“You can’t have that toy, it’s for girls”… A phrase you will never hear in my household. My son has trucks, dinosaurs, and My Little Ponies; Superman, Batman, Spiderman and Wonder Woman; both Diego and Dora; stuffed animals and also baby dolls; plastic tool sets right beside play kitchen cookware. We watch Cars and Cinderella, Tarzan and Tinkerbell; he picks whatever he wants.
This just seems natural to me. We let our son decide what he likes, we don’t tell him what boys should and shouldn’t like. He gets enough of that from advertising and the obvious blue or pink way of coloring kids items. He use to say his favorite color was white, now he says it’s blue. Why is it suddenly blue? His words: “I’m a boy.” No one has told him this, but popular culture taught him by observation. Does he really like blue? Yes! Who doesn’t? Was he influenced by cultural gender identities? Also yes, we all are. This is also a natural part of society. But there is a point that I draw a line in the sand: I will not deny him something he genuinely likes, just because it’s “made for girls”. I’m no fool, I know that the world is full of labels and you will wear many in your lifetime. I’m not setting out to neutralize the world of gender roles. I’m not even setting out to change them. What I AM doing is making sure my son knows that he can like things just because he likes them – because his opinion matters.
I grew up the youngest of two sisters. My parents had planned on having a third, but never did. I suspect that my dad always wanted a son, although he has never said it and loves my sister and I completely. But lucky for him, I was naturally interested in sports and cars and outdoorsy fun like camping. I was often called a tomboy even though I also liked Barbie and Cabbage Patch Kids and wearing dresses to church with the little shiny shoes that sounded a “tap-tee-tap-tee-tap” when I walked. I liked “girl things”, but I also knew I liked things that were “boy things”. I use to sneak up to my parents room and take out my dad’s giant G.I Joe from his childhood in the 1950’s. It was just so cool. I was lucky, and my parents were totally cool with my mixed interests. My best Christmas ever I got the whole Ninja Turtle sewer system complete with Turtles & Shredder… but I also got new dresses and bows for my American Girl doll, and that was just as cool! I was still called a tomboy though, and that label affected me a lot as I grew. Suddenly I had to be a tomboy, because that’s what I was, right? I vehemently insisted I hated pink [but I didn’t hate it, not really, I think…] Why couldn’t girl’s like lots of things without it having to be boy or girl? I didn’t know.
When I was around 15, I went into a dollar store with my older cousin and his toddler-age son, “E”. On one of the isles, there were these small plush beach balls with bright stripes of yellow, white, green, pink, and purple. E really wanted one, he loved balls; yet my cousin scolded him and told him that was a “no-no” because the little balls had one stripe that was pink on it. “Pink is for girls, son! You don’t want that. Stop crying.” As a teen experiencing this, I was baffled; actually I was embarrassed. Today, with my parental-hind-sight, my cousin was probably [hopefully] just trying to get out of buying another toy [albeit a $1 toy…] But the thing is, every one around us thought this was totally a normal and okay thing to do – Scold your child, in public, just for liking an object that somewhere on it contained a color that challenged YOUR ideas of gender. Seriously.
I think the twin experiences of having such awesome parents that let me play with what I liked – and then seeing what it is like when a parent imposes weird toy-gender rules that don’t make sense to little brains – was really what made my mind up at a very early age that my kids would be free to be themselves. This concept seems pretty self-evident to me, so I am genuinely at a loss for words when I mention something the Wonder Boy is playing with and get weird looks or comments. Yet it happens, and it happens all the dang time!
The thing I get asked the most is “Why are you trying to make him feminine?” The short answer: I’m not!! It’s what he likes! In fact, every stereotypically “girl” thing my son likes, has a completely legit reason why he was introduced to it, and it has nothing to do with anyone trying to “feminize” him.
Wonder Boy loved Blue’s Clues when he was very small, he loved Blue and Magenta and all the characters. So he has a Blue and a Magenta [pink] little doll set. Oh my goodness! A pink dog! Later he began loving Go Deigo Go! Diego’s cousin Dora comes on the show often, and we ran out of Diego episodes on Netflix, so what does it suggest? Dora! He already knew the character, so he took to the show immediately. Enter the Dora blanket and the Dora bowling pins. Oh my goodness! A bowling set with a couple of pink colored pins! Around that time I was talking to a co-worker of mine about trying to find a Dora backpack, his response was “you mean Diego?”.. No, Dora… *strange disgusted look* The kid likes Dora, what can I say? It’s a great show. Netflix is also one of the reasons he started liking My Little Ponies, because he saw it in the suggestions and recognized they were horses, and he likes playing horse around the house with his dad and I. So we watched a few shows together, and he really liked the bright ponies, so I gave him a couple of my old ponies from the 90’s, and within minutes of playing with them, he asked for more ponies. His play with them consists of stacking them up and knocking them over, galloping them around making neighing noises, or of course letting them take care of his dinosaurs. [Because ponies and dinosaurs are totally friends. Ask anyone.] Everything just came about very naturally, he likes pretend cooking because he watches his father and I cook, he likes baby dolls because we have friends with an infant… and so on…
Which brings us to the second thing I hear all the time: “That [toy] is going to turn him gay.” Ooo just typing that makes my blood boil! In the words of my favorite blogger – that is a good way to get yourself sporked in the taint! But I do live in the “deep south”: Where preachers scream hellfire and brimstone, and bigotry is a family value. Of course not everyone is like this, but there is more than enough to go around. Even one of my husband’s best friends in the world couldn’t stop himself from asking if our son playing with ponies was “healthy”. Seriously dude… “healthy”? As if playing with a freak’n pony is in some way detrimental to his well-being. There is just something about that gender line that gets under the skin of even forward-thinking people. I have noticed that it is mostly men who are concerned that childhood toys would somehow change the core chemistry of my child. I’m not sure what that means, perhaps women are just more reluctant to mention it, or perhaps they genuinely don’t see it as the same “problem” that the men see. Or maybe I have some internal bias that is making it seem that way to me, open to all possibilities here. But can I just scream for a minute:
A PERSON DOES NOT “BECOME” GAY!
A PERSON CANNOT BE “TURNED” GAY!
I mean come on people, is it not the 21st Century?
SO: Let your kids be themselves. Get out of your “comfort zone” if you have to, and learn who your children are – because they are little amazing opinionated people! If you don’t, the only thing you are hurting, is them.