Sometimes I think it’s harder on the boys

I’m a self-proclaimed feminist, and I like to talk about feminism on this blog and IRL. I hate the idea that traditional gender roles force young girls into pretending to care only about music and boys and make-up. And I worry that societal pressures prevent many young women from exploring STEM careers. I’m angry that our country’s policies prevent working mothers from earning as much and climbing as high as working fathers. And yet, even before I knew Monkey was a boy, I wondered if I would be able to raise him (or her) in a way that wouldn’t reinforce gender stereotypes. A year later, I’m still wondering.

The fact is, I didn’t grow up in a gender-restrictive environment. My brother and I both cleaned house, cooked dinner, and did laundry. We were both told how smart we were – I was the obvious mathematician/scientist while my brother preferred writing and art. We both played sports – I also danced – and we both took music lessons. Most of my girlfriends also played sports, and several (even the *popular ones*) ended up in medicine, finance, and other math/science-heavy fields. I was constantly told how smart and capable I was by teachers, family, and friends. My dad took my brother and me to the batting cages together. I enjoyed and excelled at dancing and piano. Nothing, it seemed, was out of reach.

However, I can’t help pondering the flip side. What if my brother had wanted to join my dance class when we were kids? Would he have even dared ask? What if he had wanted to buy a Barbie doll, or if he had been more effeminate? Would those behaviors have been accepted by our parents, our friends, our schools? Gender discrimination rarely affected me as a kid, but I’m betting my brother would have been ostracized for occupying the reverse end of the gender role spectrum. What’s more, I’m sure he knew it. Luckily for him, he genuinely appreciated football over ballet.

Hubby and I have been out shopping for Monkey’s Christmas presents the past few weeks, and these posts from Dr. Free-Ride about gendered science kits has been rolling around in my head during our trips. Hubby and I generally avoid the pink toy aisles, since we both abhor the color pink. But I wonder if this is sending an equally harmful message to my little boy as exposing a young girl only to make-up, jewelry, and boys. Monkey’s nursery is filled with everything from stuffed animals, sports paraphernalia, cars, trucks, and tool benches – but no pink. I suppose if Monkey were to grow attached to something that was pink in the store, we’d buy it for him (as long as it wasn’t too expensive), but Monkey doesn’t demand toys yet.

I want this choice to be obvious by the time Monkey does start asking, but I’m not entirely sure how I should go about doing this. Buying him a pink kitchen or sewing set doesn’t seem like a great solution, since I don’t want to reinforce the association between *pink* (and thus *girly*) and *women’s work*. (A pink truck would be a good find, or a pink microscope.) I also fear the ostracism Monkey would face if he did decide he liked the color pink and all the associated trappings. I’ve read quite a bit of Sarah Hoffman’s blog, and the mere thought of my son trying to navigate this territory terrifies me. At the same time, I don’t want to create a roadblock between him and the man he wants to be.

I often marvel at how closely the fates of the different sexes are linked to one another. Women whose partners are subject to liberal family leave policies are themselves able to enjoy more freedom in their careers. Work environments that treat men and their families well are more likely to be welcoming of working mothers. And gender stereotypes probably wouldn’t be as big of an issue for effeminate boys if it also weren’t an issue for outwardly-smart girls. To me it’s obvious: traditional gender roles have the power to hurt boys just as much as girls – yet another reason to work past our society’s archaic expectations of the sexes.


See this post by Krystal D’Costa for an eloquent discussion of segregation created by gender roles.

After writing this post, I was directed by the Twitterz to this amazing article in the Boston Globe about a transgender teenager and her family’s journey. It’s an absolute must-read.


7 thoughts on “Sometimes I think it’s harder on the boys

  1. We don’t have things in pink. We do, however, have gender neutrally colored things that are traditionally girls toys. We have a lovely dark blue china child’s tea set that we picked up in China town. We have doll house dolls and furniture that we got in Germany (Daddy, Mommy, little boy, and two cats!). No dollhouse, but I see the in-laws got him a castle for Christmas. He has a couple boy dolls ordered from Oompatoys many years ago, but he prefers his stuffed animals for doll purposes.

    Most boys toys are just superior to girls toys, so I don’t mind having a house full of mostly boys toys. That’s what I had growing up too. I’m not against dolls, but one only needs so many for creative play and it sucks when they start replacing toys that *do* things like help spatial skills or provide a sense of accomplishment.

    These days all he plays with are legos and books. Oh, and bead bear. And the wii. His pretend play has moved from tea parties to dungeon crawls thanks to Legos Heroica.

    My sister is pushing for him to take ballet, but that’s low on our priority list… we need to get him started in piano and swimming first.

