Right before T’s 2nd birthday, I came across this fascinating post by a stay at home dad blogger. He was discussing his small daughter’s love of all things princess, whether it came from nature or nurture, and how to balance the assault of pink girliness thrown at toddler girls. If you read the post, you’ll see I commented near the bottom, and the author responded. I thought it was such an interesting discussion I wanted to continue it over here on Cushion.
Generally speaking, I come down squarely in the middle of the nature vs nurture debate. The article prompted a different question to my mind: why do we concern ourselves about gender indoctrination so much more with the lil ladies as opposed to the fellas?
After a few generations of women’s lib being pounded into the public conscious—and rightly so, for sure—I think we’ve just let the boys keep rolling alongside with no particular guidance to complement it. The result is a generation of guys who are growing up with a lack of understanding of where they stand in relation to the independent woman.
I compare it, in acting terms, to forgetting to counter. When one actor moves in a scene, the other must adjust their own position, or counter, to maintain the balance of the stage picture. It’s really not surprising that men feel confused about, and maybe therefore protective of, the traditional understanding of manhood.
Case in point: I simply mentioned to P* that I wanted to raise our son to a gentleman—by which I meant kind, courteous, and thoughtful—and he balked, saying he refused to let me girlify him.
*Keep in mind, we’re not even talking macho macho man here. This is a guy that is totally OK with T taking dance lessons and eating off the pink plate.
I think his reaction is fairly typical. Think about it: most people wouldn’t bat an eye at a girl driving a red and blue powerwheel. But a boy driving a pink and purple powerwheel would get some double-takes, even from the most progressive among us. That’s because we haven’t taken the same amount of time or effort to evolve the perception of manhood like we have womanhood.
1950 or 2013?
We applaud a bad-ass women while also praising her tenderness (think Katniss Everdeen—and Jennifer Lawrence too, actually). Men naturally aren’t sure which side to fall on. Will she be offended if I open a door for her? Offer to carry her suitcase? Pay for dinner? Men really do support women’s independence, but lacking any sense of direction for their own behavior, they waffle. By which I mean, of course, they mostly don’t open the door/carry the suitcase/offer to pay.
We’ve let the push for women’s equality paint the entire picture of gender dynamics. It’s time to share the paintbrush.
Don’t get me wrong. I 100% support the girl-empowerment, don’t-wait-for-your-prince mentality be ingrained in girls. After all, I was raised that way! I am and always have been as girly as they come (no seriously. Have you seen this blog? Last week I spent three pages debating skin creams) and I grew up to be the primary earner of my family. There’s still so much concern, as this article shows, that girls don’t grow up trapped in a box, dependent and soft. Even today, when it’s long been pretty clear we don’t have to choose between twirling in a leotard and welding. Girls today already know that they can do anything.
But there’s a lot less concern that boys learn to be nurturing, expressive, and other qualities deemed naturally feminine. In many cases, boys still don’t know that they can be sensitive and thoroughly masculine at the same time—and neither do their fathers.
…grows up to be this dude. (BT dubs, would you call him feminine?)
Little boys are naturally wild and rough…and also incredibly loving. The pattern is already there. We parents of boys just need to follow the dotted lines. And parents of little girls–how about in addition to the requisite spiel on how Barbie couldn’t stand up if she was a real person, we teach her to respect and even demand the sensitive man? (Another facet to add to Feminism! I think we can handle it ladies, don’t you?)
The most important thing we can do for little kids, ours or otherwise, is avoid shaming them. So if you see a girl whack a T-ball across the playground, by all means give her a high five. And if you see a little boy pushing the pink grocery cart when you pick your kid up from day care today, smile and say “don’t forget the Goldfish!” Now we’re talkin’ balance.