Gender Matters: My Son Won’t Play with “Girl Toys”

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“Will doesn’t care about Elsa from Frozen. He’s a boy and that’s girl stuff.”

That’s what a dad said to his daughter in front of my 5-year-old son recently. My son who, just a few days earlier, excitedly danced in his seat while watching Frozen in a movie theater accompanied by — gasp! — me. His dad. Yup, that’s right. A father and son trip to see an animated Disney musical about sisters, relationships, love, and sacrifice.

You know, total chick stuff.

Since this is someone we encounter on a fairly regular basis, I suppressed the dad blogger rage and accompanying vehement diatribe on gender equality that was desperately attempting to escape from my mouth. But I saw the confused (and slightly ashamed) look on my son’s face and it broke my heart, so I knew I had to say something.

“Actually, Will and I saw Frozen and we absolutely loved it. That movie is great and it’s for boys just as much as girls,” I said, choking down my anger. “Right buddy?”

But after hearing it labeled a “girl movie” and therefore unacceptable, all Will would offer at that point was a tepid “Well, it was OK.” Just OK. Three days ago it had been deemed “AWESOME!!!!!!”

And then it was my heart that broke.

As mad as I wanted to get at that dad for poisoning my son with the idea that movies, music, and toys always fall along gender lines, I knew that would be hypocritical.

You see, I started off as that guy. The guy who got all bent out of shape because his wife dared to put pink socks on his baby boy (seriously, I’m ashamed I once thought like this). The dad who freaked out about giving his masculine son a kitchen set for Christmas a few years back (ashamed, I say). The hard to face truth of the matter is I was probably a lot worse than this guy before my wife, common sense, and an army of very wise parent bloggers showed me the light.

But that was back when Will was a baby, and my mistakes were mitigated by the fact that he couldn’t really understand what I was talking about. But now he’s almost six, and he’s smart. Perceptive. Too perceptive.

————————————————————————

Last night we got a form from Will’s school about some extra learning courses being offered. There were about eight from which to choose, ranging from academics to flag football. One of them was a bracelet making class, which I eagerly brought up to Will because he LOVES his Rainbow Loom. He’s made us a bajillion different necklaces and bracelets, and I thought he’d get a kick out of fine-tuning his craft. But when I told him about it, his response floored me.

“No thanks dad. That’s more for girls. Can I take the football class?”

Football? My son — the gentlest of kids — asking to play football?? All prior attempts to play football in the yard with Will have ended with flower-picking or cloud-gazing. Sometimes both. And that’s OK, I’m not complaining. Will’s personality isn’t suited for football (and I’d never let him actually strap on pads because concussions!), and I will never push him into something that’s not good for him.

So the question remains — why now?

“Well dad, you love the Patriots and boys play football so I should do football too.”

Goddammit.

We had a long talk. A talk about doing things he wants to do because he likes doing them, and not doing things other people like just to make them happy. A talk about finding the things you love to do and sticking with them no matter what, even if most people consider it “girly.” I tried to stress the fact that there are no boy colors or girl colors, no toys just for girls and boys, but in the end he’s only five. I’m hoping he understood at least half of what I was trying to say.

While I’ve improved my outlook on gender norms, he’s at the age now where he’ll be hit from all sides from forces out of my control. Each birthday party he attends sees the boys get superheroes and dinosaurs, while the girls get doused with pink Barbies. It’s going to have an effect. Hell, it’s already having one.

All we can do as his parents is keep singing Frozen, continue to enjoy the adventures of Sofia the First, and keep fostering Will’s love of art, fashion, and cooking in addition to sports. But sometimes trying to raise a well-rounded kid in this day and age feels like going around in circles.

“Dad, can we make cupcakes?”

Hmmmm. Maybe there’s still hope.

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36 thoughts on “Gender Matters: My Son Won’t Play with “Girl Toys”

  1. Whaaaat???!!? Frozen is a “girls” movie? That’s just silliness.

    I know it can be dizzying at times, but kudos to you for doing your best to raise a well-rounded kid.

