Of course, we notice standards the most when they don’t match. If my preteen sons were happily enjoying boyish things, neither they nor I would notice they were stuck.
But oh boy, don’t they do that.
In fact, if I showed you a list of my sons’ collective interests and you had to guess their gender, you would hesitate a bit, but then choose a girl.
Cooking, reading, drawing, vacations, movies, volleyball, cute mammals, video games, babies and toddlers, reading, traveling, writing letters.
I imagine many of you are thinking at this point: It’s great that your boys are interested in these things!
There is more. We love comics and graphic novels, but revolve around stories with strong female protagonists, like Ms. Marvel and The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl.
Cool! I love it.
And sport. They are completely bored with team sports. They don’t play them. They won’t look at them. They will move up or down through a number of sporting events on television to get to a dance competition or to watch a baking competition.
So? No problem with that.
These are the kinds of things all of my progressive friends say.
But that’s often not the message my sons themselves hear from the other adults in their lives, from their classmates, and from the media.
For example, the first self-knowing question that well-meaning adults inevitably ask them is, “So, do you play sports?” When they say, “No, not really,” the adult usually goes on brilliantly, “Oh, so what do you like to do then? “
No one is explicitly saying that it is bad for a boy not to play sports. But when it’s always the first question asked, the implication is clear: playing sports is normal; therefore, not playing them is not.
The truth is, one of them is playing sports. He is figure skating, just like my daughter. When people find out that she is skating, they are beaming at her, as if she is suddenly in possession of a few rays of Olympic glory. Before my son stopped telling people he ice skates, most of them hesitated and then said, “Oh, so are you planning on playing hockey?” “
But that’s not just what people say. It’s all those pesky unwritten rules. When he was in second grade my youngest son liked the Nancy Drew and Clue Crew series. But he refused to check anything outside the school library. He explained, “Girls can read boys ‘books, but boys can’t read girls’ books. Girls can wear boyish colors or girlish colors, but boys can only wear boyish colors. Why, mom?
I did not have any answer.
An obvious place to start – and the one over which we have the most control – is to change the way we talk to boys in our lives.
As Andrew Reiner suggests in a specific essay, we should engage boys in analytical and emotionally-focused conversations just like we do with girls. In “How to Talk to Little Girls,” Lisa Bloom offers alternatives to the appearance-oriented comments so often addressed to young girls: asking a girl what she reads or the news or what she would like to see changed. in the world. I could copy and paste Bloom’s list and put a different title on it: “How to ask boys questions about something other than sports.”
And with a few more built-in nudges, we could expand the narrow world of childhood more quickly. Scouts could offer badges to develop skills in childcare, teamwork and journaling. Girl-dominated activities like art, dance, gymnastics and figure skating could be made more welcoming to boys, with increased awareness and retention efforts. My son could write his own essay on how to try and fit into the almost all-female world of figure skating, including the times he had to change clothes in the washroom at skating events because he there were no changing rooms available for boys.
I used to think that the concept of gender – “girl things” and “boy things” – was what held us back.
Now I see it differently.
The gender interrelated yin and yang are a fundamental part of who we are, individually and collectively. We need people who like to fix cars and people who like to fix dinner. We need people who are willing and able to fight when necessary, and people who are fully attuned to a baby’s needs. But for millennia, we have forced these traits to align with biological sex, causing dissatisfaction and shrinking in countless individuals. For the most part, we recognized this with the girls. But we have a long way to go when it comes to boys. As Gloria Steinem observed, “We have started to raise our daughters more like sons … but few have the courage to raise our sons more like our daughters.”
I agree that young boys who feel pressured to be sports fans are not our country’s biggest gender issue.
Transgender people still face discrimination and violence. The #MeToo movement has revealed to anyone who doesn’t already know that girls and women cannot go about their daily lives without encountering male sexual assault.
But if our culture evolves to wholeheartedly embrace the full spectrum of absurdity, it may play a small role in solving these other issues as well. Male culture will be redefined, enriched and expanded, diluting the toxic masculinity that is at the root of most of our gender issues.
Both boys and girls will be able to decide whether they prefer to be made with shears and snails, sugar and spices, or a custom mix. And my future grandsons, unlike my sons, won’t hesitate to wear pink or read about a girl detective at school.
This story originally appeared on Motherwell and is reprinted here with permission.