That's how long it took for my Boy-o to hear the words: "Boys can't do that - that's just for girls." 3 and 3/4 years.
It was a kid at school. (And it just had to be the kid Boy-o has been talking about since school began last week). He chastized Boy-o for playing dress-up as a princess at school. I know I shouldn't resent that kid or want to flick him upside the forehead - he's just a kid after all, and repeating what he hears from people in his life. But I do anyways (and I don't even care if it makes me a bad person). (Okay, I don't really. I'm just speaking from the 'someone messed with my kid' place. It'll pass).
When pressed about how he responded, it was clear Boy-o was baffled. Never has he ever been told that certain things are only for girls or only for boys. He said: "I laughed and laughed and laughed and laughed. . . and then I said: 'okay, okay.' And then I even saw a girl dress-up in it. So I guess it must be for girls."
L. and I both held our breathe and took a bit of a pause. I tried to will my eyes not to bug out of my head. For starters, that's not nice (and not true). And this is not a subject you want to tackle unthinkingly. On the one hand, you do not want to set your child up for a lifetime of playground ass-kickings. On the other hand, you do not want to let that bull-shitty 'boys don't/girls' don't business win. So L. says, after a pause: "well yeah, some people believe that there are certain things boys or girls shouldn't do. But I sort of think that limits our chances to have fun... What do you think?" Pause. Boy-o says nothing. So I take pipe in and add: "It's about what makes you feel okay and happy in your heart buddy. If you feel like you don't want to wear that princess dress, that's okay. And if you feel like you want to wear it, that's okay too. It's about what you think, not what other people think." Pause. Still nothing. Clearly, Boy-o was working hard at processing the whole situation. And then, not wanting to beat the horse dead, we let it go, feeling a bit heavy-hearted about it. (Though of course we knew this would happen... its eventuality didn't serve to make it feel any nicer).
It makes me feel pretty sad to think that even if he does decide to go back to school and play dress-up as a princess (or more accurately, a princess firefighter), it will never again be with the same unproblematic, unchecked joy as those first few times, before he was informed that boys 'don't do that.' It will never again be without the anxiety of going against the grain.
I'm glad my boy got at least those 3 and 3/4 years without hearing those words (or the sentiment behind them). I wish Boy-o could go his whole life never having heard them.
I wish those words were obsolete.