  2. Funny, one of my professors (a guy) just took his son to see Frozen and they loved it, too! the thing about gender norms is that it really varies from country to country.For example, the colors. When my mother came from Poland many decades back, she began working for a pregnant woman, and when she had a son, my mom bought him pink things because (at that time, anyhow) pink was a boys color in Poland and blue was a girls color (pink being kinda a baby version of red, which is associated with power and blah blah). Both her boss and my mom were rather confused. And then in other countries, different colors are associated with different things. In some countries, cooking is a lot more of a masculine thing, or just indifferent, etc.. So for that dad to be like “that’s a girls movie”….yeah no, it’s a movie for whoever wants to watch it.
    Also, let’s say it was a “girls” movie or whatever. So what if it was? That’s the thing about people like that, it’s almost like they’re assuming that because something is feminine, it’s somehow worse.
    Sadly, like you said, Will is gonna be bombarded with a ton of nonsense from all sides all of his life. But the fact that he has you as a father, willing to let him be himself and to not be consumed by all this nonsense, makes him very fortunate. Good for you, remember you’re both still learning!

  3. My son is 14 now but when he was little he always played with Bratz dolls with his 2-1/2 year old step sister. We eventually bought him some of his own Bratz dolls, thought we bought him the boy ones, but he played with the girl dolls too. And my step daughter had her own Hot Wheels collection. They’d play with super heroes, wrestlers, or Bratz dolls together. It didn’t matter to them. When my son was about Wills age we bought him a baby doll while on vacation (he asked if he could) and he still has him to this day. He named him Marlin. He played and slept with him for the longest time.

    After all, these boys hopefully will be fathers some day so I don’t see what the big deal about them playing with “girly” things and vice versa.
    Angie Bailey recently posted..Kong Dental Stick for Dogs Review and GiveawayMy Profile

  4. This is such a frustrating situation! The sort that makes me want to keep holding my kids close to me so the rest of the world can’t influence them—except, you know, that’s a terrible idea. I go out of my way to wear and choose pink items, so my kids see that it’s not just a girl color. And still the negativity creeps in. I was putting on some makeup for my Halloween costume, and one of my daughters started teasing me, “Daddy’s a girl!” To which I replied: “Thanks! Girls are awesome!” My daughters looked stunned, which broke my heart. The best we can do is continue to model strong behavior/beliefs.

  5. I’m so glad to see so many parents, especially dads more recently, refusing to perpetuate gender norms. I have a parent who took A LOT of correcting to get them to stop forcing gender ideals on my child. It was a frustrating time period. Now I just have to worry about school >.>

  6. Very interesting article. I too have seen strange opinions and behaviors around gender roles. For example, a number of years ago a brief acquaintance of mine objected to any sort of pastel colors in his as-yet-to-be-born boy’s room. His reasoning? Pastel colors are gay, so pastel colors in his boy’s nursery will also make him gay. My head hurts just trying to understand that thought process.

    Another example: my youngest son attends daycare, and sometimes they like to play dress up. The girls will put on dresses and tiaras, and the boys will dress as cowboys or pirates. Sometimes those costumes swap genders. I was picking up my son one day, and another father saw his son wearing a dress. He was visibly and verbally upset about it, and scolded his son and his teacher. Absolutely ridiculous. Not only did he embarrass his son in front of his friends, but he also added shame where there was only harmless fun before. If my son wants to play with his friends and put on a dress as part of their play, that’s great. Have fun. In my mind, it’s the same as dressing up as a cowboy, police officer, or pirate. It’s just kids playing. It’s not going to make them “nancy boys” or magically turn them gay, the same way that dressing up as a cowboy won’t make them cowboys. When we were kids did we play with according to those magical thought processes and questionable world-views? No we didn’t. We were kids, playing like kids do.

    I know that no parent is perfect, but it’s our job to do our best at being loving, supportive, encouraging, and to guide our children to make good choices. Instilling gender roles or planting “us vs. them” concepts of race, sexual orientation, and more isn’t the best way to raise healthy and well adjusted kids.

  7. Well said Damian. And for full disclosure, I used to be like that. My son was holding a purse one day when I picked him up from daycare and I got in a little snit about it. Although, truth be told, I was MUCH more upset the day he wore a Yankees hat. But still, it took some time to realize how stupid I was being and work to correct that.

