Thursday, July 8, 2010

Boys who play with Dolls

I was cruising the park scene this afternoon when I was approached by 3 college students with a video camera.  Their target was found and they approached. 

They asked if they could ask me a question. Sure, why not.  Then they qualified and asked if they could ask me a question and then film my response. Ok.  They turned on the camera first and got ready to ask.  For one second, I thought they were going to ask me something dirty or do something just to shock me on camera.  Then I remembered, it's me.  It'd have to be pretty damn good to get a reaction. 

"Can boys play with dolls?"  That was it?!  Of course they can!  I told them my son even has a princess castle set.  Oh yes, Little People pink princess castle courtesy of his Nana Kay. 

They were very pleased with my response. 

I don't get the big deal. I don't see a problem with my son playing with dolls. I see no big deal in Shiloh Jolie Pitt dressing like a boy.  I don't see the an issue in children playing with everything, including gender identity. It's not just normal, it's healthy. 

My son wants to be either a robot or Spiderman. He thinks his bruises from playing on the playground are the beginning of his Spiderman transformation.   If enjoying toys labeled for the other sex is questionable, then thinking you are slowly changing into a make believe superhero is crazy. Oh wait, it's not because Superheros are a boy thing.  Duh.

It's a load of crap and, of course, you get even more of it in Brazil.  My son also used to like to have his toe nails painted.  Of course blue or red, something related to Spiderman. Aren't we all surprised.  I saw no problem with it and ignored my husband's protests until we had a little incident at the park. Thankfully Luka was too little to get it but a group of older boys, around 4 yrs old and he was 2 1/2, were following him around pointing and laughing. He didn't get it. I told him they thought he was funny and I stopped painting his toes. 

The next time he asked, I had to explain that certain things are for girls and certain things are for boys. It was a conversation that made me kind of sad.  I felt like I was telling him, here's your box and you have to live in it. Enjoy!  But I feel that it was the lesser of two evils.  Kids are mean.  In his class, him playing house with his friends is ok but a boy with painted nails is not.

But part of me wonders, where's this coming from. My kid had no idea about societal standards of his masculinity at 3 years old. Wonder how it came about in the other kids...

And the machismo machine lives on. 

Thoughts? Do you steer your kid towards gender specific toys or let them choose for themselves? Would you be ok if your son wanted pink shoes or your daughter wanted to cut all her hair off?


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  2. Just my kind of topic Rachel! I have noticed that my 2 year old girl LOVES pushing trucks and cars around. She seems to be fascinated with wheels and how they work. She's trying to figure out the world. She's 2 for goodness sake! So of course I want to get her a truck and some cars so she can explore and play to her heart's content.

    But my hubby is not so keen on the idea because they are "toys for boys" he tells me. Not in my mind! So I'm going to get her some anyway.

    It would break my heart, too, to limit my child's curiosity to prevent her from being mocked by other children (who are likely older). 2 year olds are not capable of mocking (or so I think) but older ones are.

    In fact, it's one of my greatest fears for my child (I have many!), that she will be mocked, bullied, made fun of, etc. I imagine no parent (especially a mum I suppose) wants that for their child.

    If my little girl wanted to cut her hair off or dress like a boy I would likely let her. I would like my child to be herself and to explore and discover the world through her own eyes. I might say something like "why don't we try this or that for awhile and see if you like it?" to maybe encourage her in a particular direction, but I doubt I would put the hammer down and firmly restrict her from being a curious and carefree child.

    Based on some of my training as a psychotherapist (and parental instinct I suppose!), I do firmly believe that children in general should be allowed to explore and discover the world at their own pace and through their own eyes as long as they are safe. The beauty and innocence (and purpose!) of childhood.

    But then again I have a 2 year old. Ask me again in a few years when she's older and in school, and I might have a different opinion. We'll see...

  3. Hell, I'm all for the gender equality. And I do mean GENDER not sex. Gender is something we choose to perform, going back to my university sociology days. The problem lies in society creating cages for each sex. You are automatically weird if you step outside you box.
    Gender can change. Sex can't (wo medical procedure). Did you know there isn't even a word for gender in Portuguese? So no wonder it's less acceptable for me to act tough or wear jeans and tshirts and no earrings. Why can't you dress more like a girl? Cus I wear dresses when I feel girly and I wear sloppy shirts when I don't! That's why.

  4. Whoa boy... (girl). Stirring the pot, eh Rachel?

    I am so proud of parents who give their children the space they want/need to explore and to be themselves.

    Reading the posts above I would say one key element is the teachers, day care workers, nannys, etc. here in Rio that will be taking care of your little ones. Will THEY be encouraging of your child to be themselves?

    Let's face it - gender roles here are pretty solidly enforced along traditional lines.

    Imagine that your baby girl is a tomboy, or your baby boy is untraditionally sensitive. Will this be encouraged? Will they be shamed in the course of everyday life?

    Stay with me - now imagine that your sweet little baby girl is going to realize one day she is a lesbian. Think of the difficulties. Where will the support for her come from? What will her school years feel like?

    Now REALLY stay with me -- imagine for a moment (which could be your moment) that your dearest of dear boy will some day tell you that he knows he is actually female in his gender identity. ZAP. But he is your son and you know he is a true person.

    Where is the space here for him to be himself?

