What happens when one loving dad posts a homemade kitchen playset he made for his toddler on social media? Internet trolls come out of the woodwork and call an innocent 2-year-old boy every name in the book.
After posting a child’s kitchen playset that he built from an old entertainment center to the site Imgur, Andrew Hook wasn’t prepared for the response he would receive. Instead of being ignored in the vast sea of online parenting posts, Hook had unknowingly pressed an Internet hot-button. His photos of the DIY kitchen playset were polarizing — commenters either loved it or they hated it.
As Hook, who goes by Reddit username SixStringHook, explained in his original post, he and his wife made the play kitchen for their son’s second birthday. They went all out — what started as a $20 entertainment center from Goodwill became a fully functional play kitchen, rivaling anything you’d find from Fisher-Price. “The door to the refrigerator is painted with chalkboard paint. It has a faucet and working range burners/oven burner,” Hook explained.
But more than 650,000 views and 177 comments later, things started to get ugly.
Of course, there were the kind commenters who praised Hook for his “excellent parenting.” But then there were the Internet trolls who took it way, way too far. Cruel commenters thought it appropriate to call a 2-year-old homophobic slurs, even saying that Hook was using this playset to make his son gay.
Hook’s defense of his son was simple and on point. He wrote, “Let me be perfectly blunt. F*** you.” And went on to explain:
“Anytime we go to our local science center or to the children’s museum, [our son] always wants to play in the kitchen playset area. He always wants to watch us cook and likes being involved, so we thought this would be a good idea. Furthermore, if my kid wanted a Barbie doll, I would get it for him. If that is what he wants, then that is what he wants. It’s his decision what he wants to play with. Not mine,” Hook said.
We’ve seen this happen before — dads especially are getting hate for supporting their sons’ right to choose. Just a few weeks ago, a supportive dad came under fire for letting his toddler son choose an Elsa costume to wear on Halloween. And a few months before that, it was the dad who cheered on his 4-year-old son when he picked an Ariel doll to play with.
Critics of these parents’ choices say we’re going to hell in a hand basket. If kids don’t play into conventional gender norms (and if a retailer like Target does something as wild as removing gendered signs from children’s toy and bedding aisles), how will we keep the order in our society?
The short answer is: Our children will grow up just fine, because gender roles for kids don’t exist until we say they do.
It’s about age 2 when kids start to become conscious of the difference between boys and girls, with a clear gender identity developing by the age of 4. As the American Academy of Pediatrics points out, and as we saw with Hook’s bold parenting move, it’s this age bracket that presents the perfect sweet spot for young children to explore their gender and identity, without being told what a boy or girl should do. Steering too hard in one direction or the other — saying things like “boys will be boys” or “act like a lady,” for example, can have a negative impact on a child’s self-esteem and may even affect their school performance.
There is that elephant in the room, where parents inevitably worry that this freedom could “make” their child gay or transgender. But what we’re really seeing here is kids being kids.
Hook has never professed to be a perfect parent, but he’s clearly doing something right. He’s letting his son express himself the way he wants, even when it challenges our cultural stereotypes. As Hook tells Babble, it isn’t really that complicated:
“We never had the intention to challenge gender roles, and honestly, it never even occurred to us that people would think it odd that we built a kitchen set for our son. My parents got my brothers and me a kitchen set when we were kids, so it just never seemed like it would be considered an issue. My wife Jessica and I will support our son no matter what, but at this point, he is 2 years old. We just want him to be a kid and have fun and be the best parents we can possibly be.”