Our kids don’t live in a bubble. Eventually, we will share them with the world and that world has opinions. If we stop to think about our own convictions we can see how they have been shaped by our families, our friends, our communities, etc. What we read, what music we listen to, it all has messages. We internalize a lot of them. Society influences us, it has a voice and that voice whispers a lot of crap into our collective ear. I stopped buying what society is selling a long time ago.
Before I became a parent I knew that the whole pink is for girls blue is for boys dichotomy was not for me. I don’t believe there are toys for girls and toys for boys. There are toys. ONE category. If you browse a Sunday paper circular you’ll find that toys are gendered. The store TELLS you and your children which toys are meant for them. We see little girls playing with a pink vacuum cleaner and rocking a baby doll to sleep. In a way, it’s grooming girls for their role in life while reinforcing the idea that these toys are not meant for boys. Foregoing this is often seen as something radical. You buy your son a toy vacuum and your daughter a model airplane and you’re making a political statement. Personally, I am not seeking to make a political statement. I don’t consider my parenting style anything other than love for my son as a human being.
I’ve witnessed parents direct their kids to “gender appropriate” toys. It makes me sad. If you browse long enough at Toys R Us you are bound to pick up on something of the sort. I’ve never tried to influence what Diego plays with. Early on he gravitated towards toys with wheels. Cars and trains are some of his favorites. But his interests don’t end there. Whenever we visit the toy store we browse all the aisles not just the ones that are intended for boys. I let him explore without directing him. Of course toys that pose a choking hazard etc are out of the question but he has carte blanche over anything that’s safe for his age group.
Diego often uses my husband’s iPad. He has several apps on it that he can access. On YouTube he loves watching toy unboxing videos. ToyGenie is one of his favorites. On the Nick Jr. app he can watch cartoons. I often watch him navigate these and my observations tell me that he doesn’t have gender based preferences. He likes Peppa Pig, Lalaloopsy, Little Charmers, Paw Patrol, and Blaze the monster truck. He has no concept of our idea of gender. He’s brand new, innocent, uncorrupted and untainted by society. On Disney Jr. he watches just about every show, Octonauts is his absolute favorite but he gets excited about Sofia the First and Doc McStuffins, too. Mickey Mouse Clubhouse has a place of honor in his rotation. Within age appropriate shows he picks different things on different days but my point is that he does not reject a show about a princess. He hasn’t been taught to.
Today I took him to the drug store to buy some cold medicine for my husband. After we picked up what we needed we took a walk around the store. Naturally, we ended up on the toy aisle. We looked at different toys, talked about them, took a close look at a few and then we came to some metal lunch boxes that housed a puzzle inside. He recognized Sofia the First on one of them and grabbed for it. Behind it there was an Avengers one. He pointed to it and identified Captain America and then went back to the Sofia one. I thought, okay he is showing a preference for Sofia between the two of them. I didn’t question his choice because why would I put it in his head that his choice is somehow wrong? He saw the options and he picked what he liked. I decided to get it for him since I had been wanting to do a puzzle for him anyway.
We picked up a gallon of milk before heading to the register. Shopping with Diego can be tricky because when he has an item in his hand he is hesitant to let go of it so it can be scanned. He surprised me by handing it over to the cashier. The cashier looked at the lunch box and asked him if he had a sister. I answered for him in the negative. She addressed him again telling him that he couldn’t have that lunchbox as it was for girls and he was a boy. I told her that he wanted it and that’s all that mattered to me. Thankfully, Diego has no idea what she was talking about but one day he will understand and he will feel something. His self-confidence will be zapped and he will question his interests.
There are several things that bothered me about this interaction and I will list them below:
- The idea that it’s wrong for boys to like “girly” things. For one it suggests that “girl” things are bad. For the most part qualities that are regarded as feminine are considered weak and negative. Especially in boys and men. Why the put down? Sophia is a great role model for girls AND boys. She’s kind, values honesty and friendship, is brave and takes charge when things go south.
- Regardless of her intent she was ostensibly shaming my child for something he wanted and made him happy. Nobody should be shamed or made to feel wrong about what they like.
- Boys liking “girl” stuff is judged more often and more harshly than girls liking superheroes (traditionally considered to be for boys).
- The idea that children need to be indoctrinated about gender. We need to do away with this notion. It serves no purpose and it harms us. All of us.
- The fact that she was, for all intents and purposes, undermining me as a parent and questioning me through her interaction with my child. At the most basic level, whether or not you agree with my stance or not, she was rude. She should not have said anything.
- There is usually a reflex reaction to put down women, whether it be putting down “girly” things or femininity in general it’s internalized to the point where women themselves contribute and perpetuate this.
As a parent I don’t have the answers to everything. I am learning constantly but on a social level there are things about which I am certain. I know that I do not want to raise my son in an environment that values toxic masculinity. I want him to learn to embrace and express his emotions in healthy ways. I want him to feel confident about who he is, whoever that may turn out to be. There is this idea that our kids are blank slates for us to mold. As I nurture my child and watch him grow I am constantly reminded that as much as I nurture him he is an individual. He is a person that I have the honor and privilege to care for but he is not something for me to live through.
I am fortunate to be raising him at a time where conversations about gender are happening. We are questioning societal constructs, we are challenging them and in my own ways I am dismantling them. My son is not wrong for liking Sofia the First. I am not a hero for advocating for the freedom to like whatever he wants to like. I am merely doing what I consider to be the right thing.