Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Boys will be boys

Or so they say. Except when boys do something that is not considered "boyish." My friend Sandy wrote a post this morning that has inspired me today.

Before my first son was born I had decided he was going to be raised as gender-neutrally as possible. That is, I was not going to allow outside influences to affect his behavior, what toys he played with, or other things in his life solely based on his gender. It is worth noting that I did not know his gender until the doctor told me when he was born.

We had a gender-neutral nursery, a circus theme in blue, yellow, pink and green.

We had trucks and balls, dolls and play food in the toy box.

And guess what? He played ... well, like a boy. What I did or said seemed to matter little to him; he would hold a doll up and use her head for a hammer if his actual hammer wasn't in plain sight. He played with toys differently than I expected. Turns out some of that stuff isn't the result of an external force; it is internal. Hard-wired.

When my second son was 4 he came to me and said that his best friends at preschool (2 girls) were taking ballet and he wanted to take ballet, too. I found a dance company with a teacher I liked, we searched high and low for black ballet slippers and pants that did not have pink stripes down the leg or purple rhinestones at the hem, and he danced. He loved it. He was pretty good, too.

People gasped when I mentioned it in conversation. "How does his dad feel about that?" they would question. "My husband would never allow such a thing." Hmph. Listen lady, MY husband is secure in the knowledge that manhood is about many things, but it is not based on whether or not you wore ballet slippers as a child or whether you still wear them as an adult. Plus, there is no "allow" in our house when it comes to stuff like that. I am a co-parent of this child. He wants to dance, it is an opportunity we can afford to provide, I made the decision. I don't have to ask permission.

Just after Spencer turned 3 he needed new shoes. As is our custom, we let him choose them. He picked Dora shoes. With pink on them. And rhinestones. And flowers. I gently asked if he wanted other shoes, thinking his brothers or the kids at their school would likely tease him and hoping to spare him. But he insisted, the brothers were shot a warning glance as they began to tell him they were "girl" shoes, and all was fine.

Except for the people who noticed and routinely commented on it. Seriously. he was a 3 year old who loved Dora the Explorer. There were no "boy" Dora shoes, and contrary to popular opinion, wearing pink if you are a boy does not make you automatically a sissy.

Sorry for the awful light in this one ... I never did figure out how to deal with the odd light in that house. But you can see how proud he was of his new shoes.

And I was proud, too, that he chose them and wore them with the flair of a 3 year old who has new shoes. He LOVED them. Far be it from me to tell him "No" because of how others may react.

If I had, I would not have this story or the precious photos that go along with it.

Oh -- and for what it's worth? Last Thursday was the first day of a ballet/tap/jazz class that Evan and Spencer are both taking.

I hope their recital outfits have sequins on them. Maybe pink?


  1. Thank you, and Amen!

  2. Susan1:14 PM

    Heh. If boys didn't dance, who would hold up the girls? Pas de DUH?? Honestly, some people.

    I like those shoes, though the big flower on the toe would have put me off, even speaking as a woman...I wouldn't buy those! LOL!

    The gender thing I think is a harder hurdle with girls...I have gender neutral toys (hello bock pot boy!) and all three play with them, but Her Royal Highness playing with the trucks is rare. She will gravitate toward the neutral, like the farm, castle and pirate ship but she really leans hard on the Barbies and My Little Pony. I don't mind this, but I find it colors my thoughts...when she asks me about science type questions it usually surprises me. I don't think I give her enough credit sometimes...hope I'm not unintentionally keeping her from knowing things I'd automatically expect from her brothers. (if that makes sense)

  3. Geeat post, jennifer and I applaud you! I think that is a really smart way to raise kids and helps them learn to keep an open mind. My mom was pretty gender neutral with me and my brothers as well and I often picked "boy" stuff to play with,no big whoop!

  4. Right on, Jennifer. My son, J, likes to play dress up. LOVES hats, bead necklaces, etc. I love that he loves that. It's great when boys have different interests.

  5. Both of my kids play with toys that are considered the "other gender's" domain.

    My brother and I also played Barbies, guns, and Star Wars together. I don't think that says anything about our sexual orientation... or anything other than we sometimes got along and played together. I think that's what most parents hope for.

    I have some great photos of K in a tutu.

  6. I have some photos of my son and daughter BOTH wearing frilly princess pajamas. I should send it to you.

  7. BRAVO!
    Sounds like you ar edoing a great job of preventing as much of the unhealthy conditioning society bombs children with as you can!

    I remember when my son and spirit son chewed their toast into gun shapes ( we didn't have gun toys at my house) and played with rocks and sticks. I also remember defending the one who is now a college athlete, over 200 lbs., over 6ft. with size 16 shoes and his gender neutral name when his grandmother tried to take him out of his favorite shirt, which happened to be pink.

    I'm so glad to hear of a conscious mother and father raising boys!

  8. Austin had dora shoes when he was two that he picked out himself as well. They are hardwired, totally.