Girls and Boys

by Mary Sutton / @mary_sutton73

I read something today that’s really got me a bit, well, unsettled. It was on gender stereotypes, and how they’re alive and well today. The author’s son studied ballet, not a very typical pursuit for boys. But hey, if that’s what he wants, why not, right? And all of the comments were things like “right on,” and “all boys should be encouraged to study dance,” and “what’s with the pink and blue, anyway?” – and, well, it makes me unsettled.

I mean, I understand the general point. As a girl who played with trucks and watched hockey, I am totally on board with letting kids find who they are and supporting them. But…

balletLet’s take my two, for example. Today, The Girl turns 13. She studied dance for almost seven years – and still would be if her teacher hadn’t taken the A train to Crazytown. She loves pink things and watching makeup tutorials. We joke that she sweats glitter. She loves curling and styling her long, blonde hair (which is simply gorgeous, sorry). She is, as they say, All Girl.

mudThe Boy turned 11 a couple weeks ago. I’m lucky if I can get him to wear clean underwear and socks. He’s perfectly happy in the same t-shirt he’s worn for three days. He loves taekwondo, football, and hockey. It’s his first year in Boy Scouts, and he’s totally into all the camping/shooting/outdoor stuff. He loves to play in the mud. His favorite TV show is Crash & Bernstein, and he thinks fart noises are hilarious. He is, as they say, All Boy.

And you know what? I had nothing to do with any of it. Zip, zero, zilch, nada. I bought The Girl trucks and blocks when she was young. She wanted nothing to do with them. I didn’t exactly buy my son dolls (because he always gravitated to the trucks and blocks in the store), but when he dressed up in his sister’s princess costume and wanted his nails bright pink, I didn’t freak out about it. I bought gender-neutral clothing (green, yellow, etc.), and if I did buy blue/pink they wore it equally. The Girl had a Buffalo Sabres onesie. The Boy had stuffed animals and even a boy “My Buddy” doll.

And yet, and yet…

Anybody meeting them today would think they were raised in a sea of gender stereotypes. I tried, I really did. Honest. It’s not my fault that The Girl traded her soccer cleats for ballet slippers. It’s not my fault that The Boy would rather throw a football than play piano.

And so I get a bit defensive when people start the “rah-rah, down with stereotypes” talk. Because here’s the thing: Kids will pick their own way. And face it, people, sometimes that way is completely stereotypical. If a girl genuinely prefers playing with princess Barbies, so what? If a boy genuinely would rather have a Tonka truck than a Tinkerbell, so what?

Don’t we do a disservice to our kids when we push them in the way we think they should go, instead of the way they want to go? Wouldn’t we be better off shelving our own egos and following theirs? Can’t a girl be smart, funny, independent, strong, and pretty? Can’t a boy be rowdy, fun-loving, physical, smart, handsome, and sensitive?

The answer is yes, people. Yes. Yes they can. Our job is not to tell our sons and daughters, “You must study ballet” or “you must play soccer,” but ask them “what do you want to do?” and help them make that dream a reality. Some boys will dance, and some girls will play football. And that’s okay. But some girls will dance and like makeup, and some boys will play hockey and watch NASCARAnd that’s okay too.

Because it’s not about “down with pink” or simply fighting stereotypes. It’s about helping our kids be the best they can be, helping them follow their dreams. Even when those dreams aren’t the same as ours. To do otherwise is supremely egotistical.

So the next time you see me and my daughter looking at sparkly ballet flats, or my son and I buying sports equipment, understand this: This is what they have chosen. And if they’d chosen differently, well, I’d have no problem taking my son to dance class or my daughter to football.

But that’s not who they are.

Images courtesy of PanArmenian Photo and Ken Douglas. Used under Creative Commons.

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