Girl or Boy? The Fallacy of Gender Roles
Sweet Innocence of Childhood
I was always meant to have a little boy like Cole. He was the oops after his Dad had a vasectomy and we were using other birth control too. How he came about is beyond me. And he was the best unplanned happening of my life.
Cole slept all night from four weeks on. He laughed uncontrollably at everything. He is also the most gender-neutral kid ever. He sees life through rose-coloured lenses. He has girl and boy friends that he still invited to his birthday party when he turned 8. His older sister Emily has always been his best friend. Admittedly I think Emily liked the fact that Cole was younger and was all up for having his nails painted and play dress-up with her.
Cole’s sweet innocence is infectious. He is the 7-year-old that looks like he’s 5. He’s tiny. But I love that he can still curl up in my arms like a baby with long legs and snuggle with me. He’s my last child and the one who allowed me to really enjoy the baby stage again. After having twins and not sleeping for about a year, I didn’t think I could manage another baby. But Cole was the baby who taught me so much about slowing down and enjoying every moment with the kids.
Cole and I were alone at the table doing art one day. He started talking about how excited he was about his birthday party. We began chatting about what he wanted for a present. I listened as he asked for a ukulele (I couldn’t resist the idea of this little monkey in a Hawaiian lei, plucking away at the strings.) Then he asked for a toy called Num Noms. These squishy and smelly little munchkin toys were something he grew to love over the years. Emily had some and he wanted his own to play with her. So I had bought him some at Christmas time. He had been collecting them and wanted some more.
But as he coloured his picture and chatted with me, it became clear he had some apprehension. He didn’t want me to give him Num Noms in front of his friends at the party. I knew this was a moment I wanted to record Cole talking about this so I started the camera.
What defines a Girl or Boy toy?
When my son Carter was young, I saw a natural inclination in him towards what we would stereotypically consider boy toys. He loved being rough and tumble around. He loved slamming cars and trucks into each other. He loved going to the barn and following his Dad around. Normal ‘boy’ stuff, right? Nothing out of the ordinary.
Interestingly enough, when Cole was born I saw that traditional boy side of him also, but another side too – a more feminine side. He loved dressing up in costumes with his sisters, letting Emily paint his nails, and put makeup on him.
He was the most balanced child ever. He had zero preference in playing with his brother or his sister – with dinosaurs or with dolls. I had such a natural curiosity in him, as I was someone who grew up wearing ball caps and hating bras. But I always felt feminine.
Cole always makes me smile at his pure innocence. He never cares what other people think. I encourage him to choose the toys he likes and always be himself. When he started school, he had friends that were boys and girls. He talked fondly of all his friends. This is the same today as it was in Kindergarten. He is liked by everyone. He never has conflict at school with his peers and his teachers always rave about what a sweet kid he is.
He still goes to bed at 8 pm in the evenings because he needs sleep. He never whines about it. He loves reading with me at bedtime still. He still falls asleep sucking his left index finger just like when he was a baby. I can’t help but wonder if Cole will always be my baby. It almost pains me to imagine him growing up and forgetting his childlike ways.
Masculine VS Feminine Roles
It truly bothers me that as he gets older he’s more aware of the separation between boys and girls. Biologically there are so many things ingrained in our DNA that we aren’t conscious of that makes up who we are. Is it as simple as testosterone makes us masculine and estrogen makes us feminine? I don’t think so. Will Cole turn out to be gay because he is sensitive and has a close relationship with his sister and his Mom? Why is that even a question we ask?
Over the years my biggest challenge with two boys and two girls has been to nurture absolutely no gender roles. Everything in society dictates a divide between males and females. When I was growing up it definitely was more predominant than today, but I believe that’s because women are challenging the roles – not men. Women have decided they have right to work outside the home, and can still be a great Mom. Women are gaining employment in typical male careers today. But are men fighting for their rights to be a stay-at-home Dad? Are men still traditionally expected to be the providers?
