Monday, March 10, 2008

blue is for boys

I’ve read many eloquent posts about the importance of not reinforcing stereotypical gender roles. The thing is, they almost all seem to be about girls. Parents worry about sending the message through books or toys or clothes that their daughters’ choices are limited. The same concern rarely extends to their sons, even though the range of what’s considered acceptable for a boy is much narrower. A girl who’s one of the boys is a adorable little tomboy. A boy who’s into girly things usually ends up with a much less positive name.

What if, speaking not quite hypothetically, you had a four-year-old boy who begged for princess books, preferred to attend preschool dressed in pink from head (pink barrettes) to toe (pink-flowered sneakers) and, when guests were visiting, liked to perform pirouettes while wearing a tutu?

Now, I’m sure some people would be concerned about subjecting their son to teasing. To my mind, though, what others think is a non-issue. In fact, I’d view it as a perfect opportunity to reinforce ideas about individuality and independence.

So, how would you feel about your little boy wanting girly stuff? Would you encourage him or steer him in a more traditional direction? If you hesitate to buy princess outfits for your daughter, would you be willing to buy them for your son? Would you as pleased to have a boy who wanted to be a ballerina as a girl who wanted to be a pirate?

53 comments:

kate said...

We didn't have this issue with A. when was young but his best friend was very into 'girl stuff' -- makeup, dresses, etc. It bothered the menfolk, let me tell you. Even though my dh is not at all stereotypically 'male' he was very concerned about this child, as was the boy's father. His mom & i figured he would just grow out of it and it was no big deal. We don't live next to them any more, but B. does not wear pink on their Xmas card picture....

I would neither encourage nor actively discourage. Frankly, i don't want to buy princess outfits for *anybody*...but i don't want to make a huge issue of it either. If having a princess outfit was very important to the child (either gender), i would probably buy it...

kate said...

P.S. you can always tell everybody he is just being Victorian...in Victorian times, blue was the girl color & pink was the boy color.

Suz said...

My husband and I have two very different views on this.

I honestly feel a little sorry for little boys. Girls have the pretty clothes. They have the spangles and bright colors and the prompting to engage in imaginative play that all kids adore. My boys wear blue or brown or green - these are the colors that I wear, but I've searched in vain for pink, yellow, and purple for them. I encourage them to do whatever they please - regardless of adult ideas about gender. Wear my shoes. Play with the stroller. It's all important and I encourage it.

However, my husband sees things differently. As the last of four boys in a somewhat disfunctional family, he learned the hard way that any difference from the norm can be exploited and used against you. He doesn't want the boys to be different, because that is to do nothing but cultivate future pain. It's a crazy way to live and a sad thing to believe.

christina(apronstrings) said...

you are right on when it comes to how we worry about little girls and stereotypes so much.

boys need special attention in the regard. i hate to say it, but boys are violent and well, they are more likely to grow up and kill members of the opposite sex. we should take notice of the theories that say not allowing little boys to express emotion can ultimately create rage.

my SIL has done such a good job at creating an emotionally healthy little boy. he has a baby boy that he carts around in his stroller. and a kitchen that he cooks up eggs in for his aunt ce ce.
his emotional intelligence was highlighted when, at 3(!!), after visiting his mom at the hospital he said "i didn't let my dad see me cry on the way home, because it would have made him cry too."

good post, as usual.

teridr said...

I do (um, hypothetically) have a three-year-old boy, and he loves dressing in his sister's outgrown ballerina tutus and fluffy princess gowns. He also loves pretending he can do karate, also to be more like her. I think it's adorable, but (as so many others have said) my husband is concerned that he will be teased.

Of course, even when we dress him in ratty Spiderman sweatshirts, people think he's a girl because he has blue eyes, longish curly blonde hair, and dimples. So I think he might as well get some fun out of it if he's going to get teased anyway!

beagle said...

In theory I am all for giving my (theoretical) son a doll. My husband is a pretty well rounded guy, but even he IS afraid of babies. Nurturing should be taught to both genders.

That said, ballet is great, but tutus would have me freaked out a bit. My father and at least one BIL would say mean things. How to handle that aspect? I really don't know.

How do you encourage their individuality while protecting their egos? (I hate the term self esteem).

Great post. You always make us think!

yummysushipajamas said...

