“Those are for Boys!” and Other Stories

Two days ago I wrote about gender and confirmation bias and some of my own experiences as I raise my two young children, one girl and one boy. There’s a lot I didn’t write and there will be more posts on this topic to come, but I wanted to take a moment to highlight a few of the comments on that post, as many of my readers weighed in with their own experiences, either as children themselves or raising children today. Feel free to add more of your own stories in the comments!

MrPopularSentiment:

It really struck me when we were at the library and my son had just gushed and gooed all over a baby, then turned his attention to a book about construction vehicles. Another mom comes over and gives one of those “boys will be boys!” statements.

And that happens so often. My son LOVES babies, yet I’ve never heard anyone say “oh, he’s such a boy!” or even “wow, he’ll be a great father one day!” No, it’s just politely ignored, no one comments. But the minute he shows any attention whatsoever to a vehicle, suddenly everyone has to comment on what a “boy” he is.

It’s very frustrating.

Kathleen:

My 2 year old daughter LOVES trains and construction equipment and buses. Her favorite shirts for awhile were boy shirts – a red shirt with Elmo, Thomas the Train, and dinosaurs – we have a ton of dinosaur shirts that were from the ‘boy’ section of Target (which I find so annoying). She also loves sparkly shoes and pushing her doll around in her stroller and doing stickers. When we were first looking for toddler shoes for her my husband was the one who bought a pair. They were white and navy. The sales clerk went out of her way to tell him, “Those are boy shoes.” I had to laugh when he came home and told me he’d responded by asking, “What makes them boy shoes?” The clerk seriously backed off even though he wasn’t trying to be rude about it.

I don’t understand this obsession with ‘girl’ and ‘boy’ things – don’t they have a lifetime of learning this crap? Does it really have to begin with babies? I’m not going to lie – I love girl clothes more than boy clothes, because I think they look adorable in sparkly shoes and tutus. But I also think they look adorable wearing overalls and train shirts. But I’m not pushing that on her just because of my preference, certainly no now that she has her own preferences!

onamission5:

People tend to balk when I tell them that all four of my kids went through a cars phase, but it’s true! Each and every one, boys and girls alike, but it only stuck with the youngest, and people only noticed when my boys played with cars because it confirmed their bias that cars are a boy thing. Even though for a few years my three youngest all shared a room, so all their toys were mixed together and nothing was separated into boy stuff and girl stuff, even though they all played dress-up together with superhero capes and feather boas and firefighter helmets and strings of beads, people would still assume that if one of my boys had on a boa he was playing with his sister’s things, and if my dd was playing with Legos or wearing the police officer jacket she must be borrowing from her brothers. It is exasperating.

Niemand:

My small one was completely obsessed with large construction vehicles when she was a toddler as well. Some of her earlier words included “wheeled excavator” and “track excavator” and, yes, she could tell the difference. Usually people in need of confirming her girlness would admire her command of the language and blow off what she was actually saying.

These days she likes to construct robots. She’s very good about putting up her long hair so it won’t get into the workspace and making sure her long pink ribbons don’t get involved in the soldering. Kids have all sorts of interests and if you let them they’ll take up both “girl” things and “boy” things.

Lynnication:

My brother used to love wearing my old dresses, and was, of course, confused with being a girl a lot back then. My mom let him, although she didn’t actively encourage it. I, on the other hand, was such a “girly-girl” which annoyed my mother to no end. She would play lego with my brother, but having to sit down with barbie dolls was definitely not her idea of fun. We had a whole room devoted to toys (yes, we were spoiled), but while my brother liked playing with every kind, I would automatically steer towards the more “girly” toys. I’m not sure why this was. It will be interesting to see what will happen when I raise my own children (hopefully one of each). For now, my brother and I have decided that when we have kids we’ll exchange them at playtime – he’ll take the interested ones to play with trucks, and lego and all that stuff, and I’ll take the others and play barbie dolls (which, sadly, I miss doing ;) ).

On a serious note however, it’s been scientifically investigated that adults automatically behave differently towards different gender children/babies. Female babies get talked to more, while male babies get taken out of cribs and shown around more. I found this fascinating. I read somewhere once that there is a family raising their children “without gender”. Not telling anybody the gender of the child and having named her/him gender neutrally. Not sure what became of them (this was a few years ago), but again, a fascinating subject.

Betta splendens:

When I was in preschool, they brought in this dress-up closet one day, and most of the girls got together and played princess. I was always sort of an outsider – part of the reason I was homeschooled later on – and the only dress I wanted to wear was this green one that looked just like the one I saw Mrs. Pasteur wearing in a cartoon about Louis Pasteur and medicine that I saw. And the two teachers there (both of whom were Evangelicals and very into gender essentialism) came up to me and said, “Are you being a princess?” and I said, “No, I’m being Mrs. Pasteur, and I’m helping my husband develop a rabies vaccine!”

