As Stanley gets older, I am becoming ever more aware of gender stereotypes, and the world I don’t want him to grow up in. Guess what… Stanley has a pink Frozen microphone. Why? Because he loves Frozen. He loves to sing. He loves his pink microphone. Stanley also has dolls and a pushchair. Why? Because he loves to play with dolls. He loves to take them for a walk in the pushchair. He loves to feed them. He loves to look after them. He doesn’t have these toys just because they were mine as a child, he has them because he enjoys them. He has them because we have bought them especially for Stanley.
This week, Stanley lied. He lied about the fact that he had dolls… because he was questioned. “These aren’t yours are they Stanley?… boys don’t play with dolls… What are you doing buying dolls then?” My heart broke. My 2 year old boy, lying, because he was questioned over playing with a doll. What is this teaching him? That boys don’t play with dolls. That boys don’t look after babies. That boys can’t be caring, and emotional. That dads don’t have the same roles in bringing up children as mum do. Stanley has also been called a “princess” because of his Frozen microphone.
Stanley is 2 years old. He is doing what he loves… and even if that means dressing up as Elsa, then so what? It scares me that people are giving him these messages, and that he is taking them in. I want him to be strong. I want him to be confident. I don’t want him to feel that he has to lie. Instead, I want him to question others – “what’s wrong with playing with dolls?” I want him to stand up proudly, doll held aloft, in some sort of “Rafiki and Simba” pose, shouting “yes! These are my dolls, and I enjoy playing with them!”
I want our children to do what they love, to feel confident in liking whatever it is they like, regardless of what other people think they “should” or “shouldn’t” based on gender. Stanley loves football, and Spiderman, and playing with toy cars. Stanley also loves dolls, a pink Frozen microphone, and he likes to copy mummy in playing with mummy’s make up. I hope that as Nora grows up, she equally enjoys doing all of these things too, and isn’t made to feel that she can only enjoy pink toys! The whole pink and blue differentiation really bugs me, and we have even tried to stay clear of the typical blue clothes for Stanley and pink clothes for Nora. Instead, we choose colourful clothes… and what’s even better? Unisex clothes… we love love love Little Bird by Jools!
I also notice the gender stereotypes in behaviour. Stanley has started to like fighting (and this is partly influenced by others teaching him that boys like fighting!) As a result, Stanley now wants to play fight. He wants his Spiderman and Iron Man toys to fight. This isn’t ok with me when it becomes aggressive, and when it starts to influence Stanley’s behaviour… when it isn’t “play” anymore. It is not ok for Stanley to be aggressive, or fight, simply because he is “a boy”. It is no more ok for Stanley to fight, than it would be for Nora to fight. In the same way, it is no more wrong for Stanley to play with dolls, than it is for Nora. It is no more acceptable for Stanley to hit another child, than it would be for Nora. Similarly, it would be no more acceptable for Stanley to hit another boy, than it would be for him to hit a girl. But, people don’t see it this way. We have been told that if the boys were to play “rough” around Nora when she’s older, then it wouldn’t be accepted… but if Nora isn’t around, then this is fine.
In addition, there are times when Stanley has been upset, when he has been crying, and people have told him not to cry. Why? Because “big boys don’t cry“. Again, what is this teaching him? That boys can’t have emotions. That if he gets upset, he shouldn’t show it. On the other hand, if it was Nora in the same situation, it would be perfectly acceptable for her cry. Perhaps, as a female, it is quite the opposite if you don’t show emotion. From personal experience, and being somewhat emotionally inhibited, I have been called “cold”, “shy”, and “ignorant”. I wonder if the same would be said for a man who didn’t show emotion for every situation? I want Stanley to know that big boys do cry. I want him to know that boys can show their emotions too, just as equally as girls can. Showing and sharing your emotions is healthy, regardless of gender, and it is so important for Stanley to learn this.
All of these issues are based on gender. Why are we teaching children that it is ok for boys to show aggression, but not girls? Why can’t we teach them that aggressive behaviour is always wrong? Why are we teaching children that it’s not okay for boys to cry? Why can’t we teach them that showing emotion is a good thing, regardless of gender? I am scared that no matter how much I try to instil my beliefs in Stanley and Nora, that they will be influenced by the world, and the people, around them. I want to live in a world where these gender stereotypes don’t exist. Where Stanley can be free to do whatever he likes, regardless of his gender. But, I fear we are still a long way from this.