Gretchen Edwards-Bodmer is raising a happy and joyful son without following rigid gender roles or rules. And she wants you to understand why.
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.
Originally appeared on the Fabulous Mom Blog