Gender roles? I stomp on them.

by , under Mom

This week, I saw two things that made me wonder how we’re raising our kids these days… and why we haven’t come further. First was an old advice column from 2002 on Dr. Phil’s website.

In the column, a woman asked for advice about her 5 year old boy who had two older sisters and preferred to play with “girl toys” and wanted to wear girl clothes. The page is making the rounds of LGBT blogs, who are rightly concerned by Dr. Phil’s attitude. While he says that it could just be a phase, and clearly isn’t an indicator that her son is gay (which by the way, the mother never seemed to have mentioned). But he tells her to push the child towards boy clothes and boy toys, to direct him from anything that might confuse him.

Again, this is from 2002. It isn’t a new post, but it’s still on his blog. If he had changed his stance, then he should have removed the post, or clarified something on it. But he didn’t.

So what was the second thing? A friend of mine was lamenting that her son was being hassled about taking ballet. You know, since that’s for girls.

Can I just say once and for all, ballet is not just for girls. If it was, you wouldn’t have a Prince to attempt to save Odette in Swan Lake, a Nutcracker Prince or a Rat King. There would be no epic pas de deux filled with lifts.

My sister was a ballet dancer, and while there were rarely any boys in her classes when she was a girl, as she got older and moved up into more advanced classes… there were men. And obviously, the company she danced with was filled with them too. And you know what? Most of them were straight.

My friend’s son reminds me of a boy who lived across the street from us in high school. He was the sweetest little boy, whose greatest love was dancing. The summer my sister and I babysat him and his little sister, was a summer filled with two things- Barney and dance parties. You could put on any CD and he’d dance, dance, dance. But he loved to watch my sister dance, and tried his best to follow along. So he started to take ballet, and actually starred as Peter in a ballet of Peter and the Wolf. His dad had an issue with it.

Just so I can have it somewhere, here’s what I say to anyone when they try to say that ballet is just for girls. Ballet isn’t just for girls. It takes a great amount of strength and skill to dance the way that male dancers do- which is why a lot of professional athletes take ballet for agility (admittedly, a lot of pros turn to pilates and yoga these days). Just look at Gene Kelly, who was well versed in all sorts of dancing, but brought in ballet to many of his films. He danced with grace, but with an athleticism and masculinity that set him apart from other dancers. (No knock to Fred Astaire who seemed to glide effortlessly, but Gene Kelly made sure you knew it took a bit of effort- and it was worth every bit of it) Then look at Patrick Swayze. He grew up at his mother’s dance studio and played a lot of tough guys in Hollywood. Including a tough guy who danced in Dirty Dancing. (Exhibit A: Donald O’Connor and Gene Kelly “Moses“. Exhibit B: Donald O’Connor “Make Em Laugh” Ballet Exhibit A & B: Mikael Baryshnikov “Don Quixote” and a snippet from “White Nights“)

I get frustrated when people try to enforce gender roles. It’s deemed (mostly) acceptable if a girl is a tomboy, but weird for boys to want to do girl things. Let’s look at TheBoy and I. Yes, I am exceptionally girly. I cook, bake, sew, love make-up, jewelry and high heels. I also prefer my hair on the shorter side, really dig menswear (I even rocked a tie in the 6th grade), prefer action movies to chick flicks (though I do enjoy them), have played RPGs (the kind with dice and occasionally dungeons), love scifi, played video games (if I had more time, I still would)… oh, and I can use power tools. TheBoy? Grew up watching chick flicks and does enjoy watching them. He loves going to see plays and musicals, cooks and bakes as well, cleans… and honestly doesn’t know the difference between needle nose pliers and regular pliers.

Everywhere you seem to go on the internet, people complain about Shiloh Jolie-Pitt, who is a tomboy. She wears her hair short, dresses like a boy… and you know what? It could just be because she has two older brothers. It certainly has nothing to do with how she’s being raised, since her sister Zahara is a girly girl. And yet, you see people go on and on about how Angelina Jolie is raising her to be a lesbian… when she’s 5. (Lets not even get into the fact that you can’t make someone gay. You’re just born that way)

But that sort of attitude is everywhere. A blogger wrote about her preschooler being sneered at by mothers when he dressed as Daphne from Scooby Doo for Halloween. Last summer, my cousin bought my boys a cold bake oven (which we couldn’t actually use the mixes, since the Little Kidlet is allergic) that was Disney Princesses oven. Purple and pink. And you know what? To those two, it didn’t matter that it was purple and pink and had all the princesses… it was just an oven. They played with it for weeks, making us little treats out of Duplos.

I hope that everyone here remembers Katie, the first grader who was bullied because she liked Star Wars and was a girl. She was told that Star Wars was for boys, and for a few weeks, legions of geek girls were out there to tell her that sci-fi wasn’t just a boy thing. When I was writing a comment on Katie’s mother’s blog about it, my oldest sat next to me and asked what I was reading. I told him the whole story. He looked at me, with the strangest look on his face. “That wasn’t nice. Don’t they know that Star Wars is cool and for everyone?” I admit, he knows I love Star Wars. So at least I know I’m teaching him that girls can like whatever they want to like.

There really aren’t many things that are girl things and boy things, at least as far as toys and past times are concerned. Can’t we just be good parents, and support our kids in what they do? So what if your son wants to learn how to bake? He might become a famous pastry chef. What if he wants to dance? Rudolf Nureyev and Mikhail Baryshnikov had to get their start somewhere. Your daughter want to be a pilot or an astronaut? Amelia Earhart and Sally Ride paved the way for other women in the skies and space.

I believe that my role as a parent is to support my child, no matter what. I’m there to keep them safe, healthy and happy. If they want to learn to use a skateboard, I’m there with the helmet, safety equipment and bandaids. If either of them want to learn how to dance, I will find them a dance studio and take them to and from class. Because that’s what you do. You support them and love them. And you teach them that there’s no shame in being themselves.

So let’s ditch the gender roles. Maybe if we do, when our kids grow up there won’t be blatant sexism and discrimination (or at least they’ll be aware of it and better prepared to deal with it than we are). That might be a bit much to hope for, but really- if we aren’t changing the way our kids see the world, how is it ever going to change?