    My hope is a bunch of involved dads (and moms) all speaking up together and making tolerance the norm will go a long way toward shifting mindsets on gender norms.
    Daddy Files recently posted..Gender Matters: My Son Won’t Play with “Girl Toys”My Profile

  8. I want my son to be able to like whatever he wants to like but his dad feels differently. Just the other day we had an argument because I put on Snow White instead of the lion king. He got upset because he didn’t want his son watching a princess movie. It was rediculous and annoying. How can I get him to open his mind up to letting our son like what he wants to like?

  9. I teach high school English. Every single year, I read essays from boys who struggle with the narrow definition of masculinity they’ve been given — especially when it comes to football. You see, football is a Big Deal at my school. Boys face a lot of pressure to be on the team (from peers and parents) and it’s extremely difficult to quit once you join. My heart breaks when I read about how unhappy these kids have been and how helpless they feel.

  10. When I get a chance this has inspired me to write a blog post. My friend said the same that my boys would not like Frozen because it was a girls film and actually we haven’t watched it. I think it is fine to let children like what they like but I think we need to still accept that males and females ARE different if we are to best understand each other.
    Pinkoddy recently posted..The Lego Movie Emmet and the Getaway GliderMy Profile

  11. First time reader/commenter. This was a really beautiful post and I’m going to be sharing it on Facebook (hope you don’t mind!) I have a daughter who I aimed to raise without strict gendering and she’s nearing the age of your son and she’s suddenly started gravitating to “her color”. I can hear the things she says slowly start to sound like the things other kids tell her, which totally reminded me about your conversation with your son about football. She’s noticed the inequity for girls around her as well, telling me at four years old that she hoped she could grow a penis when she grew up otherwise she’d never be able to be a super hero like Iron Man. (That was a pretty heartbreaking conversation too to hear your daughter didn’t want to be herself or thought she could never realise her dreams because she was a girl!)

    I wondered if my kid might grow up without ever having any friends in her life that might have been raised in an environment where the parents have tried to allow all things to be welcome. Sometimes it feels like there aren’t many families out there that want to take the stigma away from crossing arbitrary gender lines but it really gives me hope to hear about a great family like yours helping make it alright for their kids to just be kids and without shaming them for being what they want to be whether it fits some mold or not.
    Meander recently posted..Pretty, Pretty Makeup :3My Profile

  12. Pinkoddy: Well sure, men and women are different. At least biologically. But what differences do you want to focus on that you think will lead to a better understanding between the sexes? Even things like “women are just more nurturing by nature” is troublesome, because that implies women start out as better parents than men.

    I think outside of penis vs vagina, it’s PEOPLE who are different. Trying to say men are fundamentally different than women is just as misguided as saying black people are just different than white people.
    Daddy Files recently posted..Gender Matters: My Son Won’t Play with “Girl Toys”My Profile

  13. As he gets older you can begin to tell him about your own learning process, how you used to think in terms of boy stuff and girl stuff, but then you learned it’s all people stuff. He might have to wander into that world for a bit as he figures it out, but he’ll find his way. Especially with parents who are willing to stand up for him, as you are.

  14. At the risk of sounding intolerant, I do want to point out that there is a danger of taking this too far in the wrong direction. Some parents may be tempted to push stereotypically girly things on boys that truly have no interest in them, or a girl might show interest in football, so the parents buy her only stereotypically male football things just to try to make their kid well-rounded and tolerant. Instructing the children about tolerance is one thing, but not forcing children to be something they are not helps no one.

  15. PtronAV: That’s not intolerant, and that’s our game plan. The only “forcing” might be at the outset to at least try different things. I was a shy kid and never wanted to seek any opportunities out. My mom would have to sign me up for things against my will. But then, after I finished complaining and tried it, I usually ended up loving it. I played three sports a year but I also played the piano, the clarinet, and sang in multiple choirs. I grew up loving 90s R&B like all my friends, but my classically trained opera singer of a grandmother made sure to instill a love of musicals as well. The end result was being fairly well-rounded.

