The Difficult Side Of Gender Neutrality

Showing him how it's done

I’ve been thinking a lot about my kids and how I may or may not encourage/discourage certain gender-specific activities. ย I try my best to simply let the kids do whatever they want: Society Induced Gender Roles BE DAMNED! That part is easy. If the boy wants to play dress-up in his sister’s princess clothes? GO FOR IT. If the girl wants to play with her brother’s tool bench? IT’S ALL YOURS. This part of making sure your child has a neutral understanding of “gender roles” – this is the easy part. Just don’t say “No!” when they want to do something even if it’s typically reserved for the other gender.

The End.

Except it’s not always that easy. There are two situations I often find myself in that cause me a bit of a struggle:

1. Trying to force myself to allow the stereotypically girlie behavior. NikkiZ is such a girlie girl it’s not even funny. I am not. Sometimes I get irritated that she likes to play Pretend Fashion Diva (or whatever this game is where she dresses up in crazy outfits and prances around the house) and I try to make her go play soccer or color or something…anything else. But you know what? Not letting her play girly dress-up is just as bad as not letting her play with tools. The point is to let her do whatever, right? But she is SO GIRLIE and I am SO NOT that I struggle more with that than with anything else. If I’m letting her pick out something to wear and she chooses pink I’m always, “What about this green skirt?” Or, “don’t you want to wear this purple dress? Purple is a girlie color too.” Mainly because I’m SO SICK OF PINK. If I never intervened she would wear frilly pink dresses and pink headbands and shoes ALL THE TIME. But I’m constantly asking myself, why am I interfering? I mean…I try to act like I’m open-minded and progressive: Look! My daughter plays T-ball AND takes Dance! But in reality if I’m trying to force her more towards the t-ball and less towards the dance…aren’t I just as bad as if I were doing it the other way around? I seek solace though in knowing my desire to make her more rugged is simply because I want to have more in common with her. I’m more rugged. Just like any parent we steer our children towards our own interests. In other words, I’m not steering her away from pink because it’s girlie, I’m steering her toward blue because that’s the color I like.

Of course – whatever my own personal motivation – I should still just let her be her own girly-self. I can’t help but to encourage other activities too – but I guess if she wants to be the super-girlie princess, I will try not to stand in her way. I’ll simply get her to teach me how to do my makeup when she gets older.

He had two yellow fingernails. See? ART. Not Makeup!

2. Allowing activities I worry they’ll hate me for later. This one applies mainly to Wes. When I was painting his sister’s nails last weekend, he obviously wanted to join in on the fun. I have him blue toenails because I can hide those in shoes and I painted one finger on each hand yellow. He loved it so much that he made sure to show everyone he saw out in public. We ran into my friend at Jason’s Deli the other night, Wes had never met her before (that I can recall) yet the first thing he did when I started talking to her was stick out his fingers and toes to show her his nails.

This is all fine and dandy except for one factor: What if he hates me for allowing that later? That’s the part I struggle with. Maybe he’ll be like his big brother and think that stuff is hilarious. But maybe he won’t. I mean, of course I hope he’ll grow up to be open-minded like his father and I, but what if he looks back on this and gets angry with me? I knew the boys as teenagers and I’ve encountered the men as adults who are the type who would be angry at their Moms for doing the same thing. I guess I just hope that the environment I raise him in will keep that from happening. That he has no choice but to grow up open-minded and glad his Mom let him have those moments of whimsy when he was a child….right?

What about you…do you try to let your kids do whatever they want regardless of gender norms? Do you have any struggles with doing this? Do you HATE PINK AS MUCH AS I DO RIGHT NOW? Because sometimes I want to punch that color in the face.

16 thoughts on “The Difficult Side Of Gender Neutrality”

  1. Sometimes pink is best used in small doses ๐Ÿ˜‰ and if Wes hates the “girly” stuff (though yellow and blue aren’t nearly so bad) just blame it on Nikki heh. Plenty of little boys with big sisters survive much, much worse!

  2. I don’t think you can worry about what they will or won’t be mad at you for in the future. LOL.

    I’d like to think my kids (all three boys) will look back and be happy to remember that I just let them be who they were.

    My oldest is six now… he spent the first half of the preschool year when he was four racing to the classroom in the morning to beat the girls to the best princess dresses. He became known as “the little boy who wears the princess dresses”. And damned if he didn’t rock that Snow White getup too… what did it matter to me? I hope he’ll laugh when he’s 16 and I pull out the photo I took of him one day at pickup wearing it. ๐Ÿ˜‰ (or applaud me for being so progressive when he’s a drag queen at 20) LOL. These days, he is into making charm bracelets because he saw it on Max and Ruby… I took him to Michaels to spend his money on “charms” (big, gaudy beads he thinks are shiny and pretty) and he wears the silly thing all over the place. My husband sometimes cringes, but is overall a good sport. Plus, the same child will just as quickly turn around battle you to the death with light sabers or whack the ball out of the park in teeball… who knows what he’ll turn out to be, but I wouldn’t want to stifle any part of it.

