What Message Are We Sending Our Sons?

Laying in bed with my other half, he asks casually (though I feel it’s slightly not casual), “Did [our son] A go to school with fingernail polish on?”. The answer is yes. He did. I meant to take it off, but I ran out of time that morning. Recently, A has started locking the bathroom door and painting his nails. Typically greens and blues, but still, this is a taboo subject in my house and I know it. Men don’t do that, is the stigma.

I primarily hung out with artists and musicians growing up, so to me this is not the end of the world. My son sees me dote on our daughter, I [for reference]. Painting her nails, doing her hair, letting her play with jewelry and lipgloss, is all part of our daily routine. As I get ready, she mimics, and he watches, quite obviously feeling left out. I hate seeing the look in his eyes when he asks to put on lipgloss too, and I tell him he can’t. When he asks to wear a headband, and I tell him no. When I tell him boys don’t wear nail polish. Honestly, what do I care? I really don’t. Of course, I am not trying to foster these urges against society to prove a point, or put him in a position to be picked on, bullied, or criticized, but I do believe he should be free to express himself in appearance in whatever ways make him happy.

Many will sit back in judgmental silence for a moment considering this as a ‘non-option’. That’s fine.

Let’s take a minute to consider our daughters. I tell my daughter all the time that she can be whatever she wants in life. She says, ‘I want to build houses like daddy.’ I put on her work boots and hand her a toy hammer. She says, ‘I want to be Captain America.’ I fasten her shield and tie her cape. My soon-to-be husband takes photographs of how cute she looks. She wants Pokemon, Transformers, trains, she wants to be Optimus Prime. Awww, so cute. Also, not a problem. She wears my sons hand-me-downs, sometimes even to school, mostly band tee shirts and pj’s, or the occasional socks or sweatpants. She has a SuperMario lunchbox and is dressed like Batman most afternoons. All is well.

Now, back to my son. A wants a Sophia the First themed bedroom. I wince, and quickly direct him to jungle themes on Pintrest. His favorite color is pink. It is a gorgeous color after all. Who am I to tell him what to enjoy visually? Butttt, he wants pink clothes. ‘I’m sorry Sweetie, I can’t find pink boy clothes.’. He wants to know why his sister can wear boy colors/clothes but he can’t wear girl colors/clothes. I have no words. I grew up a tomboy. If I have to force my daughter to wear girly clothes just to enforce gender roles in my house, it will be so anti-me, that I may just explode into dust.

But here I lay. Awkward irritation between my significant other and myself. ‘Why can’t we just let him be himself?’, I attempt to say calmly. But I’m not that calm. I’m not upset with him, I’m just in the middle of a battle within myself. It is because I also feel like I shouldn’t be sending him to school with nail polish on, in his sisters clothes, to come home to a Princess bedroom. I feel like I should discourage him dressing up like Elsa, even though his sister whips by in a Darth Vader mask.

It’s wrong. It’s all wrong. I’m wrong. Right?

Why are we so against letting our sons be who they are? Chances are pink won’t be his favorite color forever. He may paint his nails once or twice as a teen in a metal band, but I doubt he’ll be getting acrylics every other week. And let’s be honest now, I’d be hard pressed to think of a guy I know well, friend or family member that I haven’t seen in at least an article of my clothing or a bit of my make up at some point in our lives (Go ahead guys, pretend I don’t mean you. 😉 ).

I’m not saying I won’t let him play with girl toys, watch his favorite shows, or pick out pink lollipops. I do. Everyday. I’m also not saying my significant other is a tyrant about nail polish. He’s not. He just firmly believes I should be promoting masculine behavior while he is out working long days, making it possible for me to stay home to raise our children. I completely understand. Both sides. Because I feel both sides are completely logical. Let’s do both! Can’t we be both? Big, pink wearing, construction workers that enjoy a good romcom with their beer and burger? Finding this balance is my strife.

I am disappointed in myself that I can’t find a stoic solution to this gender inequality brewing in my own home; in my own mind. Such a big part of me doesn’t care, and such a big part of me never wants to send him out trick or treating dressed as Sophia the First. I don’t know why we treat our sons and daughters so differently, but I do know that I am witnessing the way it confuses them. I see it on his face when I tell him no every morning. I wish he understood that I don’t get it either.

We can preach feminism all we want… society, society, feminism, on and on… and on again… but I’m starting to think- it may be time to start sticking up for our sons a little harder, and in a less judgmental way.

Whisper words of wisdom… But… let it be.

4 thoughts on “What Message Are We Sending Our Sons?

  1. Gabriella says:

    I found this article extremely interesting and entirely relevant.
    I wrote a paper for a gender studies class a few years ago on boys and education, and I think some of what I found in my research rings true to what you are saying.

    Traditionally there have always been subjects where boys were expected to excel (science, maths, woodwork) and subjects more in the realm of girls (creative writing, cooking, sewing, art, history). What we have seen lately is a dramatic increase in girls excelling in these subjects yet little change for boys taking up ‘girly’ subjects.

    I read a powerful analysis of this information that to this day hasn’t left my mind. The writer explained how society has adjusted and begun to accept the idea of women “climbing the social chain” to be on par with the success of men, however, the alternative cannot be argued because for boys to take up female subjects it would be considered “climbing down the ladder”. Hence why at school, the realm of subject choices were left open for me but for the boys they felt like they had less choice. The same can be said for choosing weekend sport, or music, or literary heroes. I could do dancing or soccer or kickboxing, my brother had less choice. It’s why men find it hard to name books they have written by female authors, but I have no problem listing my top five male writers. It is why your daughter can wear a vadar mask, but your son can’t wear an Elsa dress. Or why I can drive whatever car I want but my boyfriend only felt like he could choose from the ‘masculine’ options. Society can accept your daughter moving ‘up’ but can’t accept your son moving ‘down’.

    I don’t really have any advice because I’m not yet a parent but I think if I am ever in this position I would try to explain to my son that I want him to do whatever he feels comfortable with but that kids can be mean and may tease or bully him or not understand. Children aren’t often switched on to these ‘social niceties’ until they learn the hard way. I would let him be completely free around the house, but I would exercise caution in letting him go to school without giving him fair warning that some kids might not understand, even though it is wrong for them to do that, and then letting him make his own decision.

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    1. isingtheclosetelectric says:

      Thank you Gabriella! That is some great inciteful advice, and much needed. Its not an easy subject to address, and I can feel how unfair my son feels it is eminating in our daily activities. I want him to be free to be himself completely, fully knowing that I always have his back. If he doesnt mind catching flack at school, i am right there behind him! I love every inch of who he is, and I am proud of his individuality. The fine line, is wanting to protect him from bullying, typecasting, judgement; but that will never be possible, so what i can do instead is walk him through tge best ways to handle it. Thanks again Gabriella 🙂 🙂 🙂

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  2. Colleen Sgroi says:

    Very well written….Thank you for sharing what so many other mom’s struggle with. I just ordered the book: The Conscious Parent: Transforming Ourselves, Empowering Our Children I saw the author being interviewed by Oprah and I was so taken by her I just had to order the book. I thought of you and this book after reading your blog and I think you might find it insightful.

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