As far as I am concerned, I think all kids should be encouraged to do whatever makes them happy. Every kid is going to be teased, no matter what. Other kids will figure out a way to pick on even the most seemingly perfect kids, so why not let your children do what they want to. When my brother was little, he had a baby Cabbage Patch doll that he carried around everywhere, and it made him so happy that even my relatively conservative Dad had to agree it was fine!

Cate said...

Having been teased mercilessly as a child I know the pain of not fitting in. It would be very hard for me to see my son subjected to that kind of cruelty. However, I would not stifle his desire to express his individuality through acting or dressing more "feminine."
I am so committed to being gender neutral that I even borrowed a baby doll and all the accoutrement from a friend who has girls. The day I brought it home I gave it to him to play with to see what he would do. He took the baby out of the package and slammed its head into the tile floor, screamed "NO," and then ran away.

DD said...

That's a tough one because while I am against the "stereotype" of boys vs. girls, I also would be more concerned with the safety and feelings of my son and would discourage outright and public displays of those things that are typically "girl" (pink bows in the hair, for example).

However, I have never discouraged his penchant for running around the house wearing my high heels and bra and when he was younger, he liked having his finger nails painted. But these things weren't to make HIM feel girly, but a way of being like Mommy, much like his equal enjoyment of riding with Daddy around the property in his truck or his wish to have a 4-wheeler - like Dad.

Society is all about conformity, whether it's as simple as wearing your underwear UNDER your pants or as blatant as uniforms in school.

I think part of a parent's responsibility is somehow blending conformity with creativity to best highlight a child's individual and distinct talents and personality.

Tash said...

I don't have a son, so I can't speak to experience, but I'd like to think I'd let him do what he wants, ESPECIALLY when he's young (like, under the age of 8-10). I understand the need for some conformity (e.g., making my daughter wear pants to school and not a bathing suit), I think kids are much less judgmental and curious when they're young, and that's the time to let them have it out. I let on to a few neighborhood moms last year that I painted Bella's toenails in an effort to get her to sit on the potty, and they all confided in me they had done the exact same thing . . . for their sons. I think that's lovely.

charmedgirl said...

my boy is sandwiched by two girls, so i've assumed that liking girl stuff to an extent would be a given. he always chooses the pink choice (the girls like blue and orange). i just bought him a hot pink rubber duck for his easter basket, and let him have barettes when he asks. he also has his own sparkly blue polish for when we all do nails.

for me, the important thing is that they're not raised with cinderella and other totally inappropriate romance/marriage brainwashing stories. that's usually what people give me the strange looks about, not that my son is wearing tiny pigtails or nail polish.

i just want them all to be happy.

Magpie said...

Yes. I want a happy, smart, well-rounded kid. This morning, my child told me that her plastic light-up fairy was a girl space ranger.

By the way, ballet is hard work, for boys and girls. People often fail to realize that.

Interesting piece in Newsweek - written by an ABT dancer (Sascha Radetsky):

http://www.newsweek.com/id/120061

Ahuva Batya said...

I would think (hypothetically, as I have no offspring), that a parent would be torn between being idealistic and being realistic. What I mean by that is, your idealistic side would want to encourage your child to be whatever he/she wants to be, and yet your realistic self would realize the potential for that child to be teased and for making the childhood experience more painful by allowing your little boy to show up all in pink.

Rachel said...

I am a very tradtional person, but I used to let my littlest brother dress up in my dresses. I'd let him paint his nails and whenever he visits me, I still let him do my hair. It drives our dad crazy.

My hubby was talking about letting our future daughters be into sports and other "guy" things. I told him that was fine but if our son wants a Barbie when he is 3, we're going to buy it for him. And if he chooses figure skating over football, my hubby has to be supportive.

Do I want my son to be "girly"? Not really. But I figure that if I don't make it out to be a huge deal then if he does like the girly stuff he will know that we will not think less of him because of it. I don't think it will be easy, but I think we need to do it.

Becky said...

Hmmm...for ages, I would paint Ben's toenails when he was younger. He asked for it and I didn't have the heart to deny him. I usually painted them black, thereby solidifying his goth-ness later in life.

I've never made a ton of distinction about girls and boys and what they can or cannot do, preferring to let him figure it out on his own (save, of course, for the body parts discussion. He knows what we both have and how they are different--I am a nurse, afterall).

