Bean’s likes and interests are pretty firmly in the “boys” camp. Spider-Man, other super-heroes, blowing things up with explosive accompanying noises, Star Wars, pirates. He is covered in bruises from leaping off of furniture in high-speed reenactments of Kung-Fu Panda scenes. You get the picture. Playing Calico Critters with him has always inwardly annoyed me because he wants things to blow up and then flies the critters away on jet-packs. And I just want the kitties to sit down and have a nice piece of toast and marmalade. I don’t even know how he learned about jet-packs.
However, I have never ever said to him, “That’s a boy’s game.” or “Only girls wear dresses.” I have tried (key word, tried) not to impose on him the strict gender-divide rules that society at large seems to love. If he wants to put on a sparkly Tinkerbell dress at the play centre, so be it. He likes doing artsy, creative things with his hands, and convinced his Daddy to first learn, then teach him, how to knit. He is making a purple scarf. (Note that he asked Daddy to teach him because he knows that Mum would be completely crap at it.)
A little while ago, he began asking me if he could paint his nails. Yeah, I hesitated.
First off, I don’t put anything chemical-ish on his little body, so it would have to be one of the “natural” brands. I knew they sold it at our local toy store. And secondly… I realized I was having a hard time with it because there was a very small voice in my head, murmuring, Boys don’t wear nail polish. After much coaxing on his part and a little inner debate on my part, I finally told the voice to stuff it and took him to the toy store. He picked out a lustrous, fluorescent orange. We went straight home to apply it and he insisted on doing fingers and toes himself. He was thrilled with the results. Everywhere we went for a couple of days, he showed off his digits to anyone who seemed remotely interested. (And to many people who clearly weren’t.)
I’m thankful that he was oblivious to the variety of responses from friends, strangers and neighbours. Friends thought it was cool. Because our friends are cool. Strangers thought it was weird. Oh well. And our elderly, super-conservative Portuguese-Canadian neighbour didn’t love it. He is a kindly man, but he said, “Boys don’t wear nail polish” twice in one conversation, all the while shaking his head and eyeing me with a kind of bemused smile on his face. I like him and he’s old and hard-of-hearing, so I refrained from giving him a lecture about gender equality, but just gave him an awkward grin and said, “Yes, they do.”
Okay, I know it’s not exactly revolutionary, but a little side-step outside the bounds of our society’s norms is, to my mind, a step in the right direction. If we all just consistently accepted the status quo, well ladies, you know where we would be. It’s because of the intrepid spirits before us who chose to be different, that we can vote, work, get a buzz-cut, READ, own property, and get married or not, as we choose.
There was once a time in our culture when people said, “Girls don’t wear pants.” Hell, my own mother had to wear skirts to high school in the 60’s. Had to.
Right now, while he is still only 5, I can’t predict who my son will be or what he will like or who he will love when he is older. I only know that it is my job, (yes, I looked it up, it’s in the job description) to love him for who he is. To protect him from criticism. To cherish the fact that he is my beautiful child, and to make him feel respected for the choices he makes.
And right now, my kid chooses to express his creativity and artistic nature through a bold use of colour that he thinks, (and I agree) looks quite awesome on his little hands.
So when the quiet voice in our heads starts saying, “Girls don’t…” or “Boys don’t…”, well, you know what to do.