Jason Gaddis insists that when we discourage feminine traits in boys and instead only promote outdated masculine ones, we put a gender straightjacket on our boys.
Is your son less of a boy or man if he wears pink?
Chances are, if a boy wears pink in this culture he will likely be judged as gay or feminine over time.
I paint my toenails. I wear pink sometimes. My son likes pink too and loves to play princess or fairies with his awesome babysitter. So, are we both gay or feminine now?
So, the other day we went to a friend’s house and my son had on his stylish new pink shades. We were the last ones to arrive at the party (a vulnerable moment for a three-year old as the group of kids was already in their flow). Naturally, he wants me to walk him over to the group of kids. We hold hands and walk over.
We walk right into what is now a circle of seven kids ages 4-9 most of whom he’s played with before. Immediately his friend, a 5 year old girl, blurts out (so everyone can hear):
Hey, you have pink sunglasses! Boys don’t wear pink sunglasses!
She then laughs out loud and points at my son, as if to encourage the other kids to join in making fun of him.
I froze. It felt mean and shaming to me. My entire system was triggered, I felt a fury of rage and disbelief. I wanted to punch the five year old girl, who I know and love.
I couldn’t see my son’s face as I was next to him, but he froze too and kept his sunglasses on. Fortunately the oldest nine-year old boy said “Who cares if they are pink, I think they look awesome on you.”
I immediately agreed with the boy and said to the girl, “whoah, that is so disrespectful to say to your friend. We don’t talk to people like that.” I was still in shock. I got hijacked by my own issues around this gender stuff so I was unable to respond in the way I wanted. Eventually we worked it out, the girl’s parents talked to her, she apologized etc.
However, it was jarring for me. My anger is not about this girl, it’s not about her awesome parents who are raising her extremely consciously. It’s about the boy code and how powerful it is in this culture. Boys wear blue, girls wear pink. And, if you so much as veer outside of that, you will get shamed, humiliated, or worse.
I can hear the insecure mainstream parent say to me “Well, you shouldn’t have bought him pink sunglasses, what did you expect?” To which I would respond “I do expect it. And, I refuse to stay afraid and teach my child to collude with an outdated and disempowered male cultural paradigm that supports unconsciousness, disrespect , violence, hatred, or of any kind toward any individual.”
I understand the risk we took buying pink sunglasses. And, I will buy my kid pink whenever he wants to wear pink. I will teach him about the cost of wearing pink so as he grows he can choose. I will wear pink and keep painting my toe nails.
What’s the big deal here?
The big deal is fourfold:
- We send a message to the boy that his fundamental nature, wherever it is on the spectrum is wrong and bad.
- When we judge children by putting down gay people, girls, and women, we have now taught him, he’s wrong and bad, and “those people” are wrong, bad, or less than.
- We perpetuate hatred and violence toward gays and women and the parts of ourselves that don’t fit into the mainstream mold.
- The boy learns to be ashamed of who he is and how he expresses himself, so he shuts down any behavior (like wearing pink or a dress) that is perceived as feminine or gay. We keep the boy code going.
Not wearing pink is just another way we box boys in to what’s acceptable and what is not in terms of gender roles. If a boy plays with guns, sticks, trucks, and plays sports, he’s a “normal” boy and conforming to acceptable boy behavior. If he plays with dolls, wears pink, is overly emotional or sensitive, or dresses up like a girl, he’s going to face the gauntlet of shame and judgment. Other boys will tease him. Other parents will whisper about him. Some teachers, pastors, or coaches might even try to change his preferences or they might overtly shame him for it. These are some of the costs of gender conditioning (the biggest obstacle facing men today).
For example, check out this newspaper clipping that was passed around on facebook a while back.
“Make sure he wears masculine colors. No pinks!” Link to this newspaper here.
Encourage masculine traits while discouraging feminine ones? Ouch. And yet, this list is the masculine way in this culture. It’s quite normal and not surprising. And, when it’s not explicit like the newspaper above, it’s implicit.
Some will argue that this is not the case. That men are more comfortable with their feminine side, the metro-sexual is a good example. Yes, there is increased tolerance for a man to be in touch with his feminine side today. However, it’s still largely shamed in this culture, both overtly and covertly and it starts at birth. Look around at the men in your life. Most are emotionally constipated.
This is a sad, but understandable stance we take when we see the world through narrow and disconnected eyes. Some of us men actually think that the feminine, which lives in all of us, is not only uncomfortable, it’s bad, wrong, or doesn’t exist. In fact, in our culture, most men have disowned their inner feminine because they will get shamed, humiliated, and made fun of for it. Think about it, the two biggest insults you can say to another man are to call him a fag or a pussy. So, boys and men learn to distance themselves from behaviors that could become a target for being shamed or humiliated.
Then, if you push back and call men out of this, the first response we get is something like, “Hey, it’s just a joke. I was only kidding dude. Stop being so serious.” So, we become the person who is “wrong” for standing up for ourselves. Right, I’m supposed to “lighten up” about this whole thing. Right, it’s me, it’s my problem. Guess, I won’t speak up next time, silly me.” And so the conversation goes underground and men shouldn’t speak up for themselves because they are overreacting. It’s a classic double bind.
Is that how we want to deal with our son on the playground when another kid bullies him for wearing a certain color? What about shaming him for crying and calling him a cry baby, a sissy, or a girl?
This is the maze of male conditioning and animaphobia (a man’s fear of his inner feminine). When we men are unaware, afraid, and unwilling to embrace our inner life, we will reject those same qualities outside of ourselves. It’s what I did most of my life.
What I’m trying to teach my son is to be himself. That means I embrace the notion that he has both feminine and masculine qualities in him and that both are to be honored and respected.
So, I’m glad this event happened, even though it burned. Because it fueled this blog post and my clarity on future inevitable events like this.
photo (main): flickr creative commons 6311940919
photo (inset): Shutterstock.com