“When you ask your child if they are a boy or a girl how does he or she answer you?” This was a question on a progress evaluation for O from a preschool playgroup program he is involved in.
I had never thought to ask him this question. So I followed directions and asked him. His answer was not what I anticipated. So I asked again. And again, he repeated his answer. “I am a boy or a girl.” Maybe he didn’t understand the question? I asked him if his cousin Nora was a girl or a boy. He said, “A girl….or a boy.” Clearly gender is not on his radar yet. At three and a half should it be? I don’t know.
We knew the sex of our child before he was born. It was obvious when we had our amniocentesis and we wanted to know. My practical nature was more than happy to know. We didn’t go crazy with blue for boy stuff, but he did have a nautical themed nursery. It was grays, blues and greens. I dressed him in basically what people gave me….so lots of boy stuff. Onesies with sayings like Handsome like Daddy, Little Slugger. His toys were lots of cars and trucks mixed in with a cooking set and a pink interactive picnic basket he just adored. I honestly didn’t give it much thought. The only hand me downs he got were from other boys, though I would not have minded putting him in a color typically associated with girls. In fact, people always thought he was a girl. “Oh! She’s beautiful!” “Thank you, yes I think he is.” “Oh, I’m so sorry!” (As if they had said something truly awful). I was never phased by it. He was a really pretty baby. I honestly didn’t care if anyone thought he was a girl.
Fast forward to present day in the toy department at Target. It’s a frequent destination on our travels. O has his favorite toys and every visit he will bee line for the “Our Generation doll” aisle. He asks me to help him get the big car (which happens to be pink, as it is marketed towards girls) and the camper so he can play with them. His latest interest is the new laundromat and, of course, the ice cream truck. Have you seen that thing? It really is amazing! He can spend 30 minutes playing with these items. I literally have to coax him away. He tends to put one of his matchbox cars (which he is rarely without) inside these setups. We sometimes get odd looks from other parents and older children, as if to say, “Why is your boy playing with girl toys?” I don’t acknowledge the looks and they go completely unnoticed by O. I have heard Fathers, after looking at us, tell their sons, “Let’s go look at some boy toys.” I have even heard men and women tell their sons, “You don’t want that. That’s for girls.” The level of ignorance is staggering.
We are so offended at the abundant misogyny in our society. We are so astounded by the gender inequality that is rampant in our culture. And when I say “we” I mean many of us, but certainly not all of us. Yet, aren’t we sort of setting it up right from the start? We have these picture perfect roles for our children to fit into and we seem to unapologetically, and I’m sure, quite innocently, jam it down their throats without much thought to what their thoughts or feelings are (or will) be as they become more gender aware. It starts at these gender reveal parties which seem to be all the rage these days. Pink or blue? The term for these events should really be sex reveal parties, as that is what is actually being revealed. Just because you have a child born with male genitalia, doesn’t mean he is going to identify with being a boy. But if you think about it, the child, before even being born, is being expected to fit into our idea of what his or her identity should be. Blue is for boys. Pink is for girls. It’s just so banal.
You know what I want O to be? Happy. I want him to be so freaking happy and secure in his own skin. I want him to beam joy. I just can’t see that happening if he isn’t allowed to be his true self, whatever that true self may happen to be. I have many friends, who from a very young age, felt they were different. And from a very young age, knew who they truly were wasn’t going to be accepted by their parents. So they hid their true selves from their families, or they denied their true selves altogether, only to come back to it as an adult with a plethora of issues. I can’t imagine anyone wanting that for their child. And yet…
Because of my theatre background, several people have asked me if we plan on Oliver taking dance or theatre lessons. I don’t know. He is certainly exposed to it. He sees the shows I direct. He sings with both me and my husband. I will let him decide. Just like we will expose him to baseball or other sports. If he wants, he can play. If he’d rather take dance, then he can do that. If he wants to do both, then fine. He needs to lead us. I believe that our job is to show him the possibilities. He must choose without feeling he is letting us down by following his own path. I think this starts way earlier than most of us think. (Pink or blue?)
We talk so much about raising girls to be strong. And I support that wholeheartedly. But you rarely hear about raising our sons to be caring and empathetic. Why is that? Why are we so afraid to teach our sons traits that are associated with being female? Won’t it make them better Fathers, husbands and caretakers? Won’t it teach them how to be better men? I think so. But that’s just this Mommy’s opinion. So don’t jump all over me for expressing it. But it’s worth a thought or two, don’t you think?
Until next time, keep fighting the good fight, and remember, behind every great kid, is a mom who is pretty sure she is screwing it up. Thanks for reading! It’s good to be back. Xo