I bet you had gendered comments about your kid when they were still in utero.

When M and S were tiny, a relative complained about S’s crying. ‘She’s so demanding,’ was said with extreme disapproval.

In the next breath, this relative cooed over M’s crying. ‘What big, strong cries!’

Almost from the minute they escaped my womb and entered the wide world, gendered statements like this have been aimed at them. Expectations that M would be tough, strong, wild, while S was bound to like ballet, dolls, and be quiet. Blue clothes and pink clothes. Blankets and books for him that were exciting – spaceships, robots, etc, while S was given flowers and ribbons.

I don’t claim robots are better than flowers.

But surely every child, every person, deserves the opportunity to discover their own joys, their own motivators, their own sense of aesthetic beauty and wonder?

S had short, curly brown hair for a long time – it didn’t begin to grow until she was nearly two. Whereas M had long, blonde hair. As babies, as toddlers, their gender was often confused.  We never dressed them in colours that were supposed to signify who they were – rather, M was very into pink as a baby, and S liked bolder colours. Enter more gender confusion.

About a year ago, I let the children pick new, larger backpacks. He chose one with a bunny he liked the look of, she chose one because she liked the owl. It just so happens his bag is pink, hers blue.

And this totally harmless and simple ‘switching’ of ‘appropriate’ colours? Not a week goes by when we don’t get comments. Queries as why they are wearing each other’s backpacks, helpful comments letting us know boys shouldn’t have a pink bag and girls shouldn’t have blue, etc. I hope I lead by example when I keep patiently repeating, ‘We let them pick what they like.’

A few months back we went to a food festival, and there was an awesome face painter there. M asked to be Spiderman (the first time we had faces painted, he asked to be a butterfly. The old woman painting them could NOT wrap her head around this, and tried to make him a brown and black butterfly. Man, did I get a LOOK when I brightly explained that he liked colours.), and S was planning on being the Green Goblin.

As M climbed down from the face painting chair, the lady turned to S and said, ‘And I suppose you want to be a beautiful fairy? Or a butterfly?’ S’s face showed a second of crumbling, of confusion, before she backed away and said she didn’t want her face painted anymore.

Why shouldn’t she be the Green Goblin? Why shouldn’t he be the one who loves real babies?

Why should (often well meaning, I’m sure) random adults get to tell them who they are and how they should be in the world?

I don’t have one boy and one girl. I have one rambunctious, caring, sensitive, creative thinking kid. And one who is a natural performer, a musician, science minded and into skeletons. Neither of these kids has any particular colour or gendered behaviour attached to them, except perhaps for their chosen favourite colours (red and yellow!).

And yet yesterday at soft play, S pointed up at an ad for a spa treatment. ‘Do you want to be a beautiful lady, Mama?’

‘I am beautiful.’

‘But you don’t wear lipstick.’

And yet last week when we discussed joining a new home ed dance class, M said, ‘But dancing is for girls.’

‘But..you love to dance!’

‘Only at home. I don’t want to dance in a class!’

So I struggle with where these stereotypical gendered notions come from, but most of my struggle comes from trying to honour who my children are – trying to robustly support them in their expression of their identities, even when they gradually say things like this that alarm me. Part of being four is figuring out gender – who they are, how they relate to other people and objects, how they perceive the world and imagine they are perceiving. What does it mean to be a boy, a girl, or a gender in between? Playing with roles, pushing boundaries…and sometimes, slotting right in to the place society wants them to be.

It’s tricky for all of us.

But these odd conversations are not happening often – more often than not, thankfully, we are still running joyfully wild outdoors, pretending to fish with sticks, wrestling with friends, making cookies to share with others.

wmmud

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16 thoughts on “I bet you had gendered comments about your kid when they were still in utero.

  1. Loved this entry. Just last weekend we visited with my 4 y/o son’s great grandma whom we hadn’t seen in a while. When she saw how long his hair had gotten she said how beautiful it was and then asked him what the other kids at school thought of his hair.

    Before this, he would constantly tell me that he wants long hair like mommy. Now he is begging for a haircut. I’m hoping that if we make him wait a week he will forget about what she said.

    Now I find myself stuck. I have always held the stance that it’s his hair and he can style it as he pleases. But now that he is asking for a haircut, should I honor the request or make him stick to his original decision? He has spent a long time growing out his hair, and I don’t want all that time to be wiped away by a set of cutting sheers.

    We’ve had a talk about being yourself and not caring what people think, but when do I cave and let him make the decision even if it’s motivated by outside pressure?

    BTW- 3 boys in his class of 18 students have hair past shoulder length. It’s not like this has been a problem in the past. It seems that GGs comments have somehow made him insecure about it.