Why is it socially acceptable for girls to cry, but not boys?
Do we still really think that crying is a weakness and that men can’t be strong if they show their emotions?
Vulnerability is uncomfortable.
I had an older brother and two younger sisters. Growing up my brother definitely did not have to clean the house, do dishes, or help at all in the kitchen. He did barn chores with my Dad or cut the grass. He got to have an ATV and build a shack in the bush to have parties. My sisters and I got to clean the bathrooms, do laundry, and dust. I hate dusting to this day. I wanted to be outside. I preferred to be curled up with a book under the tree, but given the choice of cleaning the house or doing barn chores, I would have gladly picked barn chores. I liked getting dirty and wearing rubber boots. I was more inclined to follow my Dad around than my Mom. I began to really hate being a girl when I was 11 and on the cusp of puberty. I hated dresses and makeup. I had more boy friends than I do girl friends. I liked that the boys didn’t create drama. They played sports and I was athletic so I played sports too. I did track and field, baseball, and cross country.
I developed a natural interest in boys as I got older because I wanted to date boys, but that didn’t make any difference in the fact that I wasn’t very girly. I participated in Karate instead of dance classes. I was always more aggressive than sensitive. I was the black sheep in a stereotypical family of gender division. There were a few others in school like me, but we certainly weren’t the norm.
Food For Thought
Based on a study done in Canada in 2015 the rate of stay-at-home Father’s is 10% which is a huge increase from the study in 1976 that showed only 1.2% of Father’s who were home. But in comparison, the number of women who used to stay home in 1976 was 1465 vs 440 in 2015. That’s a huge decline! We are a dual-income workforce now.
My partner and I are tossing all stereotypes out the window. Will stays home while I work. Our kids are all in school, but he runs the household. He does the grocery shopping, house cleaning, laundry, and most of the cooking. I run a business and work all crazy hours. I travel a lot so he picks up the slack so the kids have stable support at home. Granted Will stays home because he had a brain injury five years ago. But given the opportunity to choose, I would hands down rather he be home for our family.
He wears an apron – and I’ll tell you ladies, a man cooking in an apron is just about the sexiest vision I can muster.
He wears pink and wears it well. He pays attention to his appearance and values good health. And he isn’t afraid to cry when he’s sad. Imagine that! He isn’t afraid to be vulnerable. He’s with me, and I’m one of the strongest women I know. I value independence and feminist views. I am more stereotypically dominant in my career than Will, and yet he has taught me about true masculinity.
A definite sense of self.
An appreciation for the strength of his partner. He can also cut the grass, fix things around the house, and build furniture. He opens the car door for me and pulls out my chair. He is truly balanced in his masculine and feminine energy.
Because guess what? Men and women are supposed to be balanced in both. It’s all the bullshit we grow up believing is right or wrong as a girl or boy that confuses kids and makes them struggle with who they are inside.
YIN AND YANG
I’m sure you’ve all used the phrase Yin and Yang flippantly without truly understanding what it means. The principle of Yin and Yang is that all things exist as inseparable and contradictory opposites. For example, male and female, light and dark, old and young. The two opposites of Yin and Yang attract and complement each other and, as their symbol shows, each side has at its core an element of the other. Neither pole is superior to the other and as an increase in one brings a corresponding decrease in the other, a correct balance between the two poles must be reached in order to achieve harmony.
Will has helped me embrace my true femininity that I so long hated because I didn’t understand it. Being feminine isn’t about wearing makeup, or putting on a dress. Being feminine is about a glance that tells someone you desire them, embracing a softness, slowing down and using our intuitive nature to feel others.
I want my girls to grow up valuing who they are and never compromise any part of their identity for their partner – male or female.
I want them to find the qualities in a partner that provide balance in their relationship. I want them to respect themselves enough to find a partner who is complete with or without them; someone who lifts them up when they are weak, and who values their strength in times of need.
Because vulnerability is not weakness and weakness does not make us less than who we are.