    Anyway I don’t think you do your kids any disservice at all by just letting them be themselves and explore the world the way they naturally will… ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. Aw, the lovely shade of Pepto-Dismal STINK. I am not a pink fan, either. But my girl is and I have tried to just go with it.

    Arun has a very soft side and when he wants to be silly and wear fairy wings (when he is pretending to be a flying Koopa-Troopa) or swears his love for Fancy Nancy or wants his fingernail painted, I try to go with that, too.

    One day, he wanted to go to school with his nails painted. I told him that he could, if he wanted to, but that other boys might make fun of him. I gave him the choice. I hate that he is only 4.5 and I already have to worry about that crap.

  4. Oh dear. I’ve struggled with this issue. I have two girls so of course the house is filled with frilly and pink princess. Lately my oldest wanted to catch worms and bugs and dig in the dirt. So I let her. Want to play cars and race track stuff? Fine. Giving up control over these things is sooo hard for me. But I like to think it makes for a well rounded child. I guess it worked, because a couple of weeks ago my oldest was supposed to be sleeping but she took down all of her pictures and decor for her room (princess stuff that she picked out) and declared it was too babyish now. Sigh.

    I say let them be creative in their play. I believe it’s good for them to not have a lot of limitations on what they are allowed to play with, just because it seems to be geared toward a specific gender. I will totally agree with you though, there’s waaay to much pink in the world. Give me black & white, red, yellow or orange any day!

  5. Truth be told, they’re probably gonna be mad at you for *something* later on. I doubt it’ll last, though. I see you having good relationships with all your kids when they’re older. If your oldest is anything to go by, you’re going to have some pretty awesomely open-minded people on your hands.

  6. Henry loves to wear my bracelets! I think it’s adorable, and I take pictures. My mom gave him a pink rubber wristband (the ones for breast cancer), and that is HIS bracelet. He can’t stand for me to put it on.

  7. I am SO HAPPY you talked about how it’s just as bad to be down on girly stuff. I’ve read so many posts that mention how they never put their girls in pink because they hate pink and girly stuff, and they sound kind of PROUD of it, like THEY would never put girls in pink and dresses just because they were girls, and I ALWAYS think what you said, which is that it’s NO BETTER to force AGAINST gender stereotypes.

    My youngest, Henry, ALWAYS wants his nails painted when I paint Elizabeth’s, and I always allow it. I think it’s unlikely they’ll hate us for it later. And yet I know I draw the line SOMEWHERE, because I wouldn’t let him wear, say, a girl’s swimsuit to swimming lessons. Such an interesting topic!

  8. My mom dealt with the same thing — she was a tomboy, and I was all pink, all the time. And because we had mostly girls on the street growing up, my brother begged and begged for a Barbie and a My Little Pony so he wouldn’t be left out (I eventually gave up one of my Barbies to him, and he only got a Pony because they came out with a line of Big Brother Ponies that were pirates and baseball players and things, so my mom decided it was probably okay — her concern was that the few other boys on the street would make fun of him for playing with girl toys, which I can understand).

    Now my brother, at 24, gives my mom grief for letting him play with dolls, but it’s all in jest.
    Bro: “I can’t believe you actually bought me a My Little Pony.”
    Mom: “Well, you really, really wanted one, and your sister wouldn’t give you one of hers.”
    Bro: “Yeah, because she knew the other guys would make fun of me!”
    Me: “Actually, no. I just didn’t want to share my toys.”

    I think the men who are all “I can’t believe my mom actually let me paint my toenails when I was 3” are the ones who have some deeper-seated issues with gender stereotypes. Maybe their mothers pushed them too hard to let their feminine sides out. Maybe they are slightly homophobic and fear that if it gets out that they once played dress-up with their sisters in preschool, people will think they’re gay.

    But it sounds like you are raising your kids with a healthy concept of gender stereotypes, and I think because of that Wes will, like my brother, look back and laugh at it. And Nikki will probably look back and say, “Mom, I cannot believe you gave in and let me wear my tutu every day. That’s pretty cool of you. Most moms wouldn’t have done that.”

  9. What always bothers me is its OK for girls to do typical boy things, but it’s not OK for boys to do typical girl things! If a girl were to wear a football jersey out in public, people would think she’s so cute…. if a boy were to wear a princess tiara out in pubic, people would snicker and wonder about his future orientation! When my kids were little, I had no trouble letting them play,dress up, etc however they wanted with disregard for gender stereotypes. I have 2 girls and then a boy. I have many pictures of the boy with pink princess dresses, necklaces, ballet slippers, little ponytails in his hair, riding a pink car, etc. He always wanted to do what his big sisters did. Now he is 8 and the girls are 10 and 13…. somewhere along the way he figured out what is and is not socially acceptable for a boy! Now we always joke around with him that he can paint his nails with them if he wants to, or doesn’t he want to wear their hand me down purple coat, etc and he will have absolutely no part of it!! I would say it all changed when he was around kindergarten age… whether from school peer pressure or just inborn genetics I have no idea. It is so interesting watching kids change and grow up!

