Mandy Brasher isn’t interested in teaching her son how to be a boy, she wants to raise a happy human being who knows how to love himself and others just the way they are.
Perhaps I was offended by the whole of Matt Walsh’s blog post “I guess I’m old fashioned but I wouldn’t let my son wear a My Little Pony backpack to school” or I just ignored the nuances of his position, but either way it didn’t go over well. While my son has never shown interest in wearing a My Little Pony backpack or tearing open a birthday package with a Barbie doll inside, he does like “girly” things and I have no interest in redirecting that. Everyone, including Walsh, has a right to raise their kids in the manner that they deem most appropriate, given that they are not abusing or neglecting their children, but as the parent of two young children I disagree with his stance against “genderless parenting”. Walsh claims that “The one thing lost (besides sanity, reason, rationality, and coherence) in this modern idea of “genderless” parenting is that boys do need to be taught how to be boys, and girls do need to be taught how to be girls.” While I wouldn’t consider myself consistently sane and I’ve never been known for my rationality, I’m not sure that there is one proven way to teach a boy how to be a boy or a girl how to be a girl. If it has anything to do with what toys they play with or what backpack they wear to school, then I’m failing as a parent. And I’m okay with that.
From the time my son was born he has been a sensitive soul with inclinations towards caring for babies and dressing up stuffed animals. Having an older sister has created abundant opportunities for him to play house, wear headbands and have his nails painted. Yes he’s a little boy with painted toenails and not only that, but I frequently give into his requests for pedicures and allow him to attend school with pink toenails. Two weeks ago my daughter was itching to make an at home facial concoction and once that nasty goo was ready for application, my son wanted in on the deal, too. We all covered our faces in oatmeal gunk with the hopes of clearer skin and the feeling of being at a day spa. Well, that’s what I wanted, I think they just wanted to make a huge mess. I’m not sure if having an oatmeal facial is a boy thing or not and honestly I don’t care. My interest isn’t in teaching my son how to be a boy, it’s in raising a happy human being who knows how to love himself and others just the way they are. Genderless parenting is not a means of suffocating the fact that my son is a boy, it’s a way of raising a man who will learn to be more interested in what a person is like on the inside as opposed to what they are wearing on the outside.
I also believe that gender based parenting has created the issues that we continue to have in schools with bullying and gender roles being determined and judged before kids even get through elementary school. The girls who play basketball and can bench more than most men are called “butch” and “dykes” while boys who are smaller than their peers are labeled “faggots” and “pussies.” The place where this begins and ends is at home, where these kids “learn” what it means to be a girl or a boy. My son understands he is a boy and my daughter understands that she is a girl, but not because I decided for them what they should be wearing, playing with or what extracurricular activities they participate in.
Their gender has more to do with societal expectations than it does about who they really are as people. There has never been an inkling on my part to tell either one of them that something they are doing is “girly” or “just for boys”, because that is a lie. Clothing options, color choices and the desire to play with toys that are supposedly gender specific is one way that kids learn who they are and what they like. And it changes as quickly as the seasons. For a short time, you may have a boy who loves pedicures and then overnight that same boy won’t shower for a month let alone soak his feet. My daughter was interested in tackle football for an entire year only to decide that her true love (this month) is drama. And so it continues, without my input into what is right or wrong for their gender. I am more interested in sharing my love and admiration for the human beings they are on the inside, pony backpack or no.