How are boys going to learn to care and love their own children?
Do we follow boys into the narrow world of cars, guns, building, scooters and fights or do they learn it from us? I believe it is the latter.
From the very earliest days I fear we miss the clues about reinforcing caring, about gentleness. We reinforce the ‘boys behaviour’. If Star Wars is a parent favourite and if a lightsaber is chosen as a gift what does a child learn? That is not to say they should not be included but if that is what the left hand gives the right hand needs to think about something more in line with the kind of adult the boy should become. Not least to become a good Dad, friend, partner and lover. He will not do well as a storm trooper but may see his future more in sports, military or other physically forceful occupations.
Gender balancing not reversal
Active rebalancing is needed but avoiding a gender reversal where boys only get dolls and prams, cots, hoovers and irons (though they were pretty well all pink and white when I looked on Amazon, what does that say?!) and girls, guns, workbenches and transformers.
With my daughter, I did my best to ensure she had access to building materials, painted the house with me, knew what the inside of a car engine looked like and could assert her excellence in any battle with boys using her wit and not her fists. This all alongside the Barbie dolls..she collected them hoping one day she would find the one who came to life as in the TV ad! She adored dinosaurs, just like all her sons, and was inspired to become a great swimmer through her love of dolphins. Her Grannie made her lovely leggins in a wide variety of colours, including pink and shades of blue.
It is time to think about how the boys might avoid the bland stupidity of gender stereotypes but be the people they want to be too.
Support the dolls not just the dragons
When Connor was between three and four he chose a doll to play with. She was purple with a dummy in her mouth. When his youngest brother reached a similar age Connor went to a local Christmas fair with money to buy each of his brothers and Mum and Dad a gift. He chose a doll for Elliot one very much like his own. It was pink and white. The female stall holder said to him,’Are you sure you wouldn’t like the action man’. ‘No’ he replied. Gender pressure everywhere.
Connor bought Mum an Incredible 2’s Elastigirl doll and Dad a soft white teddy. I have to admit Dad was surprised.
Elliot loved his doll. Over time it was joined by transformers and engines.
Taking the love out in public.
Then one day in IKEA we were walking through the baby and child product area and both Elliot and Kevin picked out soft cuddly dogs to carry around with them. Kevin shouted loudly, ‘I love my dog’ and gave him an extra squeeze. As we walked into the area for cots Kevin decided it was time for his dog to have a nap. He was carefully placed in the cot, covered and kissed. As I walked on I was told ‘ No Nan Doggy wants to get up now”. He was retrieved, hugged and we walked on.
On a second and a third occasion the same behaviour. Adding a few moments to the shop to allow the boys to express their care and emotion was as important as getting to the checkout.
In case you are wondering, we did not buy the dogs. At the end of the child area the boys were told, ‘it is time for the dogs to go back to their families’, and they happily popped them back in place. In fact the boys have learned never to expect to be bought anything when they are in toy shops too but they can look, poke and play if they wish while there. Just remember to take them down all the aisles and not just the ones clearly aimed at boys.
Be aware of how gender bias slips into our adult reactions.
Think about how you might react if a baby boy was dressed as a girl?
Own your own bias