Dear Parents, Let’s Talk About Kids and Gender Roles

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Gretchen Edwards-Bodmer is raising a happy and joyful son without following rigid gender roles or rules. And she wants you to understand why. 

Dear Parents,

Thank you for taking the time to read this letter. I hope you will read it in the spirit that it is written, with compassion and great care not to offend, but to connect as parents and have a positive impact on our world. I know that you are a wonderful parent and that you love your child as much as I love mine. We try to raise our kids to be good people and hope that they will be happy and successful in life.

Because of that, I would like to make one request. If your son or daughter happens to notice that my son Jackson (or any other boy) likes to have his nails painted, loves the color pink, and thinks princesses are pretty neat, or notices girls who like “boy things”, please teach them not to say mean things to him. Although he may like things that we’ve been told by media and society “aren’t for boys”, please let your child know that he’s still a valuable human being and deserving of respect and compassion. They may not like those things, or like that he likes those things, but please teach them that calling him names or laughing at him really hurts his feelings and makes them a bully. There are some severe power struggles among kids in schools and I know that they may feel under pressure from their peers to pick on the kid who is “different” or perceived to be “weak” so that they won’t themselves experience that fate. My hope is that you will instill in them a sense of respect, tolerance and acceptance of others. If you’d be so inclined to go the extra mile and teach them to step in and call out bullies when they’re picking on kids who may be a little different, that would be awesome.

I have raised my son without rigid gender roles or rules. I introduced him to all the colors in the rainbow and more, not just blue, from the time he was a baby. I bought him a variety of toys from the beginning including “boys toys” and “girls toys” because each had lessons that I wanted him to learn like to be adventurous and nurturing. Since the time he has been able to ask for toys, I buy him what he wants, (within reason, of course; I’m not made of money), and don’t tell him “no you can’t have that because you’re a boy”. For his 5th birthday he asked for a Disney Princess Floating Water Palace as well as a Transformers Rescue Bot. The only toys I don’t let him have are ones that have weapons or teach violence. I have raised him to be a kind and caring person and violence is not a part of that equation. It’s unfortunate that so many of the toys marketed to boys have that underlying theme of violence, but we can talk more about that another time. Until then, you can read more about healthy masculinity over at The Good Men Project.

It’s amazing how allowing my child to like what he likes and be who he is makes him such a very happy and joyful child. The only time he gets sad about what he likes is when other kids, or sometimes adults, tell him he shouldn’t or can’t like something just because he’s a boy. That makes him very sad because that’s not how he sees the world. He sees the world full of limitless possibilities, which allows him to be who he is. The world is his oyster and he can choose the life that he wants. When he does experience criticism from others about what he likes, I talk with him about the rules that society and the media have assigned to girls and boys and that people sometimes just operate out of those rules without questioning the validity of them.

In the early 1900’s pink was marketed to boys because it was associated with strength and blue was marketed to girls because it was seen as more delicate. You can read more about that here. But not everybody knows this or realizes that these gender roles and rules we force ourselves and others to live by are made at the whimsy of trendsetters and marketers who want to sell products and make money. It doesn’t make them bad people if they follow these rules, they’re just going by what they have been taught and we need to have care and compassion for them as well. However, it shouldn’t be the sole responsibility of those that are different from the norm to change or adapt. We should all adapt and have respect for others because humans are much more diverse than we allow them to be in public. We police each other’s actions and appearances on a constant basis using these prescribed gender rules.

Just last week, I wrote a blog post about Jackson’s experience going to school with his nails painted. Since then a few men have told me how they like to have their nails painted too and wished Jackson good luck navigating this world that tries to confine him into a box of prescribed masculinity. I know he is not the only boy in the world who likes pink or princesses. There’s even a book written by a mom about her “Princess Boy” that I read to Jackson every now and then when he asks for it. He likes the story because the little boy likes pink and princesses just like he does. At the end of the story he usually tells me that he doesn’t want to wear a dress or be a princess, he just likes to play with princesses and would love to meet the Princess Boy someday.

