There is a subject that I deal with every single day and have dealt with since my little boy started making his own choices somewhere around age of one. Wait, what? Did I just say my son makes his own choices? But he's four!
Listen, there are some battles I will fight. You WILL brush your teeth today. You WILL NOT run out into the street. You WILL hold my hand walking across the busy mall parking lot. You WILL NOT watch T.V. for 6 hours a day. Oh it goes on...eating healthy, treating the pets with love and a gentle touch, no hitting, no playing with the oven, please keep the cat food in the cat food dishes, etc. Other battles? Meh. Hair? He wants it long. He.does.not.want.it.cut. I respect that. No, I'm not letting him get a tattoo tomorrow (maybe when he's 16 and he's really thought about it), but the hair is a non-issue for me. When you think about it, there is so much control we exert over their bodies. At a young age they find that desire to choose things for their bodies. I'm the one who buys the clothes. I tell him when to take a bath. I tell him when to brush his teeth. I control his diet. I make him try to go potty while we're out "just in case." There isn't much they can choose for themselves at this age. For the most part, I choose what clothes he gets...I buy them. Of course, I buy things he likes. I only buy the type of shoes I like because I believe children's shoes should move in a certain way and not be stiff. I let him dress himself most of the time, unless we are in a hurry. Sometimes this results in shoes on the wrong foot or a mismatched shirt and bottom. Sometimes I "fix" it, sometimes I let him wear whatever. And there is the hair. It seems very important for him to leave it long. It's part of his own personal identity and I have much respect for that. Long hair on boys does not bother me one bit. My dad was a hippie way back when and had long hair. My oldest brother let his hair get long (oh Lord, it was a horrid late 80's/early 90's curly mullet, but all the girls went nuts for it). My other brother, God rest his sweet soul, was a DeadHead and had long hair and a beard...looked like Jesus in tie-dye. Their hair didn't prevent them from being productive members of society. My mother allowing them to keep their hair long didn't "make them gay." It was their way of expressing themselves. So, the hair is one issue I come up against.
Color. I have a boy. In case you haven't heard, boys must wear blue and play with trucks and dirt. Boys are not allowed to like pink, purple, glitter, kittens (or glitter kittens), dolls and flowers. Oh no. That will surely turn them into pansy little gays who will get their asses kicked in school. Besides. Letting a boy wear pink socks and carry a doll will most definitely send him the wrong message about how to be a man. Grrrrrr. Excuse me? Fuck that. First of all, the notion that pink is for girls and blue is for boys (oh really? more on that later) is antiquated, stupid and needs to go. Boys are not born knowing they are not allowed to like pink and daisies. They have no clue. Left to their own devices, most boys would probably think pink looks pretty and daisies are great to plant in the front yard. Some may even wear pink. All they know is that certain colors appeal to them and some don't. It's the same for all of us. I love purple. I'm not a big fan of neutral browns. My friend's mother loves blue. The entire house was blue when we were growing up. All blue. Except for one white couch...which was trimmed in blue. We all have our preferences when it comes to color, but it's the boys in our society who have the pressure of only liking certain colors. It's not right.
This is an issue I have dealt with for years. But, I finally sat down to write this blog because of a post I saw on the Facebook page for The Cloth Diaper Foundation. For those unfamiliar, this group accepts donations of new or gently used cloth diapers that they then loan to low income families who would love to use cloth but otherwise cannot afford it. The diapers are loaned to the families for the length of time needed at no charge save for shipping. It is a truly wonderful cause as cloth diapers are a truly wonderful thing. It's a small operation, run by only a few people, and does not have a lot of resources. They depend on the generosity of others. They do state that parents requesting diapers cannot specify certain colors or prints. This is because they simply do not have the time or resources to sort through all of the diapers. It would take time and diapers away from other needy families if, say, one mother requested all yellow diapers. Not only is it stated before you apply, but when you sign their agreement form it says this, " -I understand that CDF will not guarantee diaper colors and patterns specific to my child's gender as the organization's primary purpose is to alleviate the costs of diapering. (please initial)" That's because CDF is about providing much needed cloth diapers to low income families and not about decorating your child or coordinating outfits. The CDF has had great success and things were going great until a recipient of their generosity complained that they got a gender inappropriate diaper. I believe it was a boy who received a pink diaper among all the other diapers loaned to them. The parent complained about the color. Tacky, I say. First, as I noted, CDF clearly states that they do not sort colors. You get what you get. Second, have some grace. You are being loaned diapers for just the cost of shipping. Lots of diapers. Be thankful for what you get because the CDF doesn't HAVE to give you anything. Geez. Third, who the fudge cares? Your baby is going to poop in that diaper in a matter of hours. Get over it. Fourth, who cares? Boys CAN wear pink and it will not cause their penis to shrivel up and turn into a vulva. K?