After Alex was born last year, he would often walk around the house lamenting that he did not have a uterus with which to bear a child.

*sighs* "Mom, I WISH I had a uterus..."

Becky said...

Oh, and he has a doll, Seth, who he occasionally breast feeds AND a play kitchen that he used to cook "dinner" for us in.

He's fairly well-rounded and will someday make a great partner.

Patti said...

When the Wondertwins were small, they would share the same toys, the same dress up clothes and the same play kitchen. If I was painting my toenails, both kids wanted their toenails done - and I did them. My son had a barbie doll that was all his. To this day, if you ask them "What's the difference between boys and girls?" The reply is, "Boys can't have babies in their tummies and girls can't pee standing up."

I must admit, though, that my ex-husband used to be weirded out by the nail polish and say that he was going to put our son into wrestling to "make a man out of him." Goof.

Aurelia said...

It doesn't bug me in the least, and I'd be supportive.

That said, I've tried buying dolls and other things for my boys, and we have never owned guns or army stuff, and of course, that's all they want. They even turn the legos into guns.

I sent them to a very gender neutral daycare, where the staff were more into dispelling stereotypes than me and they weren't allowed to watch any kiddie commercials and I was careful about their TV/movie watching....and it was all useless.

The only girlie thing they do is cook and they only do that because of Dad cooking. Sigh...

cinnamon gurl said...

I have written about this, actually, quite a while ago I think. I hate that boys' clothes don't come in bright colours and I love that my son cuddles his dolls and tucks them in. I never minded when people mistook him for a girl as a baby (of course I was the one dressing him in tie-dye and leopard print).

I think about this a lot. I was teased for having red hair and other things I couldn't control. It WAS very painful, but I wonder if it would have been better to be teased for things I chose to do and wear with the loving support of my family? There are no easy answers and we have to figure out our own paths, but I DO feel strongly that it's always good to question our assumptions about gender, to catch those assumptions in the first place.

I actually think boys have fewer options than girls in almost every way; any divergence from the norm is much more contentious, I think.

Maggie said...

What a great point! And I am impressed at all of the comments too - no one having a fit about boys doing 'girly' things.

Michelle said...

My son was very into Dora when he was younger, so he had lots of pink - blankets, toys, hats, etc. I did draw the line at shoes, though. I'm not sure why, but the shoes bothered me.

But, taking him out in his Dora shirt, his sister's Mickey Mouse socks and Power Puff girl hat was always entertaining. People seemed to get that he was just expressing his independence.

kalakly said...

I have some great pix and videos of my son all "dolled" up in high heels, a big floppy wicker hat with a sunflower and ribbons on it and of course a matching bag. He was much more coordinated and accessorized than I could ever hope to be and he was only 3. Now he has switched to all things camo, but we did let him keep dressing up until he had had enough of it. He finally got tired of his dinosaur feety jammies getting stuck in his pumps and one day said "enough"! Ahh fashion, it's not for the weak at heart.

Anonymous said...

I have a great photo of my dad when he was 6 dressed up in his grandma's clothes. He ended up being a great man, cried at commercials, made jokes and was the first person I talked to when I got my period. I say let this boy be who is and support and love him, but always help him to make good choices that are right for him.
Ally Pally

Julia said...

I am all for ballet-- grace, flexibility, coordination, all the good stuff. Gymnastics too. Princesses? I am allergic to them. It would be hard for me to buy that for any offspring of mine. Although just Saturday I bough a unicorn balloon all by myself, without anyone whining for it, because I knew she would love it, what with how it would coordinate with the plates and all. It's now in her bedroom-- I expelled it from downstairs Sunday morning.

Ruby said...

My "Little One" (6 year old boy) loves to be a superhero a jedi a knight and a bandit. However, he also loves to take care of his baby doll, play with his doll house, his disney princesses and play house.

His dad freaked a little the first time he saw him with a doll, but after I explained to him that I thought it would teach him to be nurturing and not to be ashamed to express his feelings openly and not to think it's "womens work" he was fine with it.

Though I wouldn't encourage him to dress like a girl in public. Mainly because I wouldn't want to subject him to what others might say.

leanne said...

I enjoyed the post and all the comments. Very interesting to think about.