I know that many people feel comfortable with strict gender roles because it makes them feel secure and makes the world easier to understand and navigate. However, for those of us who don’t fit into those little boxes, it makes the world and living the life we want more difficult, although it’s now more acceptable for a girl to like “boy things” than a boy to like “girl things”. The reason for that is because anything associated with the female is seen as less than, because females are treated as less than and second class citizens. Another topic for another day. I know that many people think that boys and girls who like things that boys and girls “shouldn’t like” may be homosexuals. They are obviously homophobic. But, if my son is gay (it’s not obvious at 5 years old), I’m still going to love him and value him as a human being. The only bad thing about being gay is the negative way our society treats them. We are born with whatever sexual orientation we have. It’s not something we choose. I never chose to be straight, did you? I was just naturally attracted to males, just like gay people are naturally attracted to someone of their same gender, or bisexuals attracted to people of all genders, or asexuals not interested in sex at all or trans* people identify as a different gender than the sexual organs they were born with. People are just people and we need to stop playing sheriff and telling people what toys they can play with, who they can be, or who they can love.

The point is we are all different from each other and that difference is a good thing that should be treated with respect, not shunned or shamed. What a boring world this would be if we were all the same people. So, my request to you is to talk to your children about compassion and respect for others. We don’t have to like everyone we meet; personalities clash sometimes. However, I hope that we can all agree to be cordial to each other and focus on ourselves rather than policing each other or stand in the way of each other’s happiness. I also hope that we as a society can move beyond these rigid gender rules that hurt us more than help us. I know you don’t want your child to be bullied or be the bully, so please start the conversation if you haven’t already. There is already too much violence in our society and our schools should be a safe space for our children to learn and grow.

Sincerely,

Jackson’s Mom

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Originally appeared on the Fabulous Mom Blog

 

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About Gretchen Edwards-Bodmer

Gretchen Edwards-Bodmer is a feminist mother of two small boys in Virginia. She received her Masters in Humanities and Graduate Certificate in Women’s Studies from Old Dominion University. She is passionate about empowering girls and women to love themselves and pursue their dreams, analyzing gender roles and stereotypes, and teaching her two little fellas to be good men. She blogs at grrrlwithboys.blogspot.com, and hangs out on Twitter @GrrrlWithBoys.

Comments

  1. Fair enough. But I am skeptical as to how much your boys chose, as opposed to what you projected on to them. How are you going to deal when/if your boys find themselves on the wrong end of a gynocentric/anti male educational system.
    Are you going to teach your boys the pitfalls and dangers that they are at risk of by dating women (should that be the case), and the lack of due process now involved (where the difference between innocene and guilt is a womans say so) in such matters?

    • Hi Josh,

      Thanks for your comment. I am very conscious of how I interact with my son when he selects toys to play with/buy or shows to watch so that I know it’s his decision. For example, I don’t like pink and yet his favorite color is pink. I don’t steer him away from it just because I don’t care for it. I also don’t care for brown so the same rule applies there. The only things I steer him away from are anything containing violence or weapons. When those two things are unavoidable I have a conversation with him about how we don’t hit, hurt or bully people (even when their opinions are different from our own).

      As for the rest of your questions, I have yet to encounter a “gynocentric/anti male” anything being that we live in a patriarchal culture. I’m also not sure what you’re referring to as the “risks of dating women”. If by that you mean they should wear a condom if they plan to have sex to prevent an unplanned pregnancy (specifically if they are in a mutually consenting sexual situation with a female) or STD’s (if they are in a mutually consenting sexual situation with any person), then yes, I’ll talk with my sons about that when the time comes. I’m also not sure what you mean about a “lack of due process” in what sounds like you’re talking about rape court cases. As someone who works with victims of sexual and relationship violence I know that the majority of cases of sexual assault (against any gender) are not reported to the police or tried in a court and when they are the false report rate is less than 4% (the national average for any reported crime). My sons will learn about consent (what it is, how to know if you have it from your partner, etc…) and hopefully they will teach that to their peers who may not learn it in sex ed class.
      I hope that answers your questions.
      Have a great day.

