The other week, I received a comment on a post that went up a couple of months ago, “Love.” The post talked about the ongoing observations I have of my son and his understanding of himself within the world at large. I’ve written before about how the rigid constructs of gender have only frustrated my son, who – at 7 – cares for many things that are typically considered more “girly.” Because of that, he still gets confused for a girl regularly. For a while that bothered him, but more recently he’s decided he is fine with it. He is comfortable and proud that he’s a boy, and understands that his likes/dislikes do not define him, much to the confusion of many adults he encounters.
All of that is background for the particular comment I received:
Where is his father?
This cutesy stuff is all fine until he’s 12, at which point he’ll require a figure of authority to guide him. Women can’t raise boys into men, since they are not men themselves.
I know it’s your child, but you’re emasculating him into someone who will have a hard time coping with the real world. Sounds like you’re raising him into a sexually confused teenage boy, that one day just might start identifying himself as a girl.
Of course, if that is your goal, keep going.
Allrighty then. Let’s break this down for a second:
1. His father is right here, part of our family and very much aware of everything that goes on in our lives. His father also has the longest hair in the family, so perhaps that nullifies the fact that my son has a very present, very involved father. Who knows. (For the record, his father is also a 3rd degree black belt who taught Karate lessons for many years, if you’re ticking off boxes on your “masculinity chart.”)
2. What happens magically at 12? Does my son not need a figure of authority before then? I’m pretty sure he does, or else most meals would consist of candy and would be eaten in front of the television. Also, Legos would be strewn everywhere. EVERYWHERE. But to be serious, I think that the younger years are where the true “magic” happens. It’s when we help our son as his conscience forms and he understands right from wrong, good from bad, and how to navigate all of that. It’s when we (hopefully) teach him how to make informed, positive decisions. And, most importantly, it’s when we teach him how to not only be himself, but be comfortable and happy with who he is as well.
I won’t even touch your comment about how women “can’t raise boys into men,” but obviously I think it’s a load of hogwash, beyond ignorant, and does a huge disservice to the single mothers out there raising sons, single dads raising daughters, and same-sex couples raising opposite-sex children.
3. Emasculation. Sigh. I’ve dealt with this before. In my 2011 article “Pink Scare” for Bitch Magazine, I talk about the media’s panic over “pink boys” – kids, like my son, who tend to dig toys, clothes, etc… that are usually ascribed to girls. Allow me to quote myself taking on Fox News columnist, Keith Ablow, who holds similar thoughts to the commenter above:
Ablow believes that allowing young boys to dabble in nail polish will not only “plant the seeds of gender confusion,” but will also trigger a downward spiral in society, until gender becomes so convoluted that—gasp!—it might just cease to exist. He posits, “It will be a very big deal if it turns out that neither gender is very comfortable anymore nurturing children above all else, and neither gender is motivated to rank creating a family above having great sex forever, and neither gender is motivated to protect the nation by marching into combat against other men and risking their lives.”
Ablow makes quite the leap in reasoning there, if indeed it can be called reasoning. (“Blind gender panic and homophobia” seems more accurate.) For me, the fact that my son plays “family” and lovingly cuddles his dolls (and paints his nails and dresses up on occasion) actually gives me hope that he will be a loving, caring, nurturing father. But beyond that, Ablow’s fears seem not only irrational but ahistorical: The fact of a young boy wearing a dress, or a young girl refusing to wear one, is not a millennial phenomenon. The generation that grew up on Marlo Thomas and Friends singing “Free to Be… You and Me,” for instance, doesn’t seem to have had any problem marching into combat, finding “true love” via reality television, getting married, having children, tweeting photos of their private parts to strangers, and living heteronormative, appropriately gendered lives.
4. CAN WE STOP CONFLATING GENDER & SEXUALITY ALREADY?! No? Okay, then let’s do this again. For the billionth time – The fact that my son enjoys the colors pink or purple, wears his hair long, or digs playing family or dress up has no bearing on his sexuality. He’s only 7. He hugs everyone. I have no idea what his sexual preferences are, nor do I want to spend anytime actually thinking about it. (also, let’s not even talk about how somebody’s sexual preferences have little to do with how masculine or feminine they are, unless we’re talking tired stereotypes that you’ve only seen on television…)
Here’s why I hate that we have such narrow boxes for our children. Instead of just being allowed to play with whatever toys he fancies or wear clothes that seem cool to him, it becomes about bigger messages that my son isn’t even thinking about. And for the people that feel that by allowing my son the freedom to express himself, I am damaging him – I have to ask: Where’s the line?
What’s “too girly?” Is there a magical point (much like the 12-year-old assumption above), where my son has taken on too many girly things and it all goes to hell in a hand basket? Can I balance it out with enough “boy stuff” to not worry about damaging him? Can you sense my sarcasm through the screen? I hope so.
Because here’s the thing. I have this kid. He’s 7. And he’s frankly all sorts of awesome just the way he is.
He climbs rock walls all the way to the top, showing off his agility, strong muscles, and fearlessness. Boy enough for you?
Of course, he does so while wearing headbands to keep the curls out of his eyes and spandex leggings & neon green shorts (“sports clothes” in his mind). Too girly?
He’s also a star soccer player, tearing up the field scoring goals.
But he does so in his rainbow leg warmers and pink shin guards.
He’s also an incredible downhill skier. He leads his ski class down trails and over jumps. He’s fearless, fast, and is certainly better on skis than me.
But he does so while rocking some awesome pink gloves he picked out and a white helmet with pink accents.
He also spends hours playing Legos, building snap circuits, and pretending to be a superhero. But just yesterday he spent most of the morning playing family with his best friend (a girl *gasp!*). He also helped me cook dinner and frequently convinces me to use up precious picture space on my iPhone to snap shots of his latest plated creations.
Random, internet commenter: You might see a kid who will turn into a confused, aimless, sexually ambiguous teenager with a limited future. I see a kid who knows what he likes and is full of opportunity and possibility. I see a kid who is secure in his abilities and desires and is unafraid to stick up for himself or others. I see a kid who enjoys being who he is, even if he doesn’t fit into a cookie cutter definition of “boy.” I see a kid who is truly loved and loves back just as fiercely.
So, as you say in your last line – I will keep going, because everything is going pretty damn great from where I’m standing.