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Ballet is for girls, and other developing ideas about gender roles

When Axel grows up, he’s going to be a girl.  And a policeman.  Oh, and a firefighter/paramedic, a bad guy dad, a pilot, a spaceman, a train engineer, friends with Mickey Mouse, a fairy princess who lives in a pirate treehouse, and a mom who takes his (her?) kids to school and goes to work with me.  He’s keeping his options wide open.

At three, he’s beginning to talk about the differences he sees between boys and girls.  Well, some of them – he can’t believe that girls don’t have the same parts that he’s got and insists that I’m wrong when I tell him that girls don’t have a penis, and he also told me that those two things on his chest are called pineapples.

We’ve got some work to do in the anatomy department.

He has started to request that our (very capable) female mail delivery person be a boy instead – he wants a postman, because they’re better, he says, and if we can’t have one for our whole street, just a postman who comes to our house alone would do.  That’s the kind of statement that makes me cringe, but as it’s often followed by an announcement that he’s going to be a ballet dancer right after he fights evildoers while wearing his cape, and that he wants to read a book about unicorns right after he’s done with his favorite transportation book, I’m not too worried that he’s going to be making those kind of statements 20 years from now.

Sean and I have negotiated our own balance of household tasks and bread earning.  There’ve been times in our relationship when I’ve made more money, and times when he’s made more.  He does more of the cooking and grocery shopping.  Of course, his job is one traditionally branded as male  (though that’s changing, and many strong and smart women work with him), and my job is in the nonprofit sector, a field that’s heavy on x chromosomes.  I sew, he takes care of home repairs and yard work.  I do a bit more of the caring for children, and most things related to arranging for their care and schooling fall into my sphere.  But I also pay our bills and do the taxes.  It’s not as much about male and female as it is about what we’re good at – I’m better at math, he’s much better with a hammer.

It’s interesting to see how this is playing out with our boys.  Jonas, of course, is still too young to have much of a concept of gender identity and roles.  He’s an equal-opportunity tackler at his childcare center (something that we’re working on – my boys don’t quite get that both parties have to be OK with participating in a wrestling match). There’s a new girl in his class with the same nickname – Josie, for Josephine – and Axel thinks it’s fantastic that their names match.

Axel has started to tell me things like “Ballet is for girls,” – a statement based on the fact that all of the kids who currently take the after school ballet class at his school are girls – and insist that spacemen are spacemen, not astronauts.  He’s developing some solid rules about gender roles, ones that we’re trying to break by showing him that boys and girls can (and do) all of those things, yet he also believes that all of these things can change, that all of us can grow up to be the other gender and then flip flop back again.

How do you handle developing gender identity and ideas about gender roles in your house?

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