Friday, April 15, 2011

Gender Molds: Not All of Us Want to be Princesses and G.I. Joe's

One thing that has perplexed me for some time now is the propensity for some parents to force gendered stereotypes on their children.  I just don’t get it.  Why do so many of us insist on making our sons and daughters act like anything but children?  They'll have the rest of their lives to act feminine or masculine.  Just let them be kids while they can.

Shouldn't our youngsters feel free to be themselves while they are young?  They shouldn't have to worry about acting like a proper young man or young woman.  They shouldn’t have to worry about dressing properly and looking right.  Let them be kids for crying out loud!  If your son wants to play dress up let him.  If your daughter wants to go fishing or hunting take her out with you.  I am willing to bet that once your kids get older they aren't going to want to spend as much time with you anymore, so you might as well spend the little time you do have with them doing things that they enjoy.  

I am bringing this up because I went to the park yesterday and had a terrible time.  While we were there my little boy tried to play with two little girls, but they weren’t allowed to do much.  Their mother designated which areas of the playground were appropriate for little girls and which were for little boys.  The entire time this lady would be saying things like, “Princess, little girls don’t run.” or she would say “Tiara, the slide is a boys toy.”  

Yep, that’s right.  Apparently, little girls aren’t supposed to use the slide or the swings or play on the rope or the merry-go-round or above all they are not supposed to run.  I guess that is considered the most un-lady like activity of all.  What made me really sad was that these little girls couldn't have been older then three and four.  

Anyway, I soon found myself wondering why even bring your kids to the park if you won’t allow them to play and have any fun.  It just seemed cruel to me.  If all these kids are allowed to do is jump rope and play hopscotch why tempt them with an entire playground by taking them to the park?  What is that all about?

Well, it wasn’t long before another mother with her little daughter asked this lady  this same question as well as how this seemingly crazy mom determined which objects were alright for boys and which were fine for little girls.  The answer was, “Well, little girls shouldn't do anything that might result in their dresses flying up and showing their panties.”  

Hmmm...is that all?

Then the other mom said, “Well, why not just dress them in jeans and sneakers then?”

The reply was a simple, “Little girls don’t wear pants.”  There was a really weird emphasis on the "don't wear" that I found a little frightening.  She made it sound like girls that wear pants are a disgusting unnatural thing.  But, maybe I was just reading too much into it.  She probably meant that her girls won’t wear pants, which isn't an unheard of phenomenon.  Anyway, I don’t know how she meant it, but  the lady asking the questions got seriously offended.  I guess she thought that the crazy mom was judging her or something because her little girl was wearing jeans and a sweat shirt.  

Anyway, it got uncomfortable fairly quickly so the little man and I moved from the main play area over to the slides away from all the turmoil.  I am glad that I kept my mouth shut because I am fairly certain that I am going to run into both of these women and their children again, and I don’t want to be caught in the middle of any kind of argument involving their parenting styles.  That could never be a good thing. 

After witnessing that little episode, I started thinking about what that woman would say if she knew that I let, no encouraged, my little man to play with a pink tea set.  It is an awesome toy!  He loves to play with it and pour the fake tea onto the floor.  The teapot even speaks to him and strongly emphasizes using good manners.  It says things like, "Could I have some more please." and "Oooh, why thank you!" It's great!  I am really happy we managed to find a toy like that.  

Now, I am not going to lie and say that I wouldn’t have picked out a "manlier" toy if there was an option of one.  But, if there was one I don’t know if my son would have liked it as much as his little pink tea pot anyway.  It is hard to say.  All I really know is that if my son really enjoys playing with his teapot, then it is fine with me.  

I don’t really care what he plays with as long as he is happy while he is doing it.  If he decides he wants a Barbie that’s fine.  I am not going to try and talk him into the male equivalent, G.I. Joe, if that is what he wants.  I would just try to find a cheaper knock off version of Barbie because they are wicked expensive!

With all this in mind, I am glad to say that at least our culture is starting to progress, albeit slowly, from forcing our children to into these strict, gender molds.  You can see the evidence of this progressiveness when you are out shopping.  Take a few moments to notice the kids around you.  You might just see  a few of the boys singing and dancing in the aisles to whatever the latest “Glee” song is.  Yeah it is annoying, but at least it is better than watching a pathetic youngster try to act big and bad.  

You know, I am a little jealous even when I see this because when I was younger we didn’t dare get caught singing and dancing no matter how much we loved to do it.  That kind of thing was likely to get one labeled “fruity” and beat up.  It is nice to see that song and dance seems like an acceptable method for youngsters of all sexes to express themselves.  I hope we continue this trend of open mindedness as a society.  It is about time that we pulled ourselves out of these old ruts that were the norm for so long.

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