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.
OTHER RECOMMENDED READING
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.