THE MASK YOU LIVE IN
We watched a documentary called The Mask You Live In. If you are raising boys, I highly recommend you watch it, but be prepared for some harsh facts about how as a society we are failing to raise balanced men. I watched half the film with my mouth open, and many other parts the tears were threatening to flow. This film is a huge reality check to the struggles boys go through as they grow up.
He wears a mask and his face grows to fill it.
How many times have we heard Dad’s or Grandparents tell young boys to Be a Man? It is one of the most destructive phrases of our times. The men interviewed for the documentary recalled their fathers telling them repeatedly, Don’t Cry! They were taught that crying showed weakness and was unacceptable. Masculinity is not organic; it’s reactive. It’s the rejection of femininity. Ever noticed that if boys are labeled Momma’s boys they are ridiculed and told they are soft, but Daddy’s girls aren't judged the same?
Now take it to another level. What does the phrase Quit acting like a GIRLsay about what men are taught about the value of women? They learn at an early age to objectify and think of women as sexual conquests because this makes them gain respect within their circle of friends. The more women they conquer, the greater the status they have. They don’t value what we feminize, because intimacy means gay.
School is a training ground for masculinity. I personally have seen a huge change in my oldest son Carter since he started school. He used to be a sensitive, sweet kid, who spent all his days being silly and laughing. But his peers in school have made him reject who he is in many ways. He’s started commenting about other boys bullying him and I’ve noticed him making decisions for himself he never would have made without the influence of his peers. Boys learn to pick up on the weaknesses of others and pick on them to feel more secure in their own masculinity.
Think about sports - being a man is associated with athletic ability. That's how you are defined in strength and agility. And to be those things makes you dominant. You have to work out and stay fit to be attractive. If you don't play sports you aren't going to fit in with the jock club. If you prefer Drama class or music you must be gay.
Some scary (USA) statistics that came from the documentary: (And don’t be fooled to think that because we live in Canada these statistics are much different)
- 1 in 4 boys are bullied and only 30% of them tell an adult
- By age 12, 34% of boys drink
- The average boy tries drugs by age 13
- Every day 3 boys commit suicide. Fewer than 50 % seek help.
Boys who emulate the strong women in their lives are more successful.
There is so much more that I learned from The Mask You Live in, but that’s compiled for another blog about the key components that are teaching our boys about dominance and violence and the value of a woman. Stay tuned, as it’s one that I’m sure is going to stir some debate. It’s also one I feel incredibly passionate about writing.
It may seem I detoured off the beaten path of the original intent of my blog, but the reality is this all ties back to my beautiful and carefree son, Cole. I fear for his innocence as he immerses himself in a world of peers that don’t value his true nature. He is and always has been yin and yang. He’s found perfect understanding of who he is and has a resolve to be true to himself. And I will protect that sacred space inside him with all that I have. Because Cole was born to teach me so many things about life, but the most precious lesson has been about pure balance and grace in his identity.
As parents, we must nurture our boys properly, because if we don’t, we risk it all. Who they become as men, begins with who we allow them to be as boys. I say allow and not teach, because they are already born with an innocence and a balanced nature. They aren’t born with a skewed understanding of what is masculine or feminine. It’s the things we say and the examples we set that throws them off the truth of discovering who they are meant to be.
So the next time your son gets frustrated and cries and you are tempted to tell him to stop crying, DON’T! Instead, say this:
“It’s okay to cry. It feels good to let out all those emotions. And when you feel like you are done, take a deep breath and let’s start over together.”
The power that comes from acknowledging their emotions as real and valid, will have a ripple effect in their self-confidence, self-awareness, and self-acceptance.
And if your son decides to pick up a barbie doll instead of a superhero figurine, don’t tell him that’s a girl toy. Let him decide for himself how to find joy in creative play. It isn’t a threat to his manhood or a sign of him being gay. It’s more likely just a perfectly balanced boy who is about to teach you a thing or two about who he is.