Gender Rules

"Let me walk a mile in your shoes"

"Let me walk a mile in your shoes"

Mummy I want the pink glittery gumboots with the unicorns on them. Mummy, I want to put makeup on just like you. Mummy, when I grow up I’m going to be a girl.

Having boys has forced me to question a lot about society and a man’s place within it. I’m not sure how to respond to statements like these. After all, some boys do grow up to be girls and there is no valid reason why a boy can’t wear makeup or don pink boots. In my heart of hearts I don’t care at all that my son’s favourite colour is pink and that he likes to play with makeup and have his nails painted. I’m pretty sure most boys his age do too – probably because it’s fun and pink is great and they haven’t yet been told that being a boy somehow means they’re not supposed to enjoy these things. But the social survival part of my brain questions my responsibility as a parent to ensure he understands the social ‘rules’ around gender roles. I don’t want to perpetuate gender stereotypes, but I do want to ensure my child is well-equipped to deal socially with his peers.

I want to be part of the movement that is fighting against these gender stereotypes. I don’t want to hear the words “Don’t be such a GIRL” or “MAN up” uttered in my presence…though I’m sure that both statements have come rolling off my own sub-consciously programmed tongue at some point in time. Shame on me. I want my boys to feel free to express themselves in whatever way they see fit. But…and there’s always a but…I want to protect them. Kids can be mean! Adult society can be even meaner. Right now I don’t think it’s an issue. My boys are only 2 and 4 years old. But is there an age when it becomes your responsibility to at least warn them that wearing pink sparkly shoes to school might result in them being teased? I’m all for supporting your children, propping them up, loving them and backing them no matter what choices they make…but can failing to warn them about their sparkly shoes be likened to the parents of children on those talent shows who have been included in the ‘outtakes’ (I hate that part of talent shows by the way – celebrating social ignorance and bullying makes me feel sick)? You know the kids that have been told their whole life how brilliantly they can sing and dance and have no awareness at all that their audience is laughing at them not with them? When does saying nothing equate to not fulfilling your responsibilities as a parent?

My son has pink boots, and ‘girl’ toys, and we always save the pink cupcake for him. I’ve painted his nails and let him try on my lip gloss and powder his nose. We don’t plan on changing our attitude, but I do feel conflicted about when and how to approach the subject of gender stereotypes without serving to perpetuate them further! Ideally, I would find a way to raise my boys to be confident enough to feel free in their creative expression of themselves, with awareness that not everybody will share the same views or opinions as them. I want to raise boys who stand up to those who are being bullied, who will question social stereotypes even if they themselves fit neatly within them. This is another parenting moment where I wish I had hold of the secret formula - the guaranteed way to ensure you raise balanced, socially aware, self-confident children without buying into and reinforcing the social ignorance of stereotypes and gender rules.