I like to think that I’m a fairly chilled out dad. My wife and I have often talked about allowing our children to choose what to play with and when. Our little boy has always had a doll to play with, a buggy and some other bits and pieces. He role-plays in different characters; sometimes he’s Chase or Zuma or Johnny (from Sing – ‘I’m still standing!) and sometimes he’s Elsa or Sky.
I have to admit that I needed talking around to the idea. I often find that there’s an unspoken issue about this with dads – if my boy isn’t a rough and tough lad then he won’t end up being a real man.
There was a series on the BBC over the summer about gender stereotyping our children. It was brilliant. The theme of the programme was not to brainwash the kids but to open their eyes to a wider world of possibilities, that girls and boys can go on to do anything. There were a lot of misconceptions about the programme i.e. they’re trying to stop the boys being men and they should have just let boys be boys and girls be girls. This programme BLEW MY MIND. We, as a society, are so hard wired into our thinking that the next generation of boys and girls are being shoe-horned into attitudes that are so out of date that it makes me shiver. Do I want my boy to be a boy – yes. But what does that actually mean?
As a father to both genders I am acutely aware now of how my words and actions impact my children’s lives but now I am becoming aware of L’s attitudes from his influences at school as well.
L, our eldest, is a sweet and sensitive young man. He has wonderful manners (most of the time) and is very loving towards his younger siblings (again, most of the time). He loves building and creating things, scooting, singing, dancing and LEGO! He prefers playing with girls because they’re better at the more imaginative play than boys. Does this make him less of a boy? No. He doesn’t like loud noises and shouting. Does that make him less of a boy? No. He’s not massively keen on football (yet 😉) does that mean he’s less of a boy? No.
The event that sparked this post happened at a 5th birthday party today. It was a girl’s party and both L (4 and 1/2) and N (2 and a bit) were invited. They both had a lovely time. There was a bouncy castle, a craft table, games, pass-the-parcel – the lot! And, in the corner, face painting. Now, I hate face paint. I always have done and always will. But my children flipping love it. So, we queued and waited for the very kind mum who had (foolishly in my eyes) volunteered to do the face painting. All the girls had chosen pretty swirls with glitter or butterflies with glitter etc. When it was L’s turn he became all embarrassed and burrowed himself into my shoulder. The other mum and I tried to talk him into what he wanted:
‘Do you want some patterns? Perhaps an action hero?’
No, he didn’t want any of those. So I asked,
‘Do you want pretty swirls and glitter?’
Serious head nodding. Ok, then that’s what you can have. He wore the paint ALL DAY. We went to Sainsbury’s and Homebase and L took it all in his stride. Does it make him less of a boy? No.
I guess what I’m saying is that he’s challenging my perception of what it is to be a boy. We all want our children to be happy but by forcing our attitudes on them do we hinder their happiness? L isn’t what I expected him to be as a boy and neither is N as a girl. And do you know what? I couldn’t be happier.
BBC 2 – No more Boys and Girls: Can our Kids go gender free?