Sarah is one of my favorite bloggers and she happens to be local. I love her writing for the way she manages to convey the politics and emotions of complex situations in clean understandable language. She makes us all smarter. And as a grandmother, I often feel comforted or at informed by her words.
Sarah is a writer who contributes regularly to Preview Massachsetts Magazine, & also has written for Brain Child, Huffington Post & Babble amongst other places. She is also a community activist & mama to four kids, preschool to tenth grade.
Toes and Boys and Girls
Last week, at the toeholders’ request, I painted twenty toenails a nearly invisible pink.
My toeholder is three-and-a-half-plus, and her friend is about to turn four, which means my gal is now leaning into her personal near-fourness (February). The girls were thrilled with their pinkish toenails. They wiggled their toes. They admired their very pale pink toenails. They went off to do other leaning-into-four things, mostly, I think, playing family. I heard snippets; there were loads of timeouts.
Last spring, her pal, Sammy had painted toenails constantly. Youngest of three, with two big sisters, he also came to school sporting tutus over his pants. His (female) friend Saumya began wearing dresses to “be like Sammy.” And back when her older brothers were similarly small, our then-housemate, Michael often painted his toenails—and so our little boys loved nail polish, too. We used to joke about the male bonding that occurred over nail polish.
The truth is, though, that my gal—and her pals—is often making statements like this these
days: “Girls are princesses,” or “That jacket is pink and pretty so it’s for girls.”
Before I dissolve into a puddle of feminist despair, I ask, my tone neutral and a little
upbeat, “Can’t boys be princesses if they want to?”
To which she answers, “Yes,” sometimes and “No,” at other times.
The nine-year-old got into it with her last night. Quoting preschooler: “Boys can’t
have long hair. Long hair is for girls.” He pointed to his own hair, longest in
his class of boys and girls, all the way down his back and reminded her he has
long hair and he’s a boy. Although she has hair all the way down her back,
too, she didn’t exactly have a comeback.
As the boy’s hair would indicate, we’ve worked to question gender stereotypes in our
household. I knew this was the case when the girl—our fourth child—arrived and
required no doll purchases; we had plenty of baby dolls already.
Even though questioning gender stereotypes was the plan, having a firstborn boy who loved dresses, fairies, ballet and Alice in Wonderland made it pretty easy. He never
picked up a toy vehicle of his own accord. And like the dolls, we did have some
wheeled toys at the ready.
I was surprised that we were much more lonely in this aspect of our childrearing than
I’d imagined in our hip town (once dubbed “Lesbianville” by the national press).
I was surprised at how many times over the past sixteen-plus years the excuse
for __ behavior has been either “boys…” or girls…”
Sure, with our truck-loving boys, we amassed a fleet of wheeled toys. It’s hard not to
cater to passion, after all (we have, I discovered this summer during a major cleaning out of the games’ shelf, about ten Wizard of Oz-themed games and puzzles, too, from the first boy’s devoted obsession in his earlier years). And double sure, it’s really hard (for me) not to spend my disposable income on cute-yet-practical dresses for my little gal (I don’t most of the time, for the record, I just get tempted).
In Teaching Tolerance, there was an article this week by a kindergarten teacher whose student was drawing a book of pirates, all, according to the artist, male. Then: “Boys are not the only pirates.” On this page, there was a drawing of a girl and a boy pirate. He then explained to me, It’s really true. Girls really could be pirates.”
As the teacher muses, young kids are trying to figure out gender roles. This boy, he points out, is being raised in a family that “brings up non-traditional gender roles and breaks down conventional gender stereotypes.”
Well, kudos to us, then—and I think I’m going to keep questioning gender stereotypes, not
solely with my kids, but also with my peers, who are raising my kids’ friends.
I’m curious, always, about other people’s experiences with gender and the playground set. Do tell!