    • Almost the same thing happened with M. He had longish hair, and it was clipped out of his eyes with a sparkling blue hairclip he picked. His football coach made a comment – a NICE one, saying he liked his hair – but it seemed to alert M to the fact that his hair was different than everyone else’s.

      He has wanted ‘little hair’ for a long time, and now after having it, he’s expressed an interest in ‘big hair’ again. I guess I just see.

      But you have summed things up so perfectly. Do you honour his request for short hair EVEN THOUGH it comes from a not necessarily great place??

      Parenting is hard, yo.

    • My son has long hair. He got upset and cut it a couple of time and regretted it. His father had it cut when he was 3 without my permission. However failed to tell him that he couldn’t have it put back on. He cried, I cried for a week, ever since he has always wanted long hair. Every time he cuts it (due to trauma), he then wants it back…..

      I would suggest you explain to him that it will take a long time to grow back and can not be put back immediately. Ask him to wait for a few weeks until he is really sure. Last year my friends sons mother phone me and asked could she cut his hair as he was saying he wanted it cut (the boys has decorated the tops of their shirts and wanted them to be seen.) I said a firm NO. A few weeks later he was so glad that I’d said no, although annoyed with me at the time. Think this needs to be a well considered option with a time delay.
      Eddie

      • This is great advice. If he really wants it cut, a couple of weeks waiting wont hurt. And it might save him some tears!

  2. Yes. I recently had an in my head rant (is there a word for one of those? There should be) about the lack of choice that having boy sections and girl sections means. It basically means that people don’t think about the personality of the child they are buying for, they think about their sex. This was triggered by Ivy’s Grandma sending her some pants. Pink flowery ones. Fair enough, I thought, Grandma like pink flowery things. And then realising that they were from the same shop that her train pants (the ones that inspired her to even wear pants in the first place) were from. But her Grandma probably never even saw the train pants, and never had the chance to refer back to Ivy’s personality when buying a gift for her, because they weren’t in the girl section. Why can we not just have a PANTS section and then people can choose the pants they like?! The train pants packaging that we bought even had written on it “boys pants” (or something). Which filled me with rage and I took a photo with the intention of posting it with a ragey comment.

    So yes, why does being a boy or a girl keep having to get in the way of people’s actual likes and dislikes?

    • YEEEEES

      A pants section. Pyjama section. Shirts section.

      This would send such a powerful message to children (and their accompanying grown ups!), not to mention making my personal shopping trips so much easier.

  3. The thing about comments like this is that it’s one thing for me to hear them but I’d really rather people didn’t say things like in front of my daughter or even to her. I think part of it is that people don’t see how harmful they are and the other is that they underestimate how much children absorb and are affected by what they say. I can only hope that in these early years, my voice will be louder.

    • Yes. People certainly underestimate young children – well, all ages rig through the teens. They are capable of sucking up everything we say…and the trouble comes when they aren’t yet thinking critically enough to weed out the rubbish.

    • Oh yes, a couple of these stories hit big time a couple of years ago. I thought it was rather interesting and I was sort of jealous I hadn’t done it, though to be honest I don’t know how doable it really would have been.

  4. I completely agree! My two boys have always worn what they want, they both nearly always have nail varnish on, my eldest likes pink and headbands, my youngest has long hair sometimes with a clip in…. recently my eldest goes ‘ewww pink that’s for GIRLS!’…. I was gobsmacked… where has this come from?? They don’t go to school, most of the kids they socialise with are HE and don’t give two hoots about whether something is ‘for girls’ or ‘for boys’ ….. I am just baffled where it’s come from to be honest!

    • YES. This is what I don’t understand. Are the messages so powerful from the tv shows they watch? Even that is just kid shows, no commercials.

      Media is so, so powerful.

      • TV is definitely capable of conveying these ideas. Kids’ shows are rife with stereotypes and societal judgments emphasizing the norm. Even when the shows try to “counteract” them–for example, by teaching how you ought to be nice to someone even though they don’t look like everyone else–they actually HIGHLIGHT the fact that everyone thinks that person looks weird, or what-have-you.

        This bothers me a lot when I see my eleven-year-old watching it. But I also have to remind myself that kids want to learn about the world as it actually is, warts and all. They want to know how other people perceive what they do. Some of them will have a personality that leads them to want to fit in. And some of them will be led to challenge the norm. I suppose that we all challenge the norm in areas where something of particular importance to us is at stake.

      • Yes, children’s tv has a lot to answer to. But I’d rather they were exposed to the world and the people in it and we had interesting conversations as a result. I figure they should meet all sorts of people, try all sorts of things….the better that they figure themselves out along the way.

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