our kids. Great post 🙂
thanks christin. great point about intentionally trying to steer them one way or another. i see this happening with my little girl as well. this is a good point to be more mindful of. thanks! (also don’t hate me for ending that last sentence with a preposition, ms. grammar). 🙂
Sending you a virtual fist bump. L is – as you know – rough and tumble, but paints his nails too and asked for his own eye shadow so he can “get fancy” like mama. The other day I overheard him “nursing” a stuffed animal, and I cheered a little to myself.
jba–that’s awesome! i like the term “get fancy”. i might just use that now!
Children will learn the stereotypes we teach them. It’s a constant battle since society is so keyed into them too. For example, when shopping for clothes for my son (almost 3) I do my best to stay away from things that have sports depicted all over them or say things like “tough like daddy”. I just want him to be who he is.
aren’t those shirts the worst?! we always stay away from those. and the ones for little girls are just as bad. thanks for reading the post!
I agree wholeheartedly with you. im one to go all out and paint my nails and my son (who’s only male influence is my father) watches in awe. i let him pick out a color and I paint his when he asks. I had an parent at his daycare (where I also work) criticize the fact that I painted my sons nails. he is three, he doesn’t get that mainly girls do it, he just wants colored nails cause they look cool. I wish we all could let kids be kids.
andrea–i agree! when henry was in daycare at a very young age he used to dress up in the princess costumes. the daycare teachers always checked with me to see if that was “ok”! i couldnt’ believe it. but you’re right there are some parents out there who would object unfortunately.