The issue of boys wearing pink or purple, playing with dolls, pushing strollers, playing with make-up can be a big deal among some parents. There are parents who absolutely refuse to dress their male children in anything other than blue, black, dark green, grey or brown. Said boys may only play with trucks, cars, guns, army men, more guns, boats, more guns and something resembling a gun. I personally know families like this. I have also personally been stopped by complete strangers in the store because my son was carrying a purse or a doll. Oh God, the day my little guy went to Wal-Mart carrying not only a doll but a BLACK doll - oh, the looks. I have had my little boy dressed head to toe in blue, carrying a car and then called a girl. I have had adults tell my son that little dolls are for little girls. I've been asked why he was wearing nail polish. Some comments and my responses:
"Don't you worry about him having long hair?" I worry about knots.
Upon being corrected when calling him a girl: "But men are supposed to have short hair." Says who? Long hair has been accepted since the beginning of time in most cultures. Besides, Jesus you've got hanging there on your Crucifix necklace had long hair, so..." Yes. I can get wordy. Depends on my mood.
"Why are you letting him carry a purse? Aren't you worried...you know?" He thinks a purse is great for carrying around all of his cars. And no, I'm not worried.
"Personally, I would never have let my son push a pink stoller with a baby doll." Personally, I don't care what you did with your kids, so lay off mine.
And the ever-popular, "Don't you think that will make him gay?" Clothes and toys can't make a person gay. And I wouldn't love him any less if he was gay. So.....
I just want the world to know that this silly idea that pink is only for girls is relatively new. There are moments in some cultures in history where blue, a protective color, was preferred for boys, but those moments are fleeting and not the overall standard. In fact, in America, pink was for boys and light blue was for girls. Among Catholics, light blue was preferred for girls because it was associated with the Virgin Mary. Look at these two quotes from early magazines in America:
"There has been a great diversity of opinion on the subject, but the generally accepted rule is pink for the boy and blue for the girl. The reason is that pink being a more decided and stronger color is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl." [Ladies Home Journal, June, 1918] "If you like the color note on the little one's garments, use pink for the boy and blue for the girl, if you are a follower of convention." [The Sunday Sentinal, March 29, 1914.]Things were switched after the 1950's. There is a theory that part of the reason pink fell out of favor for boys was because the Nazi's used pink triangles to brand homosexuals. Oh, okay, so we're supposed to dress our little girls in frilly pink because the Nazi's deemed the color "faggy." Oh, that makes total sense. Sign me right up. Any other fashion advice from the Nazi's?
I get it. America wants my little boy rolling around in the dirt, shooting toy guns, wrestling other little boys (remember, the two sexes shouldn't mingle after age 5), playing war, sword-fighting and pretending he is killing other little kids or taking them hostage. It's cool to pretend to be a pirate, clinking swords and stealing ships, because pirates were manly with all that raping they did. That's socially acceptable. The more violent, the better. (Note: I'm not entirely judging rough play or pretend pirate games, just using them as an example) But the second he takes his half naked doll out of the toybox and places it into the hot pink toy stroller he's at risk for turning into one of those gays. I'm being told that it's not right to let my son play with dolls. Why? Why can't he emulate a parent nurturing a baby. As a possible future father isn't this a good thing? Isn't it good that he wants to gently rock a doll, wear it in a sling, put its diaper on or push it in a stroller? Why are we obsessed with saying there is something wrong with that? No, there is something wrong with people being afraid of boys playing with dolls. And, for Pete's sake, he is a kid. I guarantee that the doll will be thrown halfway across the living room within 30 minutes and then possibly eaten by a dinosaur or made to drive the big tonka truck. Chill. Isn't anyone else disturbed that implying that a little boy playing house with dolls will turn him gay. Are we saying we don't want our little boys to learn how to nurture? We don't want them to pretend to be good daddies? That doesn't bother you? What message are we sending them?