  2. we have pink, I love pink, sciDAD loves pink, heck fMhson wore pink until some asshole at school told him pink was only for girls. We all tea party here, but only fMhson ever glommed on to a transitional object, a stuffed animal which he used to breast feed on a boppy when I was feeding fMhgirl. fMhgirl just this year showed any interest in the dolls she had been given (which we worked DAMN hard to find in “not white”). He has learned gender role expectations at school which is annoying, but then again his dad has introduced him to the whole star wars indiana jones legacy but because he is a boy or because he is first to be old enough to be interested and not scared? Hard to say. GIrl child enjoys lady gaga with sciDAD, so don’t even know how to “count” that.

    i’ve blogged a bit about the repercussions of not “manning up” my boy child, but honestly I don’t know how far I would have gotten. fMhson is “like me” his sister is “like” sciDAD in temperament, so our pairings are often that way when running errands etc.

    I’ve no idea what the long term fall out of all of this will be of course as they are very young still, but I have hope that it will all end well and they will become the people they need to be able to stand up for themselves if need presents

  3. I think it’s way harder for boys to be “girly” than it is for girls to be tomboys. The latter is much more socially accepted. It just shows how being “girly” is such a negative thing.

    His toys right now are not really gender specific. He has Mega Blocks, but if we had a girl she would have the same toy (and we wouldn’t buy it in pink/purple). Like nicoleandmaggie said, I think boys toys are just more fun, and found the same when I was also a child. I do want to get him a kitchen set, probably for his 2nd birthday, but I’ll be getting him a gender neutral colored set from Ikea.

  4. DS’s favorite toy for a while (back in the 2-3 range) was a child-size broom. Mommy does not sweep. That’s man’s work in this house. We have some great videos of him vacuuming too.

    I was at a little girl’s party recently and the moms at my table were talking about how much more fun it is to buy girl’s toys than boy’s toys. I (foolishly) expressed my disagreement, (“Really? I think boy’s toys are so much more interesting”) and they were a little offended (then one said, “That must be why you have a boy” and everyone laughed). So someone out there prefers girl’s toys. But I also noticed that the women at the table at that time weren’t in high-level professions that require a lot of math. I don’t know the cause and effect, but I’m thinking maybe there is a correlation between preferring toys that *do* things to toys that are just pink and sparkly and being a female in a profession that requires a lot of technical skills.

    DS has *one* My little pony. I think that’s enough. (It was a happy meal toy from a preschool field trip and they ran out of the “boy” toys, so as smallest boy he got the pony.) To my knowledge no Disney princesses. But that’s all they GIVE to girls around here. My little Pony and Disney Princesses. And things so you can dress like a Disney Princess. Boys get much more varied and interesting presents.

    Oh, he does have some Fancy Nancy books. Occasionally some of the professor parents will give Fancy Nancy instead of My Little Pony or Disney Princess to girls. I think it’s a step up– she has an interesting vocabulary.

  5. I wouldn’t worry about getting pink stuff, but that’s easy for me to say, since I have two girls and we have therefore been recipients of a lot of pink stuff.

    You know what I think boys miss out on these days? Arts and crafts. It seems like almost all the arts and crafts stuff is marketed towards girls. I suspect that if boys really do have lesser “pencil skills” when they start kindergarten, this is why.

  6. My Monkey is totally missing out on Arts & Crafts, but its because neither myself or Mr.SM like to do them. He does however love to bake and coke. He also has some pretty skewed ideas of gender roles (ie only boys can wash dishes, bc daddy does the dishes). Which is my point. Your monkey will have his idea of gender roles formed by you and daycare. For the first couple of daycare years, there were more girls than boys, so monkey totally loved playing with the strollers, dolls, getting his nails done etc. I’m sure that will change, but again its about making sure what you role model is not typical roles.

  7. I hate pink and princesses, but when Epsilon started playing with a used Disney Princess (pink) vanity at the corner thrift shop, we almost got it for him. He has a set of Dora the Explorer socks (pink infused) that he loves, and has his hair put up on a top knot every morning to keep it out of his eyes. He likes beaded shirts.

    I know it is harder for males to be effeminate than for females to be tomboys. Just look at the words I wrote to describe the cases.

    I worry about what our neighbors think. One had no idea what to do when Epsilon ran outside to play, ladle in hand from pretending to cook. I worry about what will happen when he goes to school and has gender roles pounded into him. But I think I am over-analyzing. All kids go through hell at school, and all come out of it more or less intact. All I can do is surround him with adults he can turn to for guidance during difficulties his first 5-7 years of school who will support Epsilon in all his effeminate or masculine glory.

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