Boys and Gender Roles: Where Do You Draw the Line?
~By Annie Swingen, SwirleyTime
Today I dressed my son, Ellis, in his usual hippie gear: a tie-dyed shirt, green leggings, and little brown sneakers. He carried his pink sippy cup with him as we made our way to Lincoln Park. While I recognized that he didn’t look like a stereotypical boy, I didn’t really care. We were headed to his first gymnastics class, and I was stoked.
Upon arrival, we were directed to a side room where we waited for the current class to let out. Ellis was surrounded by girls wearing tutus, fluttery pink hair accessories, and soft leather ballet shoes. I figured they were waiting for ballet class, so I hung out while Ellis smelled the fake flowers and ran in circles on the worn wooden floor. When our class was called, all of the moms stood up and guided their pretty little girls into the gymnastic room. That’s when the panic set in.
I quickly scanned the room and realized that my son was the only boy in class. I immediately considered leaving. Typically, Ellis runs around the house in a diaper and wings and allows me to cut his nails only if I paint them first. And honestly, I don’t think much about it. But at that moment I was suddenly scared that he would stand out. He isn’t yet cognizant of gender roles or others’ opinion of him, so why should I worry? But I did.
I asked an elderly woman leaving her tap class if it was OK that Ellis was there, as if a woman over 70 who was taking tap would say “no” or even care. I then chastised myself for thinking it would be wrong for him to be the only boy. My fears were assuaged only when another little boy wandered in and looked just as oblivious as Ellis.
I’ll buy my son the Minnie Mouse cup at a consignment sale or a baby doll at Costco because it’s on sale, but I question if my toddler is allowed to participate in a sport enjoyed mostly, at least at this age, by girls? What does this say about me? When did 2-year-olds in sheer, pink skirts become threatening to me? They certainly aren’t threatening to my son. So why am I projecting some sort of gender crisis onto my kid, who is happy to “hop like a bunny,” “roll like a hot dog,” and barely aware of anatomy, let alone the difference between boys and girls?
I read a lot of articles about parents who are upset that their daughters want only pink and purple toys and clothes. They’re disturbed that their daughters are being targeted with “pretty, pretty princess“ ads or whatever fancy toy is coming out of China this Christmas when, theoretically at least, these little girls should be happy to play baseball and roll in the dirt. And it is frustrating. Why are even sippy cups gender specific?
As an only child and a woman, I never thought of the gender role quandaries that plague our male counterparts. Take, for example, the recent story about Germany’s Nils Pickert, who wears a skirt from time to time to enable his son to feel more comfortable doing the same. It made international news. He was simultaneously lauded and criticized for supporting his son’s fashion decisions. When I read the article, I developed an instant crush.
However, after today, I realize how much easier it is to say you would do the same as someone like Pickert via CNN.com’s comments section than in real life. I hope I have the courage to be a Nils Pickert for my son when he most needs one and not bow to the pressure of others’ projected or real judgements. These are the things no one tells you about before you are parent, but they are what make you one.
About Annie Swingen
Annie resides in the Wicker Park neighborhood with her husband, Lee, and son, Ellis (aka EK). Originally from Wisconsin, she moved to Chicago in 2008 and has since embraced her new Illini identity. With that said, she and her husband are determined to raise EK to be a Packer fan who isn’t ashamed to put ketchup on his hotdogs.