I know my brother, who had long hair at one point, owned a few pink shirts. They were in style in the 80's. Guess what? Not gay. I grew up with a boy who was very rough and tumble, totally all boy, played boy sports, wore boy clothes (usually all sports stuff). Guess what? Totally gay. I don't know if anyone caught this the first 22 times I said it, but your kids clothes and toys won't turn them gay. As if there's even a problem with being gay...
The sad fact is that this conversation isn't had in reverse. A little girl can play with her brother's tonka trucks and cars. She can wear overalls and blue t-shirts. She can climb trees and play pirates with the neighborhood kids. She can ride her cousin's black Batman big-wheel. She can dig in the dirt and look for worms. No one bats an eye. If anything is said at all it's, "Oh wow, look at little Susie. She is such a tomboy. How adorable!" Susie can wear pink, purple, black, blue, green, yellow, orange, brown, grey, red, indigo and all of their various shades and hues. She can wear her hair long or short (what a little pixie!). She can play with mommy's make-up. She can try on her sister's high heel's. She can dress herself up in her daddy's suit and tie and put on his shiny black work shoes. All of it is okay. No one worried about me. I was obsessed with dinosaurs as a little girl. I had tons of them. My Barbies and She-Ra dolls co-existed with prehistoric lizards. I spent countless hours each day digging in the yard and looking for worms and other bugs. No one warned that I would become a lesbian. And now I'm very feminine, I love dresses and I still love dinosaurs and digging in the dirt. And it should be that way for little girls. So, why isn't the reverse true for little boys? Why is there such a double standard? Why do we have such fear when it comes to color and little boys? It's not okay to have that double standard. We need to examine ourselves. We need to realize that imposing all of these stupid stereotypes on our children damages them.
As for me, I remain unchanged. I will allow my little dude to explore and to express himself. He sees mama with her nails painted and he thinks it's mighty cool. So, I let him try it. He sees mama with a purse to hold all of her cool stuff, so he wants one too to hold his cool stuff (cars, a mega block, two mini dinosaurs, half a crayon and one gnome), so he uses one of my old purses. He loves babies and wanted a doll and now has several. Sometimes they get cuddled. Other times they get undressed and placed in his toy oven with Lightening McQueen. He helps me plant flowers, lots of flowers and veggies and herbs. Why? Because it teaches him to respect nature. And because flowers are fucking pretty no matter who you are. He also likes flowers because they feed the bees and the butterflies. And he loves to watch the bees and the butterflies. As a baby he wore some pink cloth diapers. Why? Because they were on super cheap clearance sale and it goes under clothes and he pooped in them. Last I checked, those pink dipes didn't make him less of a boy. He owns a few purple shirts and some tie-dye that has some pink in it. He wears a purple wool hat. Because it's shaped like a monkey and reminds him of Curious George. Sometimes he wears my belly dance hip scarves. Because the coins jingle and that's pretty dang cool. A few weeks ago, he fell in love with a Barbie bike at the store. Oh, it was pink, purple and full of glamorous glitter. And why did he want it? Is it because he had some secret 4 year homosexual agenda? No, he wanted it because it has a basket. You see, "boy" bikes don't have baskets. He wants a bike basket because and I quote, "I need to be able to carry my drink and some vegetables." So, we're going to get a basket to clip onto his bike.
I really hope that our society's outlook is changing. I hope we are all becoming a little more accepting. I believe that my son, even at 4, is very confident and secure in himself. It's my belief that our parenting style instills this sense of security in him. I want him to grow up being comfortable with who he is. I don't want him feeling tortured because he feels he can't express himself. I grew up with people in those situations and it never turned out well. I don't want him to ever feel the pain of needing to hide his true self. I want him to be him...whoever that is. If that means he is going to wear jeans, a dino t-shirt, long hair and glittery green nail polish while pushing a stuffed dragon in a pink stroller, then so be it.
*Portrait of King Louis XIV as a child. I cannot seem to find the artist.