When it’s time to replace our son’s gear, we let him choose what he likes without telling him things are specifially for boys or girls. However, most things are marketed to boys (with monsters, bugs or vehicles) or to girls (with flowers, crowns and birds). This marketing seems everywhere from a young age, with advertisements showing boys holding the “boy” stuff and girls with the “girly” stuff. From toys to flatware, everything is divided.
Do I mind this early play into gender stereotypes? Yes and no. I am ok with having multiple versions of a toy in different colors available, but I would prefer they were not marketed to a specific gender. And if I am being honest here, I have fallen in step with the divide. My son wears lots of blue and zero pink. Would I mind him wearing pink? No, but I buy what is easy and available, and I don’t go out of my way to get him t-shirts that span the color of the rainbow. If he asked for a pink t-shirt, I would do my best to find him one.
In the meantime, I am educating my son about choosing what he likes and being confident with those choices regardless of advertisements.
My son first became aware of these gender rules in preschool. When we were looking for a replacement for a broken toy, he asked if it was OK for him to get the pink “girl” one rather than the blue “boy” one. I explained it was the exact same device, but just in different colors, so he could pick whichever one he preferred. He ended up with the blue one, and I made a mental note that the days of “that’s for girls” was coming.
Fast forward a few years. When it was time to pick a new water bottle, we showed him his choices, and he immediately went for the bees and flowers bottle. I admit that the “girliness” of the bottle crossed my mind, and I made sure to show him all the designs before confirming his choice. I didn’t mind him having this bottle, but I assumed that eventually someone, somewhere would make a comment to him regarding its appropriateness. But I didn’t say anything and let him decide. My son loves nature, so flowers won, and the purchase was completed.
My son attended Kindergarten this past year, and one day he came home and said a boy told him he had a girl’s water bottle. I wanted to explain to him why this comes up in a way he could understand, reaffirm his choice of enjoying what he likes in the face of peer pressure, and not come down on this other boy who was making an age appropriate observation based on societal norms.
I told my son that there are people in this world, adults and kids alike, who think there should be special rules about what boys like versus what girls like There are people who think only girls can like pink and play with dolls while only boys can wear camoflauge and play army. I told him I don’t understand those rules.
These rules limit the stuff people can like and do — who is to say what we each can or cannot like? We talked about our friends who like to do all different things, like the little girl next door who like to dress like a princess but will play monsters. And there is my son who loves flowers and BMX biking. So yes, some people make choices based on what they think is “for boys” or “for girls,” but we don’t all have to make choices like that. Also, there are girls who simply love princesses, and boys who simply love trucks. That’s ok too.
Since this talk, he continues to have kids question his choice of water bottle. Have my lessons sunk in? Well…during T-ball, a coach offered to get my son’s water bottle for him off the bench, to which my son yelled, “Thanks! It’s the girly one!” He wasn’t attaching meaning to that. He was just trying to be helpful. And he hasn’t asked to not use it or replace it. So he seems perfectly fine with his “girly” water bottle. And I am pleased with this little victory in self esteem, because I know this is just the tip of the iceberg.
How does your culture address what is appropriate for boys versus girls? How do you handle this in your home?
This has been an original post to World Moms Blog by Tara B. of Washington (State) USA.
Photo credit to the author.