As a child, I was a complete tomboy. My best friend was a boy who loved hockey, getting dirty, and riding bikes. This was the 90’s so we were able to run amok in our neighborhood with relative “safety”. We climbed trees, played hockey, rallied the neighborhood children for kickball, and caught all the little critters we could. To childhood me, boys were the coolest and got to do the coolest things. They got to run around with their shirt off when it was hot out. They could pee outside since they could do it standing up and didn’t need to wipe. They also were allowed to have short enough hair to get away with not combing it. I wanted to be just like the boys, because they had it good.
My parents were very neutral about my experimenting with “boy” traits. I got my hair cut short, wore what I’d now call gender-neutral clothing, and even tried peeing standing up for a while (not sure if my parents knew about that one.. – Sorry, Mom. I’m guessing there were messes). I distinctly remember an incident when my family went out to eat at a local diner. I decided to “dress up”, wearing black pants, a collared, long-sleeved shirt, and a blue button-up vest. I had my short hair slicked back and slightly parted to the side and I was looking good. While we were finishing our food, it was time to order ice cream. The waiter asked my mom, “And what would your son like?”, referring to me. My mom corrected him and he apologized. I told him it was OK and internally I was beaming with excitement. What an honor to be called a boy. After all, they were the coolest.
Today, I am a 33 year old, cis-gendered, heterosexual, white female. I’m firmly rooted in my identity and still have no problem being a bit of a tomboy. However, I no longer believe that males are the superior gender.
Throughout my life in small town Wisconsin, I’ve somehow naturally procured some lifelong friends with a menagerie of different gender types, ethnicities, and sexual orientations. I love them all and have had the privilege of learning both from them and for them. These people are my family and it’s so important to me that they feel loved and accepted by me in all ways possible.
Since my son (my firstborn) was a baby, I knew that part of my parenting plan was to allow him to be exactly whomever he is. I try not to impose my own hopes and dreams for his personality on him aside from the basics every good human should have, like compassion, integrity, and personal responsibility. My goal is to raise my children with true unconditional love and acceptance. I want them to be able to enjoy what they like, regardless of society’s thoughts on whether that thing is for their birth-assigned gender. Beyond that, I want them to extend that same kindness to those around them. My hope is that my children will be the ones sticking up for the little boy who is bullied because he likes to have his nails painted, or the little girl who happens to enjoy playing with cars. Even if they aren’t sticking up for those kids when the bullies are around, I hope that they will be the friend for them that validates who they are and reminds them that the bullies are the ones with the issues, not them.
So, I’d like to share with you 5 ways that my family is actively bucking the gender norms:
1. Send The Message That Everything Is For Everyone
Our son LOVES wearing a beautiful princess dress. He loves to accessorize too. He wants the crown, the wand, the shoes, and fancy gloves. He also likes to play with a variety of toys. He plays with dolls, cars/trucks, musical instruments (both pink AND blue), ride-on toys, and kitchen play sets. Every so often he will regurgitate something he’s learned from someone else in his world saying, “No, Mommy. That toy is for Patsy, because she’s a girl. This truck is for me because I’m a boy.” My usual response to something like this is “Well, whomever taught you that is wrong. Boys and girls can play with whatever toys they want to. It does not matter what it is or what color it is.” To which he usually says, “Hmm… OK! Then I want to play with the sparkly microphone!” (or whatever the “non-boy” toy was)
2. Give Them Multiple Options
For us, this means giving my children a variety of toys and clothing choices. I usually get a few pieces of girls clothing for my son’s closet. My husband and I don’t encourage or discourage any specific type of clothing, but simply let him choose. The same goes with shoes. He usually has shoes that reflect his current interests: Paw Patrol, Mickey, and sparkly shiny things. I do the same for my 1 year old daughter. She has clothes that are all colors of the rainbow. She has clothes with frills and fringes, and clothes with dull colors and tigers. I want to give them the opportunity to try out different styles and see which suits them best. Obviously with the 1 year old, she’s not picking out her own clothes just yet. But, I still think variety is important.
3. Practice What You Preach
My husband gets his nails painted every once in a while. He will accompany me for a pedicure and sometimes will give me one. Beyond style and things like that, we also share household and parenting responsibilities. My husband snuggles my babies when they’re sad just as well as I do. I model to my children that I can fix a leaky pipe under the sink and shovel the driveway. My husband can do the dishes, laundry and clean the bathrooms. We both certainly have our preferences, but it’s important for us to model that both of us are capable of the same things. In fact, I may even me a little more handy than my husband when it comes to building/assembling things and basic home repairs. Take that, gender norms!
4. Question Those Around You
There have been times when another adult will tell their child something that I would find to be damaging such as “Stop screaming like a girl, you’re a BOY!” This is always an uncomfortable situation for me. We are all doing our best to raise our kids right based on what we know or believe to be true. To this parent, I would say something like: “Why can’t boys scream in a high pitched tone, too?” Usually, they cannot give me a good or sound answer. My hope is that with these little moments, I’m helping them to reconsider some of their own thoughts around gender norms and open up their mind a little. That’s not always the result, but my child knows where I stand whether we are safely tucked away in our own space, or sharing that space with others.
5. Expose Them To A Variety Of Different People
This one can be tricky. Not all of us have the privilege of having a variety of people around us. There are some areas that are densely populated with one specific race or type of person. This is where TV shows, books, and thoughtful purchases can come into play. The idea is to try to expose your child to different types of people in whatever ways you’re able. Buy your white child the black baby dolls or the Asian action figures. Read them books about the girl who decided to become a boy. Teach them that nothing is black and white. Gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, etc – all of it has a wide spectrum. The more we can teach our children to celebrate differences, the more we can nurture their ability to know themselves and their own preferences.
I won’t sit here and pretend to have all the answers or claim that I’m doing everything right. However, I will sit here and tell you that I’m making a conscious and concerted effort to be open with my children and allow them to be authentically who they are in all situations. Gender norms can just go ahead and die a quick death, because we don’t need ’em and are better off without them.
❤ Mama Caped Nerd
If you have questions or suggestions, please share by visiting my Contact page. I’d love to hear from you!