Friday, July 24, 2015


Before Nico's car obsession came to light, I assumed that boys who were into super BOY things like cars and construction equipment were pushed to be that way by their parents. Then Nico woke up one morning shortly after his first birthday, latched onto a toy truck, and didn't deviate from that course until he was about four and a half. It turns out that some kids gravitate to gender norms without any nudge from any outside force. Before I had kids, I was pretty certain that I would be a cool liberal parent and not impose ridiculous gender-based expectations on my children. Once I actually had kids I found out that:

1. The default is easy, and I like easy. I also like boy clothes, so I have always put my boys in boy clothes.

If my boys ever begin to show a preference for girls' things, I hope I am able to help them embrace it. I once did not let Nico choose a girls' coat at the store (he was two) because I honestly didn't know what to do. I don't like girly things so I didn't like the coat in the first place. I stood there and worried what my husband and dad would say if their son / grandson showed up in a purple coat with a big fur ruff on the hood and I ended up offering Nico a black boys' coat instead. I probably lost my enlightened liberal card at that moment. Nico wasn't crushed or anything - he didn't really care all that much, and it was probably dumb to even ask a two-year-old or his opinion on coats - but I still wonder if I should've just bought the purple coat. I certainly would've gladly (gleefully, even) bought a daughter a black or blue or green coat from the boys' section. Why the hypocrisy, I had to ask myself in a small, not-so-proud voice.

2. Sometimes things come out of my mouth that I absolutely don't believe, just because I don't think about what I'm saying.

I am working on this. Example: a month or so ago in the car, Nico asked me why his mamaw (who is divorced) doesn't have a wife. Absentmindedly, stalling so I didn't have to explain divorce on the fly, also concentrating on driving, I started to say, "Mamaw wouldn't have a wife anyway, Mamaw would have a husband." Which is true, because his mamaw is straight, but also NOT the phrasing that I should be using with my inquisitive five-year-old since I would like him to grow up believing that anyone should be allowed to marry the person they love, regardless of sex or gender. Luckily my stop talking, dumbass! brain alarm went off and I caught myself about halfway through and awkwardly segued into telling him briefly that Mamaw used to be married and she isn't now, but someday she might be married again. That sometimes people aren't married to someone and that's okay.

3. Sometimes I react out of worry that Nico will be mocked or bullied for something that is out of the gender norm, and only realize afterward that I may be giving him the wrong message inadvertently.

While picking out school supplies, he initially chose scissors with a crazy pink and white print. Worrying about him being teased, I asked him conversationally "Are you sure those are the ones you want?" and he ended up changing his mind. Then I felt like an asshole because OF COURSE my son can have pink scissors if he wants and we already talk a lot about how pink is not only for girls even though some people think that it is and what is wrong with me that I talked him out of getting the scissors he wanted? I worry, though, about my sweet boy. I was mocked and belittled a lot (LOT) at school growing up and was pretty miserable because of it. Nico is already awkward and sensitive and a little bit weird, and my heart hurts thinking about him being made fun of...of course it'll happen - every kid gets made fun of at some point. I'm realizing, though, that it would be better to let Nico make his own choices and then stand behind him all the way than to guide him into something he wants less based on my fears of how people might treat him.

I will not deny that white cisgender male privilege exists, but it bothers me that there is less flexibility within the societal constructs of gender norms for boys versus girls. Most of Nico's playdate buddies are girls, and no one bats an eye when the girls play with Lego or wade into a creek in search of tadpoles or stomp through ankle-deep mud. Most of the adults I know applaud this kind of non-restricted behavior in girls, as they should. I ask myself a lot, though, how much does that go the other way? How much does that extend to boys being "allowed" to like pink or boys not being mocked if they are sensitive or cry? (I overheard the neighbor kid's grandfather gently counseling him that he needed to "toughen up" once after the kid came home crying because another kid ran into him or hit him. I thought to myself, the last thing that kid needs is to get tougher. If anything, he needs to be a little more sensitive.) I don't brook a lot of dramatics when it comes to things like minor injuries and insults, and have been known to tell my child that it's time to stop crying or to take it to his room. However, I will never, ever, ever tell him to "man up" or "be a man" or to "stop being a girl." I certainly hope for their sake that no one else ever does either.