      • The article was alright, but your response to that bull-feces comment was great.

        Well played, ma’am.

        *slow clap*

      • I won’t challenge your belief in patriarchal culture as that would be like trying to get blood from a stone and we will never agree. However I will challenge gynocentric education system. The same one that deems maleness to be pathological and femaleness as the gold standard. Something I went through myself , drugged ridiculed and punished for being an energetic boy. Something that would leave lasting scars on me until my mid 20s.
        Its not just rape. I talk (currently there is very little one can do to help) with male victims of false accusations of child abuse and domestic violence. There is no due process for these men. There is no government funding for them to fight there charges in court as there is for the women that make the false claims. They don’t have safety nets to turn to (shelters) that there is for women when they finally do exhaust their financial resources trying to clear their names. And there is very often no conviction of their false accusers when they do get found out.
        Don’t you think it wise to warn your boys of this potential hazard?

        And the lack of due process isn’t just in courts its in universities that now run on a preponderance of evidence (50.01%) despite the findings of an official court ruling.

        And to Haden – well done on your comment – so full of wisdom and knowledge.

        • Anonymous says:

          The gist of the story is change growth and increasing awareness. It has nothing to do with sides, males or females. That’s just the content. The aim is aforementioned

          • Who mentioned sides. So you think awareness of wearing dresses and nail Polish is fine while dismissing very real problems your sons may face? Because that’s what you have done here.

            • Supra deluca says:

              I think people think they are talking about and focusing on something else. And that something else is not your hysteria about rare false accusations and some kind of imaginary “gynocentry” that deems “maleness pathological” (??!!!). [It seems like you were talking about ADHD here; like many disturbs, of course males have more predisposition to have them, but that is not about females or males, as both are being treated. I do NOT agree with kids being ‘drugged up’ for being energetic or struggling to focus, it seems like it is now being used in the place of school corporal punishment. I believe in different educational systems, but that in no way is something sexist or misandrist like you wish it were for your victimization]

      • Men are way too conforming to grow away from the construct they’ve been taught and attached to their identity.

        Most all people can relate to being a kid and playing house or cops and robbers.

        Men are still playing cops and robbers. They know it’s not real and that it is a construct but they are scared to stop playing. If you were a cop chasing down the robber and the robber all of a sudden said “I’m done. I don’t want to play anymore” the robber just destroyed that other boys entire world and identity so he is going to fight tooth and nail to force that kid back into his robber identity so that he can protect his cop identity. because who are you if they aren’t what they are “supposed to be”?

        If a cop is supposed to chase the robber and the robber stops running the cop can no longer fulfill his role that is so closely tied to his identity. the robber stopped running from the cop and stripped the cop of his title by doing so. (men are supposed to financially support their family – What happens to the man whose role can’t be fulfilled because his wife makes more money and therefore is the support – They very act of making money has stripped the man of his title as man which he ties to tightly to his identity)

        I think men are angry because more and more people no longer want to play along and it threatens their identity.

  2. Michelle Lee-Reid says:

    I have brought my son up much the same way you have (my daughters as well). The only thing I have trouble with is that when he was little he wanted to wear barrettes in his hair and now (he’s 11), he says that he wants to wear a dress and I have to tell him that people will make fun of him if he does that. I am sad to limit his self-expression, but also want to acknowledge reality and not set him up to be ridiculed. And, I admit, having my son wear a dress would make me feel uncomfortable too. So I’m still dealing with some parts, but I agree with you about many of the points you made.

