I have an article up on Essential Kids about the challenges of raising our son to be free of the constraining effects of gender stereotypes.
I’m driving to the shops with my four-year-old to buy a pair of ‘beautiful gold shoes’. He desperately wants a pair just like his big sister’s.
When we find them – a pair of sparkly gold slippers with fluffy white bows – I wait for the sales assistant to say something. She does double-check that they are actually for him, but then appears to swallow her objection and smiles nervously. I breathe a sigh of relief. He has a lifetime to deal with the weight of other people’s gender issues; he doesn’t need to hear them now.
My son loves beautiful things, like golden slippers and tutus. He also loves swords, cars and Lego. He is similarly indiscriminate in his admiration of fictional heroes – Elsa and Anna, Peter Pan, Batman, Dora, Spiderman, Tinkerbell and all of the TMNT (including April, who he thinks is ‘so cool’). His play has no boundaries. But I worry about how long this will last.
When boys grow up fearful of behaving ‘like a girl’ they are often forced to shut down their natural emotional reactions to the world. When they are forced to hold back tears, all that emotion still has to come out and often the only acceptable vehicle is aggression – either in sport, play, or less social outlets. Without permission to open up and behaved vulnerably, male friendships can be stunted from the outset. This can be horribly isolating and has been linked to high rates of depression and suicide in men.