Having a son has really opened my eyes to how challenging it can be to be a boy growing up in our society. When I was a young girl growing up, I was what most everyone would call a “tomboy,” and while I would get an occasional comment (mostly by my one aunt who was so happy to finally have a girl in the family, and perhaps slightly disappointed when I didn’t succumb to society’s gender stereotypes), it was mostly accepted that I could like the color blue, play sports, climb trees, and not wear dresses! However, over the past seven years I have encountered numerous times the short sightedness of people when it comes to simple things, such as what color a boy likes or that a boy likes having fresh flowers in his room.
Aidan’s favorite color for a long time was pink (now it is orange), he has always preferred wearing bright colors and gets so frustrated with the dark, drab color choices of clothes in the boys sections at stores; he loves flowers and knows many of them by name; he likes hearts and peace symbols, and he loves cuddling with all his stuffed animals. Aidan also enjoys cars, playing pirates, building Legos, skateboarding, and climbing trees (along with so many other things). I think it is so important for people to not let the societal stereotypes get in the way of learning, exploring, and figuring out who your true self is. I believe it is when you can embrace all sides of yourself that you can then develop into a well-rounded individual.
I am flabbergasted at the way some adults perpetuate these stereotypes and then just brush it off when they are called out on upholding such notions. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that there are gender differences and all societies do have gender roles and stratification (as a cultural anthropologist I have taken my fair share of gender studies classes, and have even taught the topic myself). But, as a mom to a seven-year old boy, I want to leave his interests and likes up to him; I do not want society to outline for him how he needs to be just because he’s a boy.
I can easily let passing comments from a store clerk or other unknown stranger end with a simple statement or two on my part. But, it is when these comments are made by people that we see on a regular basis that I have the most difficult time with. The most recent incident was at a local 4H group where we were packing gifts for less fortunate children. Comments were made by the adult facilitators to ensure that we avoided putting certain items in certain bags (e.g. no purple folders in the “boys” bags or no plastic frogs into the “girls” bags). I did speak up and voiced my opinion on this matter, and while there was a brief exchange on this topic, I mostly felt that my comments and concerns were dismissed. I struggle a bit with how to proceed with this. While there are a few people within this group whose company we enjoy as friends outside the meetings, overall, this is a group in which I don’t feel very invested. Also, I have other concerns with the group concerning issues of sustainability, cultural awareness, and so on–but these are topics for another day and another post.
What do you do when your free-range 7-year-old wants to be part of a group that conflicts with your values?
I’ve voiced my concerns and frustrations to Aidan and Mike. They both largely agree. Mike wants me to walk away from the group if they are unwilling to listen to reason–if they are unwilling to recognize that, as an organization with an educational mission for children, they need to demonstrate a more enlightened view of the world (or at least try). On the other hand, Aidan keeps telling me that he wants to continue going to this group, but I’m not quite sure why. He agrees wholeheartedly with me on these issues, but I think he’s not willing to walk away from the group over them. (He gets embarrassed if I voice my concerns too loudly in the group meetings.) He really wants to fit in, as I suppose many kids do, but Mike and I are not sure if we want him to fit in with this group, given their less-than-progressive attitudes. My dilemma is that we want Aidan to explore new avenues and make choices based on his interests, and we want to help him pursue his interests, but what if these interests conflict with our values as parents? Do we make him stop something because we don’t feel it’s in line with our own beliefs about the world and the values we hope to engender in our family? Or do I suck it up and stand by him since it’s something he wants to pursue? I want him to take part in activities that he desires, but at the same time I want to make sure that he sees that people need to stand up for what they believe in. My thought is that the answer to this problem lies somewhere in between. We need to find a balance to meet both our needs, but how to do this exactly is something I still need to figure out. Any suggestions?