In my family, we ignore gender stereotypes, except to teach the kids not to put stock in them.
If my son wants to choose a pink pencil case for school, but hesitates because of what the other boys will say, I tell him that there is no such thing as boy colors and girl colors. If he wants a butterfly keychain for his backpack, he won’t even hesitate because he doesn’t know that butterflies are stereotypically feminine.
I know one wonderful mother of an eight year old boy with special needs. She is really on top of things and does everything she can to help her son reach his full potential.
This boy’s favorite color is purple. He’s crazy about it. Everything he owns must be purple. One time, this mother was in Target and came across purple Crocs on a big sale. An inner struggle ensued: should she buy purple Crocs for her eight year old son? In the end she decided against it, because she wanted him to be like other boys, and other boys don’t wear purple Crocs.
I wasn’t sure how I felt reading that. On the one hand, her son is already unlike all the other eight year old boys. I don’t think purple footwear would change much. On the other hand, if he is already so different, maybe she is right in trying to make him fit in however much he can. All I know is that I would not hesitate to buy my son purple Crocs if he wanted them.
Something else occurred that made me stress to my children that there is no such thing as boy or girl colors or toys is this:
I was jumping rope and my then-five-year-old son looked on wistfully. Then he said, “I wish I could jump rope, but it’s a girls’ game.”
I was disappointed at society for making my son believe this and assured him that there’s no such thing as a girls’ or boys’ game.
So in our house, anything goes.
One day my 5 year old was standing in front of my dresser mirror, sticking as many of his sister’s hair accessories into his own hair. I was in bed, reading a book. Then he said, “I’m making girl chasuna.” (wedding)
“What’s ‘girl chasuna’?” I asked.
“If two boys want to make a chasuna,” he replied,
“one of them needs to put many bows in his hair to look like a girl.”
I was struck a little speechless. He had no way of accessing information like that anywhere. It’s all his own thinking.
“What about if two girls want to make a chasuna?” I asked him.
“Then one of the girls,” he said,
“Should cut her hair short so she looks like a boy.”
I was very intrigued.
“Do you know what ‘chasuna’ means?”
“Yes,” my son replied. “It’s when two people start a family.”
Good response, if I’ve ever heard one.
Then he asked me for a dress so he could really look like a girl. I gave him one of his little sister’s dresses, and he ran around, shouting, “Girl chasuna, boy chasuna!!” He has loved wearing dresses since he was a toddler, when he begged me to sleep in the dress I bought his sister. It was a few sizes too big for her, but a perfect fit for him.
Another time, a relative brought me a necklace. I don’t really like jewelry (I’m very particular about what type I like) and it was too big on my daughter. So this same boy snatched it up and joyously put it on.
When we go shopping, he oohs and ahs at all the dresses, urging my to buy some for his sister.
All this definitely weirds my family out. But who cares! If this kid likes dresses and bows and jewelry, screaming at him to take it off won’t change anything. Whatever it is or is not, I know I am raising an open minded child who knows he isn’t limited by his gender. He may grow up and laugh at himself for wanting to wear dresses and girly accessories, or he may continue to enjoy wearing those things. But as for now, I think I have succeeded in making him feel comfortable doing what he feels comfortable doing.
I remember a picture I saw online- a mother posted a photo of her son approaching a toy kitchen in his preschool class with a sheepish smile on his face. The caption read:
“He was about to play with girly toys, but I caught him red handed!”
Gag me with a spoon. My sympathies to that boy’s future wife.