Boy, were they surprised to hear a five-year-old say that, and a girl too! But back then, I wasn’t trying to shock anyone; I was just truthfully answering their question. I had no idea they would be shocked that I wasn’t doing what everybody else was.

Attackfish:

When I was a kid, I was obsessed with two things, Disney movie musicals, and dinosaurs. People who knew about the Disney movies said to my mom, “Oh, you’re raising a girly girl!” And people who knew about the dinosaurs said to my dad, “Oh you have a little tomboy science geek!” No, I was a kid who happened to be a girl, who loved dinosaurs and showtunes.

My cousin is a little boy who puts socks on toy Godzilla’s feet when it’s cold and brings snacks for his G.I. Joes. Most people only see the Godzilla and the G.I. Joes and not the way he nurtures. Most little girls want to wear pretty dresses while they run around and play in the mud. Most little boys love to wear pretty clothes while they play in the mud too, in my experience, but most people see the dress for the girl and the mud for the boy.

CarysBirch:

Star wars collectibles. The year my brothers got lightsabers for Christmas and I got makeup was an especially low point. I don’t wear makeup *now*.

Iris:

I had a christmas where by brother got a hip flask and I got…some weird thing to bend eyelashes upwards. I didn’t know what it was let alone that such things existed. So yeah, I feel with you.

(For the record, I *was* old enough to drink alcohol at that time)

The_L1985:

Lego sets. I got a Duplo set when I was 2. That was the only Lego set I ever owned.

However, it seemed like every birthday or Christmas, my brother got at least 1 Lego set, even though I played with them way more often than he did.

enuma:

I was the kid who mutilated her Barbies, not to be creepy, but because I wanted to make aliens so I could play Star Wars & Star Trek with my brother. It had always bugged me that all the aliens on Star Trek were human height and human-shaped, so I liked that the Barbie-aliens towered over 6″ figurines and were so distorted looking.

Maria:

I was buying books for my brother (age 10) for Christmas and I was subconsciously ruling out any with girl main characters. Society seeps into our brains! I worried that he won’t read the books with girl main characters, but I bought them anyway. A wrinkle in time is one of my favorites!

Leigha7:

We did an exercise in one of the psychology classes I took in college where as a class we brainstormed lists of stereotypically masculine and feminine traits. Then the professor had us voice our thoughts on opposing ones (like stoic vs emotional) and made the point that in most cases, the trait associated with men is also viewed as “better.” For instance, it’s usually seen as a bad thing to be emotional. But really, none of the traits are inherently good or bad–in most cases, it’d might not be great to be 100% on one side or other, but the traits themselves are pretty much neutral. He also asked us to think about ourselves and if we really felt that we didn’t have a mix of both “masculine” and “feminine” traits.

I got the impression it was something most of the class had never thought about before. There was a bit of a stunned silence afterwards.

Stephanie Carlson:

My 20 month old daughter’s favorite “people”, as in characters, are 1) Mickey Mouse 2) WWE Superstar Daniel Bryan 3) Jake of Jake and the Neverland Pirates and 4) Cinderella. Yes, she LOVES princess but she since she has a wrestling loving mama, those guys are big thing, too. I’m just kind of letting her do her thing and so far, it’s working. :-)

J-Rex:

Confirmation bias is a huge pet peeve of mine. Even when the evidence is right there looking at them, they can still ignore it. I have a lot of interests: dinosaurs, jewelry, astronomy, art, animals, anything sciency, reading, cooking…but as soon as someone sees me wearing some pretty jewelry, suddenly I’m such a girly-girl! Or they see some of my more intricate artwork and call it feminine, never mind my shark painting. Everything masculine or neutral is just “Oh, cool.” Everything feminine is “You’re such a girl!”

sylvia_rachel:

My daughter asked for Doctor Who Monopoly for Xmas. (We’re Jewish, but DH isn’t and we do Xmas with his family.) My BIL and SIL bought it for her, but BIL was convinced that it was actually DH who wanted it, because why would an 11yo girl be interested in Doctor Who?

DD just looked at him like O_o because at least half of her friends are massive Whovians.

What makes this even more hilarious/infuriating is that this particular BIL’s (adult) daughter is ALSO a huge Whovian. I don’t even know anymore, you know?

Levedi:

I hate, hate, hate it when someone congratulates my son on being a “real boy” or “all boy.” It’s not a virtue! I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with being a boy or with the things my son is into, but being born into a particular gender isn’t a virtue. I vividly remember being a little girl and hearing my brothers congratulated on being boys and wishing someone, anyone thought it was cool to be a girl. I don’t want my son absorbing that poison.

