My boys one day, found an L-shaped piece of paper and said, “Look, a picture frame,” while the other one, simultaneously said, “It’s a gun.”
I talked with a new mom. The mom who knows everything. She was quite proud of herself that she is avoiding “gender bias” by ensuring her son has a “kitchenette” instead of traditional “boy toys.” She can’t understand her friends, moms of girls, who have toy rooms filled with pink and purple, princess themed toys.
This sadened me. I didn’t say a word, although I was thinking, “Remember, they did that study, in the ’80s, giving boys girl toys, and girl boy toys, and the boys ended up turning them into guns, and the girls played house?” But she was probably in diapers when that study came out.
I was saddened for the mom, who has her eye keenly on the lookout for external triggers to ensure her son’s enviornment is equally male-female balanced. Isn’t she missing out — isn’t he missing out, while she watches his reaction to things — if he responds too much like a boy when he plays with a ball? If he fails to be neutral, should she withhold it?
Why is it bad to just be a boy? Why do we need to avoid this?
She didn’t ask, based on my real-life experience, what it was like to watch four boys grow up together. I think she would have been afraid of what I would say I saw. That each boy reacts differently, and that there are no hard and fast rules about what is gender norming. That, while they are boys, and they have predictable patterns of testosterone, each one is unique. And because they act like “boys” nothing is diminished in society by their headstrong attitude to be boys. Or a girl’s headstrong attitude to be a “girl.”
The mom’s story about her efforts merely gave me pleasure… because I realized what freedom there was to care less about whether my son’s reactions were a result of my lack of effort to create a gender-neutral play zone.
I was actually relieved, as I saw her face tighten under the strain of so many choices. She knew her efforts were futile. How long did she think she couuld protect him from other boys, the influence of society, movies, cartoons and school? Why make the work of parenting more exhausting than it already is?
But, this she doesn’t know yet. She doesn’t know just how tired she’ll become… yet.
Because, after all, boys will be boys… and there is reassurance in that.