When my husband asked our son (who is 3) what he wanted to be for Halloween last year, our son, without an ounce of hesitation and with great enthusiam, announced that he wanted to be a princess. To say the least my husband was taken by surprise (I thought it was amusing as I listened in on their conversation from the next room). It wasn't long before I heard my husband offering other options -- not telling him he couldn't be a princess, but that there were other possibilities. As soon as our son heard "fire fighter," he changed his mind and was quite definite that's what he wanted to be -- nothing else sounded as good. So he went as a fire fighter.

Our son does like to pretend to cook -- syrupy rotten eggs are a favorite at the moment -- as well as help me cook and bake. And he does like to take care of his stuffed animals and pretend he's a mommy (never a daddy). I've told him a number of times that he's a great mommy.

Roxanne said...

Oh my god. This is my (not so) secret dream. I would love to have a gay son. In fact, I'd rather have a gay son than straight girl. I'm pretty sure my son is straight--which is fine. I still love him, trucks and all.

But selfishness aside, I would only worry that people would pick on him. My best friend is a gay guy and he was teased a lot in school. I would encourage him to be himself. I would also do my homework to find alternate environments for him if he had trouble in the mainstream.

Andrea said...

See, but, it's completely different.

The reason boys' choices are more limited is because masculinity is still considered higher-status than femininity. Therefore, a little girl acting like a boy is being promoted, in essence, while a little boy acting like a girl is being demoted or contaminated.

Individuality and independence are great things, I'd like to think I'd let a theoretical son do the same. But the fact still remains that boys' choices are limited because they are considered better than girls. The proper target, it seems to me, is not the parents, but the culture and all its means of reinforcing the idea that girly stuff is inherently worse, less serious, less interesting, and all the rest of it.

Roxanne said...

I went back and read the other comments and then realized I implied that all the people with little boys who like to dress up as princesses are gay. Probably not the case.

Not that there's anything wrong with that. ;)

Lori said...

Big J used to love dresses when he was around 3 or 4. When he would go over to his girl-friend's house he would always ask to put on one of her dresses. The girl's stay-at-home-dad couldn't have cared less and neither could I (how's that for a host of role reversals!) It always cracked me up when I picked him up and saw him running around their backyard in one of her play dresses.

Now he wears baggy jeans, baseball caps and lives to skateboard. That's all his choice too. I say let them be.

And for that matter, I have to go out on a limb (at the risk of hanging myself) and say I don't really have any issues with the "princess fantasy" either. Why are we so sure that if a little girl enjoys dressing up in a ball gown and wearing a crown that she will grow up with a skewed idea of her femininity and strength as a woman (that is what we are worried about, right?) My boys both went through huge pirate phases and Big J positively idolized Captain Hook. Well... he's 13 now and so far has shown no tendencies toward wanting to sack villages, wear a hook for hand, or sprinkle his conversations with "Aaaargh." Can't they just pretend??

Just my two cents. Which is about all it is worth.

Law Student Hot Mama said...

Wow - this is intense!

I was a total tomboy as a kid and I still am. I swear I think I have more testosterone than most men, but that's another issue entirely.

I think you're right that it's a tougher issue with boys. I'd support my son if he wanted to wear a pink tutu, but I have to admit I don't know that I could relate as well to him! I was the Leggo/wooden train type kid. But if that's what he's into I say go for it. Then I start teaching him stuff about self-esteem and ignoring what other people say.

Kymberli said...

People have bought dolls for Kyra (age 6) and she's even asked for them for Christmas or birthdays, but in truth she could care less about them. They hold her attention for no more than ten minutes, then she's off reading a book or writing. Jordan (age 4) will occasionally spend more time with her dolls than she does. But after 20 minutes or so styling Barbie's hair, he'll pop her head off and roll over it with his dump truck.

I don't encourage or discourage which children play with what. I offer up a range of suggestions, and if Jaiden wants to don a princess dress and Kyra wants to roll in the mud, so be it.

Taken to the extreme of one of my boys choosing pink and princess shoes - I would support them, but would fear the undue teasing and rude comments. I can handle any adults making comments to me, but I would be concerned about the comments my child would get while not in my presence.

Ms. Planner said...

There is another great article like this is last month's Cookie magazine (about a little boy who wants to wear dresses to school and how his parents and the school handle it).

