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Sunday, May 16, 2010


I resist the gender stereotypes as much as I can. Yes, she has dresses but she often wears pants. Yes, he likes balls but he also plays with dolls. She plays with boys. He plays with girls.

I can feel things changing though. It makes me worried.

I am suddenly seeing a difference in how the kids interact with each other. The other girls at school come dressed in princess costumes. The boys at the park play with water guns. The play is slowly diverging as I watch the boys get more physical and the girls get more intricate in their storytelling. The boys are bad robbers chasing each other and the girl play school.

I try to resist encouraging the stereotypes. But sometimes I fail. I give him a bag of cars I bought second hand and he loves them. I give her frilly dress up costumes and she loves them.

I shouldn't even have them in the house. A Disney princess costume handed down from my cousins. She wore it yesterday and announced that she was a princess. How about you are a Queen I tell her. I can stomach her playing Queen. Queens are rulers and aren't just sitting around waiting for a man to come and save / marry them. No she said I am a princess. Okay, I said, then what is your superpower? Convinced now that princesses have superpowers she jumped very high and ran very fast.

That may not work again. But I will keep trying.

This morning I watched the girl at the birthday party of a dear friend of hers. The kids were babies when I met my friend and the two kids have spent many hours together over the years. Today she was the only girl at the party. Shy by nature when she finds herself in a new situation, she kept her distance from the pack of boys. While they ran around the garden she sat with me and the other adults at the table on the deck reading a book.

When the boys sat together around a small table eating their hot dogs and pointing at each other yelling You're a girl! No, I'm a boy! You're a girl I felt sad. Sad for her and what this might mean for the friendships she has with boys as they get older. Sad that there will come a time where she will feel left out because of her gender. Sad that calling other boys a girl is somehow funny. Sad that I know the funniness of it can morph into an insult.

I tell her she can do anything. I will tell him the same thing. But is saying that enough? What is the weight of my words compared to her peers and what she sees around her.

So. There are still dresses in our house. There are still cars. But there is also me. Trying to walk the line between resisting the stereotypes and resisting what they love.


  1. My daughter is the quintessential girly-girl in spite of me. I don't always handle this well. But it's not up to me, I'm afraid. On the upside, this means that my 21-month-old son, who loves his sister immensely, is currently living in a very gender-neutral environment. He's just as likely to wear the princess dress as my daughter. For now, anyway.

  2. I only have a boy and he is steeped in boy clothes. My husband vetoed the pink booties we got as handmedowns. I am shocked at the amount of pink on girls. We've had people give us all their clothes because they had a girl. Little white and blue onsies with puppies on them (!?)... It is the oddest thing. That said, our baby boy-o is so so so BOY. sigh ...

  3. I also only have boys but my middle child loved tea parties and playing kitchen. He also loved playing dolls with my niece. Of course now that he is 5 it is all Star Wars all the time. I don't know if I would worry more if I had a daughter. Maybe I would. I still think that as long as the base of your relationship with your child is strong (boy or girl) they will grow up fine no matter what. I hope I am right.

  4. This post made me tear up, and get goosebumps. Princess superpowers 4 eva.

    I love your observations and descriptions. I have no girls, so can only imagine. But I will be buying Rocco a dollie for his birthday this week, oh yes.

  5. I remember my eldest wanting a barbie when he was about 4years old. I got him nearly 16 now, he loves his rugby and football etc etc...
    My youngest plays with dolls with his older sister but still manages to make guns with anything. It does seem to be a case of nature over nurture. I love what you are doing to discourage typical stereotypes and I hope if you continue to encourage your daughter to play with boys then she will feel comfortable with them.
    It is sad that the boys were doing that and you have to wonder where they even got that idea from, they had to learn it from somewhere didn't they. :0(

  6. the jellybean is an only child and a boy. so yes, there are a lot of boy things around the house, nothing remotely girly. but we have never brought in guns or any sort swords or that sort of this. but the jb stills plays with whatever he picks up and shoots you with his "sprayer." it's all about good guys and bad guys. it's all about the battle. how it happened? i have no idea.

  7. It has to come down the the behaviors we model. These "genderish" lines do exist for a reason and you're children are only being themselves when they love certain things. As long as you expose them to lots of people who are doing lots of different things then maybe they will learn that the variety of things is based on interest and choice rather than on rules about what boys and girls can or cannot do. As long as you never say that Daddy has to shovel the driveway because he's a boy or Mommy has to fold laundry because she's a girl, but rather explain that different people have different jobs because it is what's needed or what people are good at, then you're not reinforcing any limits on them.

    My munch was "helping" us build our new shed this weekend. She tried on my safety glasses, she picked up my hammer and tried to hit the wall with it, and when it was time to use a power saw, it was her dad who took her for a wagon ride... because in our house, mommy is the one who is good at power tools. Daddy just happens to be more likely to fold laundry. Mommy likes to cook and bake.

