Some boys like pink and prefer princess outfits over army gear during dress-up. And yes, some of those boys—like some of the men over at “Born This Way”—turn out to be gay. But liking “girl things” isn’t necessarily an indicator that a little boy is gay; that assumption, says writer Sarah Hoffman, only serves to reinforce destructive gender stereotypes in our country.
Sarah Hoffman’s third-grade son, Sam, is a “pink boy,” and yesterday she published a terrific article over at Salon about her experiences raising him, including how peeved she gets when people ask whether she thinks her son could be gay. In the piece, she writes:
My son knows exactly what he likes. When Sam was 4 and his male peers trick-or-treated as Batman and Spiderman and gorillas, Sam was a princess. At 5, he was a queen, regal and proud and full of the royal prowess that Disney offers all little girls. He liked feather boas and lip gloss and dancing. Did he think he was a girl? Nope. Was he confused about being a boy? Nope. Did he need to be taught what boys are supposed to like? Nope—how boys are supposed to behave was abundantly clear from the trains and trucks we bought him before we realized he was a pink boy, the behavior of all the boys he knew, the messages on TV, and the judgments of all the Random Moms. He just liked what he liked, the way other kids did—only his likes were different.
Hoffman, who uses a pen name to “protect the safety of her family,” has been delivering really smart commentary on parenting for quite some time on her blog, but this piece is one of the first to attract a large audience.
It’s a good thing, because the piece is whip-smart, attacking these issues of gender role conformity through the narrative about her son. She takes on Dr. Phil’s recent advice to take away “girl toys” from boys, and tracks the troubling history of mothers being blamed for their children’s departure from “normalcy.” This last part is particularly interesting—she says:
I get all kinds of email from readers telling me that if I just stopped encouraging my son to be girly that he’d man up and try out for the football team. Ah, yes: I am the All-Powerful Mother, whose magic is strong enough to make boys run from Thomas trains to pink tutus. Really, I’m that good. And if I just directed my magic toward good and not evil, then my boy would become all boy.
Our obsession with sticking to specific gender boxes is getting old. Why do we do this to kids? We are teaching them that they must belong in the bounds of a certain gender and that they must fit these very silly, yet very strict, rules. The kids who don’t follow the leader are taunted, and the worst part is that we allow or even encourage that taunting. Hoffman expresses this worry perfectly:
Random Mom [who asks whether I think my son is gay] doesn’t know who or what my son is going to grow up to be, any more than she knows who or what her kid is going to grow up to be. … She’s repeating cultural biases that she’s absorbed, raising her eyebrows at the things that might, to her, signal future gayness. In this I can hear the click of the first domino falling into the second in the cascade that flows from judgment to disapproval to bullying.
So read Hoffman’s full piece. And leave the pink boys alone.