Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Gender Roles

Yesterday, The Wife was playing at a benefit concert for one of the local high schools, and The Boy and Grandma went with her and watched the performance. Grandma caught me on the way home from work, and I swung by and picked The Boy up, to take him home – it was already almost 8:30 at night, and The Boy had school in the morning. On the way home, he and I talked about our day.

“Daddy, today I dressed up like Batman, and then I dressed up like a princess.” “Oh?” “Yup! It was lots of fun. Daddy, we should dress up like Batman and then dress up like a princess.” Pause for thought. “Daddy, I don’t think the dresses would fit you. We’d need to find a BIG dress for you!” I agreed that that would be a lot of fun and that we should play dress up when we got home.

When we got home, Aunt Jeanne had just put Little Bear to bed, “for the third time!” Grandpa was taking care of The Baby, and he let me get settled and play a little bit with The Boy. We put on capes (towels tucked into the backs of our shirts) and flew around the house a few times, landing on the couch cushions and laughing. Then, The Boy wandered around the house for a few minutes, look for pretty dresses to wear as a princess. He wasn’t able to find one, so I took the baby from Grandpa and the three of us watched an episode of Batman: The Brave and The Bold.

It does bring up the interesting conversation about gender roles. What is appropriate for a boy his age? Personally, I don’t care if he wants to play princess, fairy, superhero, Daddy, Mum, fireman, whatever. Culturally, he’ll wind up adapting whatever he wants to adapt. Lord knows I’ve worn makeup often enough in my life, and I’ve worn a dress once or twice (as a costume. Calm down). I know that Little Bear loves putting on whatever shoes are nearby and walking around the house, and he doesn’t care if they’re Daddy’s shoes, Grandma’s shoes, The Boy’s shoes, or whatever. He’s just entertained by walking around in bigger shoes than he normally wears.

I do know quite a few fathers that freak out if their sons want to play fairies or elves or princesses or whatever. They’re so concerned with their gender identity that they respond to those explorations with hostility and anger. I kind of feel bad for fathers that respond like that; I view that exploration as a natural progression of a child’s imagination. How many stories do we read to our children that involve a princess who needs to be rescued? How often do our kids feel like that person in need of rescue, that is powerless to change their particular situation? (No, I don’t think kids can conceptualize that into words, but I am certain that they feel that at times.) Why wouldn’t our kids, boys and girls alike, occasionally fantasize to be both Shrek and Fiona? To be Batman, rescuing Superman from the kryptonite, and to be Superman, who needs to be rescued from the kryptonite? Why is a princess that much of a stretch?

I will only address the “I’m worried that my son will be gay if he plays princess!” with the following comment: do you really think you have any control, whatsoever, on who your child eventually decides to sleep with? I’m sure Dick Cheney thought that he did, and one of his children still turned out gay. Worrying about it is only going to project your neurosis onto the next generation.

We love playing superheroes at home, mostly because my kids are small enough that I can easily pick them up and “fly” them around the house. It’s also easy to tuck a towel into the back of their shirt to make a cape, although I have every intention of asking The Wife to come up with a Batman cape and cowl. As far as the other costumes go, I’m not entirely sure about wearing them, mostly because we don’t have them and choose to spend our money elsewhere. Although, it might not be a bad idea to bust out the Spiderman / Astronaut / Dragon costumes every once in a while. It is fun to dress up.

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