September 13, 2019 5 min read
12 September 2019
I read a blog recently in @ThinkOrBlue, here it is: What birth order taught me about gender stereotypes, it got me thinking about the differences between raising boys and girls without gender prejudices: at its heart letting them wear and play with whatever they like regardless of gender. Of course, in an ideal world there wouldn't be any differences, but there are, or there are for me. So I'm going to take a bit of time to reflect on myself, on my own parenting: we've got this girl power thing nailed, but what about the boy power?
Here's The Boy: gentle, kind, emotional, sensitive and entirely at peace with his 'feminine side'. I often wonder how on earth he will make it through this world in one piece. This is the boy who came home at age six and said 'I don't want to eat meat anymore, meat is made from animals, I don't want to eat animals'. He didn't even know such a thing existed: he'd never heard of a vegetarian. This is the boy who at age five said he wanted 'a big boy baby [doll]' for his birthday. This is the boy who still (at nine) loves having his toe nails painted.
Job done, you might think! Clearly he's been taught to connect with his emotions, that there's no such thing as 'boys’ toys'. Well, yes. He has. BUT, it is and was easier with my daughter. Much easier.
Big Baby was our first real challenge. When your oldest child is a girl, it's super easy for your son to play with her toys, and he wants to because he adores her and everything about her. Pushchairs, dolls house, cooker - all a walk in the park. And there's something terribly cute about baby and toddler boys playing with 'girls'' toys. In the main, his interests and play style have always been pretty gender conforming. By this I mean that while both my children loved the toy trains he would line them up and crash them, while she would have them talking to each other. He played with the box of Barbies, but often they were cargo in the back of a ride-on tractor, or flying at speed on a rocket down the slide. Both my children pushed dollies around the garden in the play buggy, but he was usually shouting and crashing into the fence when she would talk to them and carefully wrap them in a blanket. Then I asked him what he wanted for his (5th) birthday: when he said he wanted a doll my heart stopped. If my daughter had asked for a toy crane, I would have been delighted and even smug with my gender neutral approach. But I was so afraid he would be teased, that in his pride he would tell other children about his birthday present and he would be bullied. My husband and I discussed it: were we sure it was what he really wanted? To my shame, I bought a superhero outfit for Big Baby (the doll) to wear so that when he was introduced to other boys, they would be less likely to tease him: a success or a failure?
Nails glorious nails
He's always loved having his nails painted. When he was small, we lived in Vietnam, and he was cared for at home by our awesome nanny, as we both worked full time. She had a glorious bag full of sparkly nail polish that both my children loved. We were absolutely happy for him to run about with his deliciously chubby little toes painted in whatever colours he chose. He was a toddler, it was cute. Oh how sanctimoniously easy it was to avoid gender stereotypes when he was little! Then a few months ago, out of the blue he said 'When are we going to paint my nails again?'. He's nine. I'd assumed he had moved on, but apparently not. So, I brightly said 'Right now' and smiled. As he sorted through the box of colours I thought 'Don’t choose pink, please don't choose pink'. In my mind's eye I could see him at the swimming pool in his breaststroke class showing off his glitter pink toes and being reduced to tears by their laughter. As it was, I was relieved he wanted blue toes, like water, and for me to paint a turtle onto his big toes because turtles are good swimmers like him. He's delighted with his turtle toes and so am I: a success or a failure? By chance on our way out of the swimming pool last week I walked past a little boy, about 6 years old, holding onto the hand rail. I noticed his fingernails were painted and sparkly. It made me smile. There are lots of boys like my boy; perhaps I worry too much about him being teased?
Girl Power Vs Boy Power
In our society, there's nothing strange about putting a girl in a boy's t-shirt, that's what unisex t-shirts are: girls in t-shirts shaped and designed for boys. Whenever someone says 'why aren't there any dinosaur t-shirts for girls?' the response is always 'Just buy them in the boys’ section'. However, although I have definitely seen folk write 'Where are the unicorn t-shirts for boys?’, I've never seen a response that says 'Just buy them in the girls’ section'.
As a society, we're much better at accepting girls wearing 'boys’' clothes than boys wearing 'girls'’ clothes, likewise with toys. How many of you would let your daughters wear a Spiderman costume at Halloween, but find it harder to let your sons wear an Elsa dress? I would definitely let my son wear an Elsa dress, but I would find it much harder now that he's older than I did when he was younger. There, I’ve said it. It's harder for me. But that doesn't mean I can't do it. I am a product of my culture, my experiences, my upbringing. So are you. I'm not a terrible parent because I take a deep breath before painting my son's toes pink.
When something is difficult we have to work harder at it. When my children say (about all kinds of things) 'But Mummy, it's hard', I say 'You can do hard things': I can do hard things too.
Thanks for reading my blog. I hope you enjoyed it.
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