    Radical examples aside -- I think the cross-cultural tension of those more willing to embrace counter intuitive gender identity expressions in the midst of local more traditional pressures is a great thing. And I sallute you all who are making this space for your childen.

    But then - what do I know as a non-parent gay guy...

    Carry on.

  5. I feel fortunate that my parents didn't force me into a box. I played with trucks in the dirt outside and my little ponies and barbies inside. I climbed trees, collected bugs and scraped my knees...I also played dress up. And I got made fun of as a kid when I had my hair cut short. I not only survived but I thrived, and I'm thankful that my parents allowed me to be who I was. I'm not a least not yet. But I can say with certainty that the only thing I would want to push my child to do is try new things before they make judgements about them. That's my two cents.

  6. I was a major tomboy. My oldest brother jokes that I didn't even turn into a girl until I was 12 years old.

    And my oldest wants to be Spiderman but he's also a very sensitive little boy! It almost hurts. I just know he's going to take far too many things to heart in the future. I feel the best thing I can do for him is to make him feel as secure in his skin as possible and give him a safe place to come back to. Oh, and when he says "Mommy?", stop and listen.

    Jim, I love to stir the pot! Btw, we parents sometimes need the view of a non-parent. I think we sometimes lose perspective since we're inside our kid's world 100% of the time.

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  8. That's a tough one. Mainly bc kids are cruel, society is cruel, and it's hard to be out there. For boys, girls, for anyone. When my little girl was around 2 1/2 she started to want to pee standing up and say she was a boy and had a pee pee. I had that talk to her, but in my head I tried to take it lighter, as in trying to see her POV and not complicate things too much for her. Bc in their heads it's just very simple and plain. So I decided to tell her the rules and then, as she progressed, go on to the exceptions. First just differentiate boys from girls, and that she is still learning. She's still constantly analysing who is what and who does what, actually. I think it was all too early, but it was her timing. So what I try to do is just say: usually girls have long hair and boys have short, but that's ok to have it the other way around or anyway you want it. You'll still be a girl. That's always in terms of gender, I won't get into sex until she's ready. And always, always tell her that it's ok to be different, no matter in regards to what.

  9. Keep them gender-clueless for as long as possible! They're young, they're curious, there's no harm. My son had a period where he was completely enchanted with a talking Xuxa doll and he'd walk around with it like it was his baby. It was cute. He grew out of it and is now all about airplanes and airports. Sometimes he'll claim pink is his favorite color, FINE! Let's let them be kids while it lasts.

  10. So I was at Target today (surprise surprise) looking for a sandwich box for my 2 year old girl who starts school (for the very first time!) on Tuesday. And lo and behold I actually thought of this post and some of the comments. Why? Because the only sandwich box I could find had sports balls (baseballs, footballs, basketballs, etc.) on it.

    I agree with Stephanie re keeping kids "gender-clueless for as long as possible." Well guess what...I guess 2 is the limit! Because the "girl" sandwich boxes (with butterflies and teddy bears) were sold out, so I was left staring at the "boy" box with the sports balls struggling with whether or not I should get it.

    I even went to another Target just to see if they might have the "girl" boxes. No luck. So ultimately I bought the one for the boys, so my 2 year old girl will show up for her very first day of school ever with a sports/boys sandwich box.

    In addition to cars and trucks (see my previous comment on this post) my daughter is also fascinated with balls and anything she can throw, so the sandwich box is actually perfectly appropriate for her, even though it's "supposed" to be for boys. Sigh.

    Well at least she may like it, and the other 2 year olds in her class hopefully aren't "old enough" to make any comments to her about it. Or so I hope.

    Wow, am I really writing this much about a simple sandwich box?

    I guess the point is that gender lines are drawn very early on. But when I look at very young infant toys, they actually seem quite gender-neutral to me.

    So what happened? Such a big difference between infant toys and toys for a 2 year old?

  11. Just found this blog and this post (thanks for stopping by my blog!) and had to chime in. I do my best to keep things gender neutral, let my boys be who they want to be. I'm thwarted at some things by my well meaning husband, but otherwise, we roll with the punches and let our boys lead their lives as they wish.

    So the 5 yr old loves Littlest Pet Shop and his favorite color is purple; so what, no big deal.

    So the 9 yr old is insanely sensitive to all things, loves nothing more than to create things & cook, and has a fascination with all things make-up; so what, no big deal.

    So the 12 yr old...well, the 12 yr old is a pretty typical pubescent boy now, but back in the day he was all about toy kitchens, play food, and other so called girl toys. Again, so what, no big deal.

    Now, fights I lost: the boys have not been allowed to take gymnastics, the 5 yr old was not allowed pink shoes, and when the occupational therapist suggested a baby doll "or other toy with a face" to meet his social needs as a baby, we wound up with Mickey Mouse.

    It's an uphill battle at my house, but I advocate for all the boys' little "odd" choices as often and as strenously as I can. Because really, who they are is who they are, and knowing mom & dad support them in that, no matter what or who that turns out to be, is the most important thing. Guiding them safely through with as few scars and wounds as possible to their precious souls/psyches as they navigate how to be different in a world where different is's a tough job, but that's what Moms and Dads are for.

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  13. I know I'm late, but I saw this post while reading the newest one and just want to say that I'll probably be able to agree with you completely when I have my own children, but right now I agree.
    And about Linds' comment, there's a word for gender in Portuguese, it's GÊNERO.