I don’t know why I got such a shock when I first witnessed the gender stereotype shaming of my son. In fact, I probably got off lightly that he had gotten as far as three and a half before it happened. But I’m guessing I’m probably deluding myself there, because I’m sure it has happened at some stage outside of my beady eye. I just wasn’t there to feel the mother rage and get that sick feeling in my stomach.
It was an innocent enough exchange. Someone asked him what his favourite film was and he jumped up and down with excitement shouting “Frozen, Frozen!” But then a friend shouted “I HATE Frozen. Frozen is for girls”. And my poor little man immediately denied himself and his true feelings. Without missing a beat, he said “Yeah, I HATE Frozen too.” He looked like he was trying so hard to pretend the rug had not been pulled from under him and I could see him trying to figure out why there now seemed to be a problem with his favourite film, but he wasn’t in on the joke.
So far, so precious first born syndrome on my part, you might say.
It was all innocent enough. It’s what kids do. Sneering the “that’s for girls”, “that’s for boys” thing. But I was raging. I knew I was watching just the start of how it’s going to play out from now on. No matter how open and accepting our home is, we’re still going to come up against this shit for the rest of our lives. And it is shit. What got me most was less the innocent comments of a small boy who was just repeating what he heard, but the acceptance all around that there are in fact boy and girl things and the comment was perfectly reasonable.
Sinead at Bumbles of Rice wrote about this same stage last year, where her son was grabbling with why he can’t like certain things because other people say so. And now I’m just one step behind her. Our boys like pink, glitter, nail varnish, Frozen, whatever. Not because they like “girlie” things, but because they are like little aliens that were dropped on this planet a few years ago and know nothing of our customs and weird cultural practices. They have no idea what the “right thing” or the “wrong thing” is. They’re just fascinated to experience and live these unique, wonderous surroundings and all they have to offer. They see something new and cool, and they’re like “oooooh, I love this!” Until they’re told they can’t. Because it’s shameful. And embarrassing.
My friend Ian from Disorderedworld.com wrote a great article for The Journal during the week called “Why are men more likely to be violent than women”. In it he says:
“By age five, most boys and girls will have internalised the gender roles and expectations taught them by their families, schools, religions and societies. And in many instances, boys will have been socialised for violence by being taught that being a man means being tough, powerful, intimidating, and a stud.
While constructions of masculinity differ widely both within and between countries, it seems clear that some constructions of masculinity increase the chances of boys growing up to become violent men.”
Does this sound like a leap to you? That allowing boys to believe “Frozen is for girls” leads to them becoming violent men? Bit of a reach? I’m not so sure. If we are to continue the permissive behaviour of allowing our boys to believe, again, this shit, then we are just one more tiny step down that road of creating that environment where males are being primed for the role of “more violent”.
Ian also goes on to say:
“..there is no conclusive evidence that men and women differ in their innate biological or psychological propensity for violence. The fact that men commit the majority of violent acts may instead be understood as arising mainly from the social environment.”
We do this to our men. Our boys. We create the world that teaches them that violence is in their nature. And it starts with stupid things. Like shaming boys for liking what they like. Pink. Glitter. Frozen. I wonder what society would look like if we just let the little aliens like what they like. Rather than boxing them into a social construct that we allow. Because the construct isn’t working – not for men, not for women, and not for boys and girls.