“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.”
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.