“We all can dance, if we find the music that we love.”
– Giraffes Can’t Dance
We’ve all done it. At times we’ve used our lives as a benchmark by which all others are measured. We project our values onto others and use this as a way to compare and contrast what is right and what is wrong. In raising a child you are absolutely expected to project your values onto them; how else will they grow up to be strong, independent adults if we don’t teach them exactly how to think, talk and act?
Parenting is tricky. We’re trying our best but we know we don’t have all the answers, except when it comes to raising a child according to their gender. We know the rules: raise a girl in pink, surrounded by princesses and fairy wings and keep her hair combed and her face clean and her pretty clothes pressed. Raise a boy with Lego and allow him to be hyper and dirty and rambunctious and loud; he’s a boy after all and boys will be boys. But what if your son picked up a Barbie one day? Would that make him less of a boy? In the minds of many the answer is a resounding ‘yes’ but, it’s 2017 and I feel it’s time to kick-the-tires on this out-dated thinking.
There’s an idea that a boy who likes dolls will one day lack masculinity or that a girl who likes to be noisy and rough will grow up to be a ‘butch’ – why?
Toys are an invitation for kids to enter a new world created with their imagination. When we attach the label of ‘boy’ or ‘girl’ on a toy we are automatically creating a system of censure that builds barriers around an environment that is meant to be safe for free expression.
In one study, published in the Journal of Developmental Psychology, children favoured toys labeled according to their gender. This was true even when the toys were given purposely confusing visual cues — for example, when handed a monster truck that had been painted pink, boys were more interested when it was labeled ‘for boys’ and girls were more interested when it was labeled ‘for girls’. This pigeonholing limits our children beyond playtime as it can affect their confidence as well. Studies have shown that when a game/toy was labelled ‘for boys’ boys were better at it when they believed it was for them and not surprisingly, the same thing happened with girls. Labels matter and they can hold us back, no matter our age.
These gender labels; however, aren’t just on toys, they’re in our everyday lexicon: “You throw like a girl!” “Are you crying? Man up!” “Your wife said that to you? Who wears the pants in your relationship?” The idea of strength and aggression being tied to being a man and quiet politeness being tied to being a woman starts at birth (if not earlier!). Toys might just be toys and maybe they have no deeper meaning. But maybe the toy shelf is a microcosm of the way the world has assigned expectations on how to be a ‘normal’ man and a ‘normal’ woman.
Where did the range of men go? Why must every man not be emotional, not be a soft talker, not walk with a bounce, not be interested in fashion, not like ballet, not be into fiction novels, not be self conscious?
When we read about the Sahaba during the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him) we read of men displaying a wide range of personalities and temperaments. Why have we forced our boys onto a narrow road of self-discovery?
Growing up as a girl is limiting too. Have you ever referred to a boy as being ‘bossy’? Likely not, but a little girl who likes to lead will definitely be labelled with this accusation at one point in her life. And a girl who likes to be noisy and play rough? Well there’s a term for her too: tomboy. It is so much a part of our vocabulary we may not even notice how limiting it is to refer to a girl as part ‘boy’ just because she’s not into things typically associated with girls.
There’s a fear that if your boy plays with a doll or if your girl prefers to get her hands (and face and clothes) dirty that they are not fitting into a box. I say, ‘good!’ Boxes are for toys, not for our kids to be trapped in. Let’s allow our guidance to be a warm and reassuring hand joining them on their journey to self-discovery, instead of intimidating them down an old-fashioned path.
“… grant her the wisdom to choose her path right, free from unkindness and fear.” – Blueberry Girl
Lena Hassan lives in Ottawa and is a loving mother to 2 girls. She enjoys good eats, good reads and good company.