It was somewhere around the time that my son declared his favorite color to be pink that I started thinking about the inequities between girls and boys.
For the longest time I have always considered that girls had the short end of the straw, and certainly as adults that may occasionally be the case. But our world is ever more gender neutral. And I started thinking about all of the things I could do as a child that my son is not supposed to do.
There were days that I was the girly girl with pink dresses and dolls and tea parties full of lace. And then I would cast those off for blue shorts and soccer balls and riding bikes. Anything a boy could do I could do too. There were no limits.
So, with my two year old son in love with pink, I dragged him off to the clothing store to buy him some clothes. But there was no pink to be found. Not for boys anyway. The girls section is like a rainbow with every color you could imagine. Want to dress your little girl in navy blue or brown? They have it. Orange, red, teal, green? Not a problem.
But try to find a nice polo shirt in pink that's not dripping in bows and frills. The boys colors- even for the little ones- are blues and greens and browns or orange. Often darker, muted colors. He's immediately attracted to the vibrant pastels and bright jewel tones offered to the girls. And with a look of disappointment I have to point him away from those to the limited boys section, half the size of the girls' offerings.
And then there are shoes. Girls can wear shiny shoes, glitter shoes, every color shoe. And he wants to know why he can't have glitter shoes. Why all of his shoes are blue or black or brown. And I have to tell him, "because you're a boy."
He sees me painting my nails and doing my makeup and he wants to do it too. I have to tell him, "you can't, because you're a boy." But then I stop myself.
He's not trying to be a girl. He's only two. He has no concept of gender. He's seeing me be "creative." I'm painting. Yes, sure I'm painting my nails. And I'm painting color onto my face. This isn't about looking like a girl to him. This is about creativity and having fun. It would be the same as if I were putting a sticker on my shirt. Of course, he would want to as well.
In the airport one day he asked if I would put his hair up in a ponytail. He has a boy cut, so the best I could accomplish was a top knot. I was shocked at how many people complimented me on my little girl. My "girl" dressed in boy colors in a polo and shorts and rugged shoes. But despite every other indication that he was a boy, everyone assumed by a navy blue hair tie that this must be a girl. Even a gay couple assumed he was a girl, proving that even those that break the social "norm" of male are still biased by it.
And I have to wonder if I'm harming my little boy by allowing him to venture into the realm of things that are girl?
But how can I stop him?
He wants to play with girl toys. Sure, he loves to play with balls and cars and sticks. But equally he wants to play with ponies and fairies and play dress up. When did ponies become a girl only toy? Certainly My Little Ponies are plastered in pink, but he loves pink. And he thinks horses are cool. He wants to play with them. He wants to dress up like a princess one day and a fireman the next. And I have to stop myself from telling him to "stop playing like a girl."
Why shouldn't he want to play with ponies or fairies? Why must he be relegated to playing cops and robbers or pirates? These are violent things that he's not into right now. Why should I force it?
And so, after watching a Tinker Bell movie with boy and girl fairies in it, he wanted to have a pair of fairy wings. My husband scoffed at the idea. "Those are for girls." I had a pair of my own tucked away in the attic, so I fetched them for my son. He immediately put them on and wore them all day. He was so proud of himself.
And I realized this is not about girl vs. boy. It's not a gender issue. I still teach him the social "norm" but I'm not going to hinder his play. This is about a little boy wanting to express his creativity and his imagination. I want to give him this freedom. So I gave him wings.