ILoveJellyBeans:

My two year old girl loves trains at the moment. And planes, buses, cars, construction vehicles…anything with wheels, and she has a toy dinosaur who she calls Roar. She also loves the colour pink-its one of the only colours she knows (other than orange) and she will point out anything that is pink. I think that most kids, if left to be themselves, will like a mixture of things.

Nothing wrong with being a girl who likes dolls and princesses, or a boy who likes cars and dinosaurs, or a girl that likes cars and dinosaurs, or a boy that likes dolls and princesses, or a girl or boy who likes both.

Sometimes I don’t want her to grow up, and start to feel pressured to conform to stereotypes and give up things that are stereotypically for boys even if she still likes them.

Olive Markus:

I majored in Mathematics, Physics and Art. When people learn this about me, they ONLY thing they say is “You must LOVE working with children!” “How perfect for kids.” That’s it. My husband, when he tells others about my background, gets exactly the same response. Apparently, I am meant to babysit preschoolers and that is obviously the only reason I chose the path I did.

The response my male classmate got, who majored in Physics and Art? “You’re a genius!” “You’re a modern day Da Vinci!” “That is so impressive.” “There’s nothing you can’t do.”

I can’t even begin to tell you how much this has always pissed me off. I mean, REALLY PISSED ME OFF.

Lizzie:

I’m dealing with this right now as well. My fiancé and I have his 3.5 year old daughter half the time. Her mother and 6 year old sister have turned her off of anything that’s not pink or purple. “It’s for boys!” she’ll say about nearly everything. It’s exhausting. I was at Target yesterday and almost everything in the girl section had pink or purple. The cool shirts (ones that had animals other than kittens) were all in the boy section. Blegh.

Mandy:

One day my boyfriend and I were in the toy section of walmart, and I asked him how he would react to having a son interested in “girly” things. His response? “Well, I collect ponies, so if I reacted negatively that would make me a hypocrite.” As a side note, we’re both fans of Friendship is Magic, but he’s the one who collects the toys.

As for me, I’ve been a tomboy most of my life, so when I started showing more “girly” interests (fashion, interior design) my mother and sister acted almost mockingly shocked. Trust me, their reactions got old quick. But they got even more shocked when I turned down their invites to go to the nail salon (something I’ve never shown interest in, and at best openly hated)

Apparently, some people run on the logic that if you like a few girly things, you like ALL THE GIRLY THINGS!
But that is almost never the case in any person ever. No matter who you are, I feel it is very unlikely that a person’s interests will fall 100% into what is expected of their biological gender, and we as a society should just let that shit go. But that road is a long and hard one, and it’s not something that happens overnight.

TheVampireCat:

My best friend, who I used to work with, is a beauty editor and she adores make up, perfume, clothes etc. One day, just after she’d had her editorial photo taken (she’d had her hair and make up done for it), we were having coffee and we were discussing Formula 1 and then we went on to have a long involved chat about The Walking Dead. Our boss at the time, who was in the office chill area, came over and said to us “Girls like you aren’t supposed to like stuff like that. Nice girls like you should watch girly things like Days of our Lives or Bold and the Beautiful.”

Um, yeah ok. So because my friend is beautiful and happens to be extremely groomed that day, she somehow needs to change her personality to suit some stereotype that makes no sense.

Aeryl:

This past Christmas, my BFF and her husbands and kids came by for a visit. Now, my BFF moved a part from one another YEARS ago, and contact and communication between us has been intermittent to non existent at times. So, while I’ve gotten more radicalized in my feminist eglitarian viewpoints, she’s become more radical in her locale surrounded by conservative gender essentialist crap.

So they were over, and I had pulled out my collection of homemade Halloween costumes I’ve been holding onto for her kids to grow into. And her youngest, a boy, took one look at the fairy wings and matching tulle tutu, AND WAS IN LOVE. He put them on immediately, started running around our house. It was adorable. Her husband had a fit. This is a man who constantly addresses this little boy with demands to “stop being a sissy” whenever he whines or cries at being punished(we won’t go into their lack of communication with him).

I almost broke down in tears. Thank goodness for Sailor. He defused the situation a bit, by playing into more gender essentialist crap, saying something like the girls will like him for accepting his feminine side when he gets older.

I just can’t find the words to explain to her, how her husband’s “manly” bullshit(bullshit that has damaged their family in so many profound ways) is damaging this boy, building in him a negative association with all things feminine, how he’s perpetuating the problems they have by raising a boy who won’t know how to vocalize his problems, because they are dismissed as not manly enough.

See the rest of the comment thread for more!

About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.


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