    All I’m trying to do is get my kids to try a little of everything and then pursue the stuff they love — even if it’s deemed girlie.
    Daddy Files recently posted..Gender Matters: My Son Won’t Play with “Girl Toys”My Profile

  16. I am an older parent – my kids are 24 and 22. my kids played with toys , it did not matter if there was a gender theme or intention my kids played with toys. My daughter grew up to be a very individual person and my son in HS was very “metro”. He still likes sweater vests an skinny jeans. but now has two children and here in my home the children will play with toys. I don’t give a rats behind what it is. Heck most babies get presents and want the wrapping paper, and box. I kept it that way for most of my kids childhood. As your son grows older this is where I would focus my leanings on the men women gender thing.
    If you have not seen this Ted Talk – it will give you some food for thought
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/01/14/the-sexy-lie-tedx-talk-sexual-objectification_n_4597316.html

  17. My son was 6 when we had the first “Why don’t you like princesses?” conversation. He was invited to a birthday party with a Disney Princess invitation. Claimed he didn’t want to go because he didn’t like princesses. We had a long conversation about what is wrong with princesses, and what was wrong with his reaction. I agreed with him that most princesses are boring because they don’t do anything, but reminded him of Leia. I explained that his reaction was basically putting girls down, because he had no problem with girls doing boy stuff. The look of understanding on his face as he got that concept is one I’ll never forget.

    And I’m afraid I’m much less considerate of future interactions with people I meet, and pretty much anyone will get a mouthful if they spout gender essentialism at me. It feels like emptying the ocean with a teaspoon.

  18. My son is a toddler so really has no clue about girls and boys toys. He has his trucks and cars but also insisted I get him a baby girl doll. He clung to Dolly like his life depended on it.
    It’s taken my husband some time to adjust to seeing his son with my hair clips, skirts, and bra on (apparently the dirty laundry hamper is the dress up box). But when we see how much joy these things bring my son any worries just melt away.

  19. What a great post – and a great Dad – Glad to see it’s not just us mums who are annoyed with gender stereotyping. I have twin girls – and we play with lego, watch star wars, dress up as pirates (and princesses!) and do ‘fun’ things.

    It is easier for girls to do boys things, than it is for boys to do girls things without some form of stigma – so I applaud you and commend you for sticking out and sticking to it!

  20. My son had been very coordinated . In 1996 @ 3 yrs. old I enrolled him in a ballerina dance class. We (moms) waited outside. That 1st day 14 out of 15 said ” I wouldn’t let my son dance. I clearly stated to these ignorant women that most professional athletes have dance in there background. One one women was my kindred spirit although her son was too young @ the time, she too was going to sign her son up. The other non issue is hair length. My son in elementary school chose longer hair. I had to correct to men @ little league games. One just thought there were 3 girls in the team and pointed to my son as the third. Nope that’s my son. He prefers longer hair. Second time we were sitting @ a table and Mr. Military haircut says to my son ” why’s your hair so long?” Son” yeah why?” My son says “I like it long.” I say “It’s just hair” I don’t remember their response. I continued to let him wear his hair short, long whatever he liked. He also got known for his always wearing baseball hats and dressing in his own style. Needless to say, its been a rough road sometimes but @ 20 he is confident and comfortable in his own skin. And that’s all this mom wanted to raise. Now he can go conquer the world. ; )

  21. I really love this! It’s almost as if you were speaking of my son. He used to LOVE Sofia! Right now, pink is his favorite color and he rocks a pink winter coat, ski pants, boots, and mittens. He loves cats too, so naturally he tops that off with a Hello Kitty hat :-) He is so precious! He is turning five this month and has begun to realize kids think he’s wearing “girl colors” so we’ve had to discuss it. But I’m proud of him because he chooses to be himself despite other’s reactions and he’s had some hurt feelings in the past. Now we tell everyone, “it’s not a girl color/toy/show/etc., it’s an ETHAN color/toy/show/etc!” :)