    I guess I grew up in a house with brothers and a sister. I'm sure there were moments when my older brothers told me I couldn't try something because I was a girl and I have to say, that never stuck. More often than not my being the youngest was a bigger barrier for me than my gender.

    So after that big long ramble I guess I just want to say that if the majority of your kid's exposure is positive, a few brushes with uniformed boys is not going to put the girl back 50 years on gender equality.

  8. I have a boy who is a boy; and two girls who are tomboys - except when there are princess dresses to wear. To be fair, as they get older they're reverting back to their roll-in-the-mud, bike through the woods Huck Finn natures, and sometimes I wonder if that's normal. But then I get "I want my ears pierced" from my 7 year old, and it strikes me that there are always two sides to every dilemma:)

  9. I remember The Boy at 3 and a half with his friends one boy, one girl. The boys would be knights, and she would be a princess. Note that the princess could all the knight stuff. So I asked why she couldn't be a knight. All three agreed that girls couldn't be knights. I said that I was a knight. This was hysterical to them.

    I wouldn't worry about it too much... they have great role models. They'll figure it out.

  10. Thats hard that one - if its any help - my daughter went through an age (about 2-6) when she LOVED pink and frilly and girly girl stuff. Now she won't go near it with a barge pole and has been that way for years (8-10) - she is a jeans and tshirt, climbing trees and running around girl...or was...her new school seems to be turning her into a "fashion parade" and "house" playing girl - who has to fit in or gets bullied...Plus side - she doesn't like the games and we're looking at other schools...

  11. I have two boys, 2 and 1. We buy them as many gender neutral toys as possible. Given the choice of all the toys at toddler group they will both go for cars first. They also like pretend cooking and shopping though. It is a shame that the gender gaps appears to widen as they get older.

  12. Our children seem to also be falling into gender stereotypes, and we have definitely done our best to stop that. My daughter gravitates to "pink" things like crazy, and it's not because she sees that from me, or her older brothers. I guess she is just picking it up from the world around her in general. My middle son LOVES dolls and loves to dress up in tutus, but also loves to play Indiana Jones with his older brother. I think as parents we can only do the best we can, and help raise our children to understand all the differences in the world.

  13. I hate to say it, but sadly it gets worse once they are in school. My daughter is or rather was a "tomboy" she loves to run, climb, play with the boys. However at school the girls all band together, they do not "like" boys and refuse to play with them. My daughter has resisted, still playing sometimes with the boys but as time passes she is more with the girls than the boys. I find it so sad.

    We do not buy into the commercialism and the gender separatism yet it creeps in.

  14. When we knew our first was going to be a girl we didn't tell anyone until she was born because we didn't want the deluge of pink and lace. We figured the decor baby gifts come with the first one, so that way it wouldn't matter which the second was, we'd have it covered.

    I get my girl some girly stuff at consignment sales because I want the balance - why deny her the frills if she likes them? This way she can choose a cute dress one day and her beloved dinosaur or spiderman shirt the next.

    I put tutus on my boy if he asks, but I also have a peter pan costume and a pirate costume in the costume bin, and both my kids wear them too.

  15. This post really resonated for me...I struggle with the same issues. My oldest is a real boy and he's at a "girls are gross" kind of age. I would be able to pass it off as a phase but the problem is that he is a strong influence on our middle daughter. As a result she often says she wishes she were a boy, and she always pretends to be a boy during playtime. She'll only wear boy clothes (her brother's hand-me-downs). I worry that someday the other girls at school will push her away as an outcast...or, worse, when the boys in her class reach the "girls are gross" stage, her old friends will suddenly reject her.

    At the same time I just want her to be her, you know?

    My youngest is the opposite -- all princesses and frilly dresses and bracelets all the way up her arm. At first we found this charming, because she was so different than Gal Smiley and we thought, at last!, we can buy dollies and play dress up. But now, I worry. She's so very into princesses, and she likes to pretend that a prince is saving her and/or marrying her...I want her to be tough.

    Basically, I want each sister to have a pinch of the other one.

    I hope they'll rub off on each other. In the meantime I just try to let them be themselves, and be a good role model.

  16. This post and comments speak to a subject I've thought a lot about. My little girl is still very young - seven months - so we aren't there yet, but I wonder about gender stereotypes and what I, and others, teach my child with toys/clothes/actions - subconscious or otherwise ... I remember how it was when I was younger (according to my mom - on my first day of school, I played house, while my brother's first day of school involved a fight). I hope my little girl is friends with boys and girls - or more exactly, she feels she can be friends with whoever she chooses. If she wants to be a princess, fine - I just want her princess to be equal to the prince (which I know from the traditional children's stories out there may be tricky).

  17. I love this post. I often struggle with the same feelings but was so happy the other day when my daughter started telling me a story about a prince locked in a tower and that the princess had to save him. My son loves to play with my daughter's dolls and I love that he knows how to pat the baby on the back and give her kisses. He still loves his cars and trucks the most though!

    I think it's all normal stages they go through exploring and when your daughter is older and sees how strong you are as a woman she'll likely follow those values.