    • Anonymous says:

      Thank you for being so honest about trying to navigate this issue. One thing I find helpful is to be open and honest with him about how people may react. I don’t tell him he can’t because how people react, I just try to prepare him and let him make his own decision. It’s an ongoing conversation and he did decide to only paint his toes while he was still in school. Today is his last day of Pre-K so I wonder if he will want to go back to having his nails painted. It helps having a friend who’s a boy that also likes his nails painted. They only see each other every now and then, but it is always a self-confidence booster for him to not feel like the only one. I hope I can find other kids like him or at least ones that are open minded for him to play with. I wish you luck in navigating this with him, and I hope that you will try not limiting because of what someone might say. Maybe just talk with him about the possible reactions from others (because of the way we’ve all been socialized in regards to gender roles, really explain the why) and your concerns for his happiness and safety and let him decide. It’s tricky, i know. Best of luck to you and thank you for sharing!

    • Thank you for being so honest about trying to navigate this issue. One thing I find helpful is to be open and honest with him about how people may react. I don’t tell him he can’t because how people react, I just try to prepare him and let him make his own decision. It’s an ongoing conversation and he did decide to only paint his toes while he was still in school. Today is his last day of Pre-K so I wonder if he will want to go back to having his nails painted. It helps having a friend who’s a boy that also likes his nails painted. They only see each other every now and then, but it is always a self-confidence booster for him to not feel like the only one. I hope I can find other kids like him or at least ones that are open minded for him to play with. I wish you luck in navigating this with him, and I hope that you will try not limiting because of what someone might say. Maybe just talk with him about the possible reactions from others (because of the way we’ve all been socialized in regards to gender roles, really explain the why) and your concerns for his happiness and safety and let him decide. It’s tricky, i know. Best of luck to you and thank you for sharing!
      P.S. I read some of your comment to Jackson and he thinks your son is super cool. :-)

  3. I am also raising my son without rigid gender roles, and for those who say youre pushing those ideals onto a child, which can happen, enless you know this family you are in no position to judge. I believe there are no “boy toys and girl toys” because you don’t use genitalia (which generally define gender) to play with them. Pink vs blue is a a role/stereotype that is forced on us by toy company and shops. I dont know why because no body wants that anymore, the world is so much more colour now. Way to go for gender neutrality and accepting your child’s individual tastes :)

  4. I’m also raising my sons without any gender roles, and sometimes, my wife loves to make them crossdress since we happened to have no daughter at that time. In the end, both of my sons grew into a straight and responsible teenagers and I’m really grateful for it.

  5. Tom Brechlin says:

    My SIL (fireman) and daughter (SAHM) are raising my grandsons with what ya’ll may see as a male gender role … rough and tough, tool chests, firetrucks and everything else and I’m okay with it. Even though occasionally the 2 year old (and 5 year old when he was younger) like to play with mom’s make-up or try to walk in mom’s heels, they pretty much exist in a male gender world. Oh, this past year my older grandson got his first hockey skates and hockey stick. Although their dad is a Bears fan, I’m a Packers fan …. oh well, no SIL is perfect.

  6. @supra deluca
    1/ I am not a victim, the boys I work with are.
    2/ No I am not talking about ADHD, I am talking about normal boy behaviour – Mock fighting, cops and robbers, being sent home for ‘shooting an imaginary gun’ being accused of sexual harrasment/assult at ages as young as six for nothing more than a kiss or a touch. Being put on a registery for the same.
    3/ Its common knowlege that when girls were found to be behind at school everyone did everything they could to enact change. Now that boys are falling behind no one does a damned thing – How much more gynocentric do you want it to be before you call a spade a spade?
    4/ False accusations aren’t as rare as you would like to think. Due to the ‘Dear colleague’ letter 20 colleges in the US are facing legal action do to false acusations and the rulings enforced on them by colleges -http://www.avoiceformalestudents.com/list-of-lawsuits-against-colleges-and-universities-alleging-due-process-violations-in-adjudicating-sexual-assault/. For every case of rape you show me I can show you a false acussation.

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