  22. My oldest son is 3 and one of his favorite movies is Cinderella ( he asks for it as Bippity Boppity). I have played Cars and Nemo and Bippity Boppity and Mary Poppins (another favorite) and Toy Story, plus many more, and he likes all. I mainly play them because they are Disney and I love Disney! This hogwash about “boys” and “girls” types of movies/toys/clothes/colors, is just dumb. The color pink pr blue is just a hue out of the spectrum, it is not innately male or female. Humans placed that label (man, we are good at placing labels) and that’s it. I also think that it is good for boys to watch typically deemed “girls” movies, because I think it helps to show a boy what a girl likes so he knows to treat his lady like a princess!! And its good for “girls” to watch “boy” movies so she can have fun at Nascar and Monster Truck rallies! My husband treats me like a princess and I like to go to the local car show with him!

  23. You’re right in that no matter how open-minded you try to raise him the be, he’s inevitably going to get the message that girl things are “bad” and that he’s only supposed to like masculine things. BUT, when he’s a grown man, he’ll remember the fun he had baking cupcakes with you when he was a kid. When he impresses his new girlfriend by whipping up some chicken parmesan from scratch and she comments on how she’s never had a boyfriend cook for her, he’ll shrug modestly and say, “My dad taught me.” And should he ever have kids himself, he’ll remember all the things that you and he used to do together, and will pass them on to his own sons or daughters.

    Parenting is all about the long game, my friend. =)

  24. when my five-year-old daughter was told by a new acquaintance that cars are boy toys i pointed out that she sees her mom driving on a daily basis…

    she was maybe around 3 when she filled her glittery purse with toy cars :) very balanced i would say :D

  25. I read your post and felt my heart sink for you – I have had a similar thing happen with my son, He has long hair so everyone thinks he’s a girl. He was playing with a cement mixer and some stupid dad at the playground said “why you playin with that toy, thats for boys”. I was torn between arguing with him about his gender stereotyping of the toy as “for boys” or the gender stereo typing of my son as ‘a girl’ because of his long hair. I chose to walk away and fume about it in silence. I really liked your post, I’m sharing it on our Sunday Parenting Pinterest board.

  26. I went to see Frozen the other week with my daughter admittedly I took just my daughter as a mother daughter treat – without my boys, but not because I thought the boys wouldn’t like it – indeed they would have loved it, but its just the way it worked out as I had been out with them the previous weekend without Chloe… anyway we went to see frozen we were first in the cinema and sat munching our popcorn waiting for the lights to dim, then in came a group of boys – around 10 years old – they sat down, then some more boys around 12 – 13 years old – no girls in sight at this point…. as the cinema filled up there were more males than females I’d say – whole families, yep dads included, mums with sons, brothers and sisters and yes a few girls on there own but still, it by no means is a girls movie and I think society is less bothered about stereotyping things these days than we ‘think’ it is…

  27. This does happen and I have been here, its a bigger problem when the boy is special like Autism and really can understand the age group he is in yet. Its even more important to help them understand to BE kids and not what others say to be.

  28. The boy wants to cook? More power to ‘em I can’t count the number of times my ability to cook has gotten me a co-starring role in the sideways mambo.
    And not to be lewd, but their are certainly toys made specifically for boys and girls, just not any he should know anything about for a good long while.

  29. “Let it go! The cold never bothered me anyway!” Movie was awesome. Don’t ever feel bad for guiding your child through childhood. That’s what parents are for. My sons are boys and my girls are girls. My wife and I guided them along their gender lines as parents should. I feel sorry for kids that don’t have that in their lives and can’t imagine the insecurity they feel. Don’t abandon your child by leaving them to figure everything out on their own. You should be judgemental because of your love for him. He benefits from that. Think of it this way, what he doesn’t learn from you he’ll learn from a mix of TV, peers, and other kid’s parents.

  30. I’ve struggled with this with my daughter for so long. She refused to watch Harry Potter and Star Wars for the longest time because they are “boy movies”, and things of that nature. She is 10.5 now and is finally starting to move past that. Keep fighting the good fight and know that it will eventually sink in! I’m the meantime I don’t know if this helps or hurts but show him the video. of the Marines watching Frozen! I can’t think of “manlier”men.
    Bryden recently posted..Catching up with AdriaMy Profile

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