Teaching Gender Roles

We are an equal opportunity household…I think.  In lieu of this fact, Andrew and I have been very careful to neither encourage nor discourage the playing with of certain toys for certain children, based on gender.  Our daughter is just as likely to place race cars and soccer as our son is to dust his cheeks with my make-up brushes and dress up like a princess.  And vice versa (visa versa?).

Like this morning, for example.

Admittedly, under the influence of his older sister, middle child Landon was dead-set on wearing Ellie’s three-year-old red satin and black velvet Christmas dress plus some pink clog-type shoes, while we were out in town running errands.  I have to admit–I did try a little to suggest he put on some shorts and a t-shirt.  But he was determined.  And so the smarter parent inside of me, the one that knows the harder you push your child away from something, the faster he will run toward it, said (in not so many words) ‘what the hell.’  And off we went–Ellie and Landon dressed for their “Princess Ball” and Gabe dressed as…well, just Gabe.

The guy at the mailbox store thought it was funny.

The guy we were in line behind at the grocery store was confused.

The lady at the dry cleaners…I couldn’t tell if she was amused, or concerned.
“Oh, my!  Look at the beautiful princesses!”  (She looks once.  She looks again.)  “Are they all girls?”
Without so much as a break in stride, I answered, “no, actually only one of them is a girl.  The the other two are boys.  He (referring to Gabe) is just a pretty boy, and he (nodding toward Landon) is playing princesses with his older sister.”

The lady smiled politely, and just kept looking.  And looking.  I have to admit–the electric blue basketball jersey Landon had on over the top of the dress did make the whole thing a bit confusing.

Then, the lady came in close and kind of whispered to me, “does his father mind?

I shrugged my shoulders and shook my head ‘no.’

And anyway, what’s there to mind?  Not that I have a crystal ball or anything, but I very much doubt that, because my son where’s a fancy dress around once in a while…my three-year-old son…that he will automatically end up gay because of it.  And you know what?  So what if he did?  I sure as hell wouldn’t love him any less.

I do not think you can dictate a person’s eventual sexual preference by controlling (or not controlling) the kind of toys they play with, the activities they engage in or the clothes they wear at an early age.  I’m sure there are plenty of gay men out there who played with GI Joes as a child, and plenty of Lesbians who only played with dolls and other typically “girly” things.

Now, mind you, here in Montana…you may be slightly less likely to see little boys being allowed to wear dresses and fancy shoes around than in some other locales around the country.  But, I don’t mind being the one to buck the system a little.


Filed under Kids, Living

8 responses to “Teaching Gender Roles

  1. That’s awesome! Good for you for letting your little boy play with his older sister. I think that many people would be confused.

    I had a philosophy professor once who used to “play” with the retail staff at fast food restaurants, when they asked if they wanted a boy toy or a girl toy with their meal.. he used to ask them what made it specifically a boys toy? Did their manager ask them to say that?

    Poor teenager just trying to make a buck LOL

  2. You’re my hero. Gender bending is one of my favorite subjects. Around my house everyone cringes when I declare, “That’s genderist!” and then start in on them. I just can’t stand having a line drawn in the sand… how is that fun? Who said we have to stay on our own side of the fence? Who put up the stupid fence anyway?

  3. Ahmen…Elena. Sometimes I see people falling into the rut of excluding far too much color from their lives. I, for one, am determined to allow, and even promote, a little more color into the life of my family. And if that comes in the form of boys wearing princess dresses and girls affixing batman and spiderman tattoos all over their arms and legs…(that’s another story)…then so be it!

  4. Yvette Novack

    I think that you are so cool. My mother was also very supportive of my wearing dresses. Grew up loving the feel of a bra and still to this day enjoy being a sissy. Good for you letting your boys explore their fem self.

  5. Bri

    I was just reading this and thinking about when parents dress their boys and girls and dress their boys in trousers, and their girls in dresses, yet they also see it as acceptable to dress their girls in trousers (usually making sure that there’s some kind of “feminine” design on them). Not at all worrying about their girls having gender identity or confusion issues, nor really concerned that they’ll turn into lesbians in the future. Yet the boys get all that; meaning the parents get very worried if the boy will think he’s a girl by trying on a skirt in a store (when they’re maybe 4 or younger or whatever), or that they’ll turn out gay.

    So somehow being a lesbian is more acceptable than being gay? I know lesbians are more supported in today’s very ignorant (and somewhat happy to be) society. This kind of thing really bothers me, the ideology of what’s going on today in that small part of the world, not what you said.

    You’re getting it spot on.

  6. Bri,

    Thanks for your comments. Truthfully, I can’t imagine WHY a parent WOULD get all freaked out about this issue. All you have to do is read one single, solitary parenting or child development book to realize dressing up, trying on all types of clothes, etc. is simply normal. It really has nothing to do with gender specificity at all…just curiostiy.

    And, let’s face it: little girls’ clothes tend to be flashy, sparkly, feathery, etc. Why wouldn’t a little boy want to try on those sorts of things?

    And yes, Bri also makes a good point: there is certainly inequity when it comes to boys/girls dressing up in each other’s clothes: if a little girl puts on a pair of jeans, t-shirt and tennis shoes (“typical” boy wear) there aren’t too many people who will bat an eye at it. Sure, they might say something like, “she’s a tom boy” but, who cares?)

    Our four-year-old son goes to a preschool wear there is a small iceskating rink poured into the back yard during the winter months. All the kids have the option of bringing ice skates, helmet, etc. to school each day.

    The ice skates we have for our young kids are awesome–rigid plastic all the way around with a cushioned liner inside…great for supporting their little ankles while cushioning their tender feet. But, here’s the catch: the skates are white with light pink and light blue trimming.

    A couple days ago, while picking our son up from school, one of the little girls there asked me,
    “are those Landon’s sister’s skates? Why is he wearing girls skates?”

    I was tempted to devliery a soliloquy about how certain colors aren’t reserved for each sex but instead, I opted for the approach (also spelled out in plenty of parenting books) of nonchallance. I simply replied to her,

    “Oh, those ice skates are for anyone. They’re not meant to be only for girls OR for boys. Anyone can wear them.”

    End of story.

    I hope, through my non-plussed reaction, she might have learned a teeny, tiny lesson that day. But my guess is, she’s being taught a different way of looking at things from her own parents so…oh well.

  7. robert

    I whole heartedly agree with you. At that tender age (3 to 5) most children don’t relate to sexuality or gender. It is as they age that biases began to rear their ugly heads. Boys are taught to hide their emotions (boys don,t cry) and to dominate others, especially females. The teachings not only come from dad, but brothers and other male peers. Watch when your boys are around other boys, their actions and their language.
    Boys I think should be taught by their mothers and sisters to express their feelings. Between the ages of 5 to 10 they should be allowed to explore their feminine side. Yes that would include wearing dresses or skirts, or other things. Let them dress-up a a princess or snow white for halloween. You could even have a party where your daughter would dress like a boy (jeans, t-shirt, etc). And have your boys attend in party dresses. Talk to the parents of children you want to invite and explain the purpose of the party and what you seek to achieve. Most parents would accept, I believe. My parents had such parties when I was growing up and they were really fun. I
    have allowed my son the same, although it can get hectic with 10 boys running around in dresses. By the way I am the father.
    This is getting to be rather lenghty so I’ll let you digest my statements and think about the idea I’ve
    given you. If your husband is as liberal as you say
    I don’t see any reason he’d be against it.

  8. This an Fantastic write up, I will save this in my Del.icio.us account. Have a great evening.

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