I'm having issues like this with having a daughter. Nearly everthing is pink this and princess that. I'm personally annoyed by the princess concept and hope to keep her far from it. It is no wonder some little boys are interested in princess stuff. The shit is EVERYWHERE.

But I do think the stereotypes are tougher for little boys. In our generation, the little girls got to break the mold with tomboy-chic. Maybe the next generation will break the mold for what's expected behavior for little boys.

Furrow said...

Sure, it's okay for boys to play with dolls and wear dresses. I see nothing wrong with it. I've even decided, after some soul searching, that it's okay if my daughter wants to do that.

Lisa b said...

I'd like to think I would be willing to let my son be a ballerina, though our neighbours let their son be dora for halloween and it made me wonder if that was more about them than him.
All the guys I know who are gay tell me this is what they liked to do as kids as young as three and four. Maybe the straight guys just don't admit this. Who knows.
My main concern would be what Sin mentioned - I wouldn't want to contribute to my child being teased.

Nicole said...

I always told people that I would only dress my baby in pink if it was a boy. I am confident that I would have stuck with that.

painted maypole said...

i know i would let a boy play with dolls, dress up at home, etc, but I don't know that I would be so free with the clothing thing out in public. that would be an interesting thing to have to deal with.

Bea said...

I find all the "how will I save my daughter from the curse of girliness?" stuff to be a bit much. I don't think anyone is a weaker person for wearing a princess dress.

There's anxiety around boys too, but it's not (usually) fear of boy-culture but sadness that they are socially barred from girl-culture. I have found Susanne's post on that topic to be very haunting.

Bon said...

i don't like the princess dresses in excess myself, but i do find myself encouraging O's inclinations to "girly" things...like we're the great subversive family or something. he goes to a sitter with only girls, so comes home with his toes painted, which i think is simply fun. and i overtly encouraging his nurturing spirit with his baby doll and his rabbit.

all that said, Andrea's right...there's still a lack of value of the feminized in our culture. and so what i'd like to do is help my kids understand how all that operates...and perhaps enjoy decoration, male or female, while not seeing themselves or others no matter their sex as merely decorative.

a- said...

I would be extremely pleased with a boy ballerina but not with the tutu. It just wouldn't fly in our family and personally I like to pick my battles with them. Individuality and independence can be reinforced in other ways aside from experiments in how "the other half" lives or dresses. My youngest son does enjoy his little (fully-equipped) toy "kitchen" he received from me over the holidays and he is strongly encouraged to not go to bed with dirty dishes in the sink. I do what I can.

Angeline said...

I feel perfectly great! Though many times the expression from strangers are not very supportive when they see my 2-year-old boy holding on to a Minnie mouse (as if its his, which actually he grab it off the shelf the moment his feet stepped into the toy dept) and walk around as he examines the kitchen set for the Barbies to play.

Then off he went to press button which makes the 'baby alive' doll blink and speaks, before he went off the the car section where he look out for any new hot wheels models.

When we are ready to leave the dept, he would sometimes kiss the Minnie and say goodbye before putting her back to where she belongs.

Yup that's my boy!

Angela said...

I really appreciated Andrea's comment about masculinity being considered "better" and higher-status than femininity. It made me realize that I still subconsciously think that way at times. Hmm...definitely something to think a lot about now...

And I think I would let my son wear stereotypically "girly" things, etc. (In truth though, I hope none of my children [if I ever have any, anyway], whether male or female, go the hot pink/princess route simply because it's not my taste. At all. Wah wah.) Although the thought of having to explain to him why people might make fun of him and how that's not the right way to think is exhausting me already!

Carole said...

Good thought prevoking question. Zak had Barbies and a doll and a pinkish stroller. He could have cared less about them. He nutured the doll for awhile...but then was more interested in building a death star out of his legos...or whatever he was into at that time. I've neither encouraged or discouraged my daughter from being girly...she just is...but then she can turn around and throw someone to the ground and rip their face off. Basically...I got nothing. lol
~Carole

Tricia said...

I tried to give Sean numerous dolls and even just stuffed animals, he had absolutely no interest. My day care had 4 other little girls and he was the only boy...yet, he played with the one truck she had at the time. Whereas, Keira cares less about the trucks and wants her stuffed animals. Sean didn't really care about dancing until he was 2.5 years. Keira loves it always and swings her little but at a year. I think some kids just fit the stereotype...I think it's more important for them to know they are doing what they want and I support them.

niobe said...

