Wednesday, September 22, 2010

3 and 3/4 years

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.


  1. damnit. that really sucks. i'm so sorry. i wish those words didn't exist too. i really really do.

  2. Riley has been hearing these words repeatedly from school. She'd learned that boys don't have long hair, girls don't have short hair, boys don't wear dresses, girls like pink and boys can't like pink, etc.

    We always have these talks with her. I point out that I'm a girl with short hair. Some people like short hair, some people like long. And then we have the talks like, "Most boys don't wear dresses but some boys do." She sometimes accepts it and repeats it but then comes home and goes on about boys/girls again. I think they hear a lot of it daycare/school.

    I have heard parents say stupid things to their kids or even attempt to say it to ours. People are very obsessed with the boy versus girl stuff. I just hope we can teach them that they can do whatever makes them happy and that the "rules" they pick up aren't really true.

  3. I have a little guy in my program whose father lives in mortal fear that his son is going to 'grow up gay'.

    He doesn't want his son to be allowed to play with 'girl toys' or hang around with girls. (And excuse me... but don't hetero males WANT to be with girls???)

    I have some fairy legos that were donated to my program by a friend, and he always wants to be the purple fairy. Names himself 'Primrose'. And I don't say a word.

    I just make sure it's cleaned up before parental pickup time.

  4. I passionately hate the boy girl thing. It takes so much fun away from all of us and has ruined two perfectly good colours, pink and blue.

  5. :( My heart hurts for him. And for you.

  6. It's amazing how soon this starts. My son, not quite three, just started preschool and encountered this on his second day -- playing dress-up with the princess dresses, just like your son. It was a gaggle of little girls who gave him a hard time. It amazes me that other kids have already assimilated this message from home.

    Luckily, my son's other mom was nearby and able to diffuse the situation by saying, "it's okay. We're playing dress-up. You can put on anything you like." He's still been putting on the princess dress at school, but is more tentative and now calling it "a clown suit."

  7. grr I hate that. I am so proud of my eldest for never letting other people's opinions of the things he likes influence him. Your boy-o will grow up similarly strong, knowing he does not have these limits that other parents have placed on their kids and he will be better for it. I'm sorry he had to hear that, hopefully he won't stop expressing himself the way he chooses.

    My boy loves my little ponies. Loves them. Has done since he was 4 (he's nearly 9) he can't get enough of them. I try to shield him from other kids opinions where I can, so that he can enjoy them as long as possible (ie when he wants to take MLP cookies to school I suggest he saves them for when we go to the beach and that he takes Scooby cookies to school instead). It hurts me to do it, but it's how I can help him love what he loves without fear of him being bullied. I remember one time a friend coming over to play and seeing all the MLP crap in his room. "Did you used to have a sister" friend asked. Rocket says, looking confused "No, I have brothers" and that was that.

    And funnily enough he met his current BFF who is the child of two crazy rockabillies and is a part time actor, and says proudly "I have my little ponies at my dads house. My dad has a my little pony tattoo on his arm!"
    True story. He really does.
    There are many soulmates out there for your boy-o who will love the same things as him. I hope he finds one soon and they can have strength in numbers against those who believe he "cant" or "shouldnt" play a certain way.


  8. Dude. Long comment. Sorry. Matter close to my heart that I've dealt with a few times. Apologies for the novel!

  9. Thanks everyone. Suzy - I love that MLP story. Gives me hope :)