  10. I have two boys (2 &5) and a girl on the way. Right now both of my sons have pink toenails. The older one wants to have them painted, but occasionally has moments of doubt that he should. So far the prettiness wins. I have no idea how this will change when we throw a girl into the mix.

  11. Oh how I struggle with this. I have 2 girls and I’m not a girlie girl. (Although being a SAHM has cast me into more traditional gender roles than I ever imagined I would occupy. And I don’t mind that.

    My oldest (almost 4) is a complete girlie girl. She loves pink twirly dresses more than anything. And I kept buying her trucks and cars to play with in the name of gender neutrality. Tessa has yet to let us know if she is going to skew girlie or more neutral but I keep pushing her to be less girlie because I already have one girlie girl. I finally made myself take a step back and listen to her and what they want.

    I bought the girls tutus and fairy wings to play dress up in (but I bought purple and yellow because pink is starting to make me gag – Sabrina was thankfully fine with that). I try and find things that I know she will like that don’t make me cringe. I bought her a tank top with sparklies all over it – but they were in the outline of a skull and crossbones so it felt a little more badass to me. I did recently buy her a pink twirly dress just because I knew she would love it. And she does. I do a lot of clothing shopping at consignment sales so wardrobes sometimes skew pink because everyone else buys pink for their girls.

    All I can do is hope that Tessa will be less girlie but I’m trying to let her decide that herself.

  12. I faced this recently when my 4 year old son wanted a pink car seat like his sisters. While pink and purple are his favorite colors now, I just couldn’t bring myself to buy something meant to last years that he would likely hate and resent me for sooner than that. We ended up getting the grey one instead, but boy was he disappointed.

  13. For me the most important part of gender roles for kids is to be opened eye that they are there and talk about it with your kids. That way in the future or at least I hope to be able to rationalize why I let them play with princess dresses or cars. I hope that by being a feminist I can let the world work but make my children conscious of why it works that way…

    (Sometimes my women study major reals it ugly head) ๐Ÿ™‚

  14. I’ve got a great picture of my 2-yr old son wearing his sister’s princess heels… so pretty! I’m sure he’ll love that when he grows up. But right now he LOVES wearing her shoes, and my shoes; anything with heels are great.

    But I feel your pain about the pink; my daughter is 4, and all she wants is pink, and dresses. I was happy she wore her taffeta Easter dress to school the other day, because at least it was green! A change! Sheesh. For her fourth birthday her Daddy and Grandma strong-armed me into painting her room pink. I know that’s what she wanted; I know she loves it; but ALL THAT PINK!!!! I read their bedtime stories in my son’s room now. ๐Ÿ™‚

  15. OMG, I am right there with you on the whole pink/princess thing! My 5 yr old step daughter LOVES pink and Disney and Princesses and I HATE all of that stuff. OK, I love pink on me right now, but you know what I mean. She’s always picking out the same dresses and I am always doing the “what about this COOL shirt with the MONKEY on it!?” thing. Sometimes I let it go, and sometimes I pull rank. And sometimes I send her back to her mother wearing some horrendous frilly outfit because a.) Zoey gets what she wants and b.) I don’t have to look at it. My consolation is that Zoey is also athletic, tough, and fearless.

    Her twin brother, on the other hand, also loves to paint his nails (PINK) and carry her (PINK) purse. And funny, but this bothers me not in the least, even though he’s probably past the age where this is a “cute stage.” Riley is cautious, not particularly athletic, and far from tough. And at just 5 the jury is certainly still out on his future sexuality, but I guess I want him to know that his father and I are OK with who is now, and also later. And while I am OK with his love of pink, I would be lying if I said that when he is carrying on like a three year old girl about a dead crab at the beach, that I don’t want to tell him to stop being a wuss. And then later he’ll do something so typically BOY that I get completely confused.

    Don’t worry about Wes hating you for the stuff he likes now – it’s unlikely he’ll remember any of it.


  16. Our youngest (now pushing, or rather kicking, 14) is a boy, and when he was little his older sisters thought he was the absolute best dress-up and make-up doll they had. He loved it as much as he loved the dumptruck and grader toys we got for his sisters (who ignored them!). Now he loves sports, but he has a great sense of style. He sure didn’t get that from me, I’m a slaaaawb. Anyway, no point here except it’s the other kids who really give kids a hard time about this sort of thing, and having opposite sex siblings is a big help.

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