Last week, my column for the OC Register talked about boys dressing up as girls. I actually got more questions about this topic than any other subject, and the feedback was interesting, too. Some people couldn’t believe it was even a concern in this day and age. Others couldn’t believe that I was suggesting it be allowed. People certainly have strong feelings, one way or the other. (In case you don’t link over to the article, I will give you a clue as to my own take on the matter): “So what? Who cares?” (Said in my best impersonation of Fred Armisen impersonating Joy Behar.) You can read the whole article here. In a nutshell, my advice was that it’s no big deal, but the bigger message I wanted to send was this:
The best thing we can do to promote a healthy gender identity in our children is to help them feel that they can choose from a wide variety of interests without gender confusion. We should be helping our boys understand that being sensitive, nurturing, or artistic does not compromise their masculinity. We should be helping our daughters feel free to be athletic or ambitious without threatening their femininity.
I really do have a pet peeve with the gender scripting our kids get, especially from the media and from toy companies. It felt especially pronounced to me this Christmas, as I shopped for toys. I mean, really, why does every toy have to be ascribed a color that delineates which gender it is for? I wanted to buy a musical keyboard for all the kids. I could only find them in pink. So keyboards are just for girls? I had to special-order a stroller for Kembe in a gender-neutral color. I hate that already, my boys are being told that being nurturing and artistic are feminine qualities. I hate that my daughter refused to partake in a basketball class because “sports are for boys, ballet is for girls”. India, at four, is already entrenched with ideas about gender. She gets irate when Kembe wants to dress up in her girly things – she actually yells at him. She separates her markers into boy colors and girl colors. She determines the gender of every movie and refuses to watch the ones she has deemed “boy”. She has been known to cry over the wrong color of sippy cup, and last year I gave up after months of her refusing to wear pants of any kind. She will don leggings ONLY if they are tight and ONLY because I googled a bunch of photos of Hannah Montana wearing them. Her ideas about gender baffle and irritate me, especially because I consider us to be a pretty low-media family. (The Hannah Montana movie was a low point, people. It involved our house being exterminated, a 100-degree day, and me 9 months pregnant and no where to go. Don’t judge). I am always wondering what I can do to get her to lighten up on the rigid gender roles. But then on Saturday, I took on a date . . . our first mani-pedi together. I was so excited, and I heard myself repeating over and over again on the way there, “this is just a special thing, just for the girls”. And really, it was. So, I guess I’m a little ambivalent about gender roles too. Maybe I want my kids to feel the freedom to choose their likes and dislikes, while at the same time celebrating the fun and unique aspects of their own gender. But hey – I let India choose the colors and she did choose BLUE. Progress?