My son was about 8 months old when I first heard the phrase, “Oh, he’s all boy,” from other parents. They were, of course, referring to their own sons being active, rough, or especially busy.
But I remember feeling confused. My little guy was pretty chill. He hit physical milestones later than others. But he was a boy.
As he gets older, the differences become more apparent. He’s never taken an interest in sports, superheroes, or rough-housing. Instead, he prefers playing house, likes to cook, and loves when things sparkle. But he is a boy.
Are there any traditional “boy” activities that he likes to do? Sure — and so does my daughter. Despite his so-called “girly” interests, he is a boy; and he likes being one. I guess I’m just confused as to why people insist on genderizing activities that clearly appeal to boys and girls, and then attach labels like “all boy,” or “girly girl,” or “tom boy,” simply based on their interests and temperament.
These classifications tend to be harsher toward boys. Little girls are celebrated whether they like princesses or sports, pink or blue. Female athletes are “tough” and “well-rounded.” But when your son picks the princess sticker at the doctor’s office, or walks into school with painted nails, people can’t tolerate it. Eyebrows are raised. Sideways glances are extended. The nurse almost wouldn’t hand over the Queen Elsa sticker at our last check-up. She kept offering superhero after superhero, none of which my son wanted. I really couldn’t understand why his desire for a pink sticker made her so extremely uncomfortable. Regardless of my son’s choice of sticker, or the nurse’s obvious objection to it, he is all boy.
Recently, he had his first incident of being teased for choosing something “girly.” In the weeks following, I saw the struggle in his eyes when faced with a choice. He knew what he wanted, but he also knew what he was expected to want, and tried to conform. He stopped wearing his treasured charm bracelet that he had made at a reunion last summer. Though his favorite color is blue, he is also a fan of pink and purple. Suddenly he has started refusing pink and purple dishes saying that they are “only for girls.” He now tries to hide his excitement about his sister’s new nail polish or sparkly shoes. At five years old, he suddenly feels insecure about who he is — simply because he likes a few things our society decided he shouldn’t.
I won’t sit back and watch my little boy feel ashamed for anything. Especially not for something that shouldn’t even be a thing in the first place. Teaching our kids there are certain activities and interests assigned to their gender plants the seeds of gender inequality from the very beginning. It teaches them to change themselves to fit a social mold, regardless of their sincere interests. It robs them of developing their natural skills and talents. And it stunts their growth in the areas of personality development and confidence building.
Parents are always under fire for one thing or another, but shouldn’t we save our energy for teaching them real things like love, acceptance, and self awareness? If you’re spending your time stressing out that your son (or my son, ahem, nurse) picked a fairy wand over a light saber, I beg you to reconsider your priorities. Hold your magnifying glass over something else, for Pete’s sake. I am far more concerned with raising a confident son who loves himself than I am with the fact that he might grow up to wear a sparkly charm bracelet or paint his nails.
When we teach our boys to like “boy things” rather than “girl things,” we also project ideas of girls being beneath them, attaching negativity and inferiority to “girly” things. (“Why would you like pink!? Pink is for girls, and girls are clearly the worst.”) Those seemingly small seeds grow into big issues later on. It’s also offensive to males to suggest that in order to be a boy you must be rough, crazy, and hate all things feminine.
If we are going based on interests and preferences and temperament, then my daughter is “all boy” and my son is a “tomgirl,” and half the human race falls somewhere in between the two.
So can we just stop it already? Gender doesn’t define our interests, and interests don’t determine gender. Kids are kids. They have different personalities and interests, and isn’t that magnificent? Forcing them into gender specific activities has a long term harmful impact on identity, confidence and emotional health. Instead, I choose to put my energy into accepting my kids as they are, and learning to celebrate them.More On