Thursday, February 2, 2012

Honoring boyhood

We (this family) put a lot of effort in protecting girlhood: replacing the word 'fireman' with 'firefighter' in reading storybooks, for example, is a common task in our house. We let girls know they can be fancy and beautiful AND smart. We negotiate both the princess model and the tomboy one, because girlhood can be done well many ways.

And now it's time to examine boyhood. I wonder if, although we (this society) worry about the emotional safety of boys far less than we do girls, our narrow interpretations of boyhood are even more damaging than Barbie's waist and the Disney princesses' everlasting need for a male savior.

When I got over the initial shock that baby G was a boy (remember when we called him Groundhog? let's relish that together for a moment, on this what we thought was going to be his birth-day), I cringed at all the brown and football motifs that dominate boy decorating. Now, you know I love football, and G is welcome to grow up to love football. But the stereotype [boy=football!] is as restrictive as the girl version [girl=pink princess!].  These things annoy me, and by things I mean limited visions. I mean tired tropes that tell my kids who they should be before they can even consider it for themselves.

And although it is difficult for girls to buck the mold (can I get a female firefighter hero ANYWHERE in storybook - TV - movie - kid-appropriate culture, please!!??), at least girls do have the tomboy motif. There's a space allowed for deviant of princessy. I'm grateful, since for the moment I have a girl who exactly walks the princess line (well, fairies, really, but I think the name of the line itself has been trademarked) and one who loves to zigzag across it, wearing tutus while she fights fires.

So girls are allowed (a little) to explore boy-traditional motifs, but there's still not much room for boys to explore the girl-traditional. There's no male-gender equivalent to 'tomboy.' Okay, so explain that two my almost two-year-old son who idolizes nobody more than his two older sisters.

Well, we faced the issue head-on tonight, because the girls asked for nail polish. Little man G walked right over and started selecting colors, too. He held out his hand to me, fingers extended, and placed a bright red lacquer in my lap. His desire was unambiguous.

I didn't want to say no to him. But I can't, in good conscience, paint his fingernails. It's not for the reason you might be considering -- it's because his fingers still live inside his mouth. So it made me sad to do so, but I said to him, "no, sweet boy, not until you're three." It's the same line I held with L when she watched her older sister first ask for manicures.

He started to cry.

And his sisters said immediately and in unison: what about his toes? So we pulled off his socks.

And he stopped crying.

And he squealed, hi, toes! and smiled all the way to bed.

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