Someone shared an article on facebook the other day arguing that parents need to stop using phrases like "he's such a boy" and "boys will be boys" to explain or excuse boys' behavior. At best it teaches gender restrictions / expectations; at worst it excuses asshole behavior. A few days after sharing the article on twitter and facebook and discussing how much the "such a boy" stereotyping is annoying, I took Nico to shop for school pants at Once Upon a Child. He was patient and good and tried on everything I asked him to, so I let him browse the toys afterward. He asked to see a few random things that I was not willing to buy, then I spotted a big, nice dollhouse on the very top shelf. It was tagged only $20, so we fetched an employee with a ladder to get it down for us. Nico was instantly enamored. I asked him, if I buy this, do you promise you'll try to play with it a lot and not just forget about it? Do you promise to share it with your brother? He said he would, on both accounts. He asked me earnestly, "Can you buy this with your own money?" He is learning that things cost a lot, and it takes a long time to save up dollars in one's piggy bank. I gladly paid for the house and we took it home. We didn't even have to say anything to Elliott - he spotted it immediately and came running with a toy rhinoceros who wanted to explore the rooms. Nico moved his beloved small puppies in next. I posted a photo of them on facebook snarkily tagged #boyswillbeboys #suchaboy #boymom and got a flurry of positive comments. I love that people loved it. The following day, the boys spent a good 45 minutes playing together with the house and their collection of plastic dinosaurs. Each day since we bought it, Elliott has asked, "House? Play with house?" upon waking up in the morning. I would dare anyone to tell me boys don't like dollhouses, that dollhouses are just for girls. I'm going to try really hard not to limit my boys as we grow together, whether it's pink scissors they want or purple coats.

Reading:  Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King

Playing:  Here Comes Science by They Might Be Giants. This album is so great. I don't even turn it off after I drop the kids off in the mornings. Did you know that elephants are made of elements?


  1. I love that album.

    Interesting post, full of interesting things to think about. I do think our society likes it and is proud when girls like "boyish" things, but feels less confident about boys being interested in "girlish" things. I'm afraid it could be because, as a society, we think boys and boy stuff are "better" than girls and girl stuff.

    Everyone (including me) was charmed out of their socks when my daughter got obsessed with dinosaurs (I had to buy shirts for her from the boy department), but I had those "Wait, what's the right course of action here?" when my 9-year-old, sensitive, picked-on, no-friends, math/science-strong-but-people/relationships-clueless son wanted to wear nail polish to school. (I went with, he can do that when he understands the social message it sends. That is, if he understands gender norms in 7th grade and wants to deliberately go against them, I am all for it, and pleased about it. But I don't want him picked on MORE in 4th grade just because he doesn't yet understand what some of his peers DO understand. But it was a very tricky decision, and I was very unsure about it, and unsure about the message I was sending HIM with my decision. On the other hand, I didn't want to sacrifice my own personal child on the altar of my personal goals for societal change.) (I did let sons wear nail polish to school when they were in preschool/kindergarten. The peer issue was less of an issue then.)

    1. As usual, you have perfectly summed up the way I feel: "On the other hand, I didn't want to sacrifice my own personal child on the altar of my personal goals for societal change." This, exactly! It's all good and well to support smashing gender biases, but I'm not using my kid as a hammer.

  2. God, I could have written this post. My current struggle is marriage, because I do believe that everyone should be able to married who they want. But when my boys and I get into the conversation and S says he wants to marry his best friend I worry because he doesn't actually know what the love is for marriage vs a best friend and I don't want him to be picked on if he were to say that at school but I also don't want him to feel that I don't want him to be open (especially to ME) if that happens to be his preference. I also have very "BOY" boys, but I hate that they put pink and purple in "girls" and say they hate them and hate all girls stuff because their stupid friends told them that it's not okay to like those things.

    Parenting is so freaking hard.