Andrea: Excellent point. I've sometimes wondered if one of the explanations why parents are generally very happy to have their little girls gravitate towards "boy" activities is precisely the reason you give -- that traditional girls' roles and everything that goes with them are systematically undervalued.

wheelsonthebus said...

My son wears pink every single day. Every day. He also has a ring. He once asked for a dress (and got it).

We try to steer towards the non-frilly pink stuff, mostly because what others think IS an issue. If he is teased, he will feel shame for following his passion for clothing, but if we can gently steer him towards things that will not get him teased, he can enjoy his passion without feeling pressure to give it up.

He also wears train underwear.

CappyPrincess said...

My own boy child will forever deny that he dressed up in his sister's princess costume and begged to be called by a feminine version of his name when he was about 4 years old. (We do have the picture to prove it, but of course would never publically embarass this child who believes that would have been horrible for him to do.) He also enjoyed swiping the knee high stockings out of my drawer and wearing them under his own pants/socks, pulled up to his hips of course. He said "they felt good against his skin". Both of these events caused my ex to come unglued and worry that his son was going to be gay if we allowed this type of behavior. To this day I shake my head at his closed minded attitude. Boy child was going through a phase - one I believe all children go through where they discover themselves through experimentation. He has since outgrown his fondness for pastel satin skirts and halloween wig curls. He still has tactile preferences for the things he wears next to his skin, but he doesn't swipe my nylons; he just prefers soft to scratchy (don't we all?).

It's interesting to see him now having adopted his father's attitude about things that boys shouldn't do. So every once in awhile we have this "remember when" discussion and remind him that his choices as a 3-4 year old did not define who he is at age 12. Nor will they define who is is at age 20, 50, 80 - not unless he closes his mind to the possbility of allowing a child to explore life the way the child feels comfortable.

We put girls in overalls and let them play with cars without thinking twice but heaven forbid we allow our sons to wear a skirt. Perhaps they think the pretty pink tutu is just part of the "have to" of ballet class and they just want in on the fun of dance - it has nothing to do with wanting to wear the tutu???

girlinaboyhouse said...

I personally have never had to address that "issue". My boys are not interested in dolls or babies, and they never have been. In fact, they are known for saying that they don't like babies. However, they LOVE baby animals, and so many baby stuffed animals are provided to them. They nurture them and love them, and I feel that's just fine.

As for pink - I dress them in colours that are darker as they get dirty so quickly.

As for Barbies - I would never buy my sons a Barbie, just as I would never buy my (hypothetical) daughter one.

Caro said...

I hope I won't be bothered and I'd prefer to try and avoid the stereotypes. But I suspect that my other half would be a bit bothered and his father definitely would (almost a reason to dress the baby in a pink frilly dress and send him pictures). My other half had his action man removed as his father declared that as a boy he shouldn't be playing with dolls.

Beck said...

My son isn't at all a macho guy - although he's manly enough in his sensitive way - but we would have gently steered him away from girly stuff because deliberately setting your child up to be socially ostrasized (at best) is a cruel, cruel thing.
But there's still a way to be a guy and be a sensitive, nuturing person. A lot of things that some parents think might be issues (little boys playing with dolls or whatever) really aren't issues anymore.

thrice said...

My oldest preferred pink, until he discovered peer pressure and then his favorite color turned to green, because he wanted to be a Jedi.

My twins prefer pink and purple and at their request I recently purchased a pair of hot pink and grape purple crocs. Apparently, many people think that wearing feminine colors make male children gay. A LOT of people. They also like to wear ponytails and so do I. I oblige and tell them that they look wonderful. My ass of a husband gets really upset, as well as many other people and I just don't get it. Like who decided that pink was only for girls and why do I have to follow that rule???

AJW5403 said...

That is a tough question. I am a little more at ease with my son and girly things then my husband. I let my son play with baby dolls if he wants but my husband will pull it right out of his hand. And if my son wanted to be a ballerina I would really have not problem with that. But then again you have my husband and he would just flip. But yet he does all he can to get our daughter into sports.

Christine said...

we totally went with it when my son was into his sister's things--dress up things, toy heel shoes, purses, etc. we didn't stop him at all. but all on his own it just kind of faded away.

Running on empty