The Issues Our Boys Face

Benny Boy sharing his love of kittens with a new found interest in superheroes.

I asked the Facebook Community to share with us what challenges and stereotypes their sons face. My own concerns are echoed in their comments. A Cliff Notes version would read something like allowing boys to feel and express their emotions, play with dolls and enjoy fancy things like dress up and nail polish, balancing violence/weapon play, and doing away with phrases such as “He’s all boy” or “Boys will be boys”.

My hope is as we continue to move into a space that involves advocating for childhood for both boys and girls, we can support parents raising boys in a culture that doesn’t really allow them a boyhood. Whereas we’ve talked for years about girls being sexualized and stereotyped since birth, I think equally so our very little boys are rushed into a quasi-manhood they aren’t ready for.

Here are some quotes direct from our parents:

“Personally, I’d like to see the end of “boys will be boys.” No, gender is not an excuse for inappropriate behavior. It shouldn’t be reason to encourage such behavior either. I think a much better saying is, “Boys will be men.” We need to think about who we are raising in regards to both genders. We are not raising perpetual 8 year olds. We are raising men and women.”  -Michelle B

“I’ve got three boys each very different kids. My oldest loves his longer hair, despite the kids at school mocking it, luckily he has male family members with long hair to show him all the different ways to look. My middle is pretty rough and tough but he loves purses, babies and dress up. A typical kid experiencing the world. The baby is mostly happy go lucky but we get some comments for him wearing pink socks, or a pink swimsuit (his sister is the next youngest so we have lots of pink baby socks) I just wish my boys were allowed to be kids, like colours and activities without having genders assigned to them.”  -Crystal G

“The saying “He’s all boy” rubs me the wrong way. People always say it when my son is being super active/energetic or playing with sticks or something like that. No one ever says “he’s all boy” when he is carrying his beloved baby doll or tenderly wrapping her in a blanket. No one ever says he’s all boy when he is cooking me a pretend cake or when he drapes his sister’s purse over his shoulder. Does he suddenly become half boy/half girl when he does those things??! Why don’t we just say “He’s all kid!” or better yet just ask him what his baby’s name is or what flavor cake he’s making…*sigh*”  -Ruthann T

“Guns as toys. And violent play altogether. I recently looked for an action figure for a friend’s three year old son and couldn’t find anything without a gun. He got plenty of toy guns for his birthday, and the kids all ran around “killing” each other during the party. It was horrifying watching a kid put a shiny toy gun to my daughter’s head, yell “you’re dead!” and run away laughing. Kids, most often boys, are taught to play murder before they even know what death is. I worry that guns are so commonplace in our toys and entertainment that kids will stop being shocked when they encounter real ones.”  -Lisa Y

“I wish it was “okay” for a little boy to be masculine. There seems to be a pendulum swing from “no, you can’t like pink” to “you must like pink”. Our boys do need to be taught nurturing, it’s not just for girls, but just as we’ve started a movement for girls to be girly AND tough, it seems that we’re focusing on “sensitizing” our boys, and taking away their “tough”. It seems to me that boys have been stripped of their identity in an effort to groom them to be more sensitive, and the little boy who has no natural inclination to wear a pink tutu or play dolls, runs the risk of being labeled a caveman who grows up to beat his wife. (That’s a bit tongue-on-cheek.) There’s too much political correctness in childhood. Adults are projecting way too much on what should simply be child’s play.”  -Amanda J

“Boys get the “male role” installed on them beginning at a very young age. There are different phases presented throughout this male role installation. It starts with teaching boys that they are not who they think they are. They are not able to identify with certain emotions (i.e.; fear, sensitivity, etc.) and are made to realize that they are wrong for feeling what’s natural. Then they have no way to resolve the pain and hurt they face. This is where coping mechanisms enter the picture. It gets worse because then we start teaching boys that not only are they not supposed to do what’s natural (inherently true) but that they are ‘better than” other people. We teach them that they are superior to girls and gays and that girls and gays are “less than” boys. In doing this we introduce sexuality (i.e.; your gay, don’t be a girl) before boys even know what sexuality is.”  -Josh B

“What they need is the freedom to explore those interests, whether they are “gender-typical” or not. We have to get past the idea that there is only one way to be a boy.”  -Crystal Smith of Achilles Effect

and finally, I think this says it all…..

“We need a broader definition of boyhood.”  -Amanda B

Mentioned above, my friend and colleague Crystal Smith is a mother to two boys and the author of  “Achilles Effect: What Pop Culture is Teaching Young Boys About Masculinity”. It is an excellent read, and I highly recommend it. Especially if you are new to looking at the stereotypes our boys face, it will be a real eye-opener.

Here is a post Crystal just wrote about boys and the expectation to be “tough”….Click HERE.

This post by our friend Sarah Jay of The Mauve Dinosaur does a great job of explaining why we’re all in this, together….Click HERE.


  1. Heather N. says:

    Asa has the same gray kitty Benny Boy has. He adopted it from his sister and when he plays with it, he carries it around with him & is very gentle with it, as if it is real <3 Here's to boys (men) as nurturers! My own husband was a stay-at-home Dad for part of his older childrens' childhood, and in our house our genders in no way define what chores we are responsible for. Good role models are very important too.

  2. I shared this with 5 mothers of young boys. I hope they will respond here or to me, just to hear their thoughts on this. You know, I’ve said all along that gender-stereotyping is just as bad for our boys as it is for our girls, and everyone needs to have more choices. Get rid of the boys and girls sections in toy stores and just have Toys and Games. Sure, have boys and girls clothes but give both a wider choice of colors and fabrics. Freedom from stereotyping and limitations would really help our children in so many ways. Let’s be “Free to be You and Me”…

  3. I just presented my Fit vs Fiction Body Image workshop to 120 students in grades 7 and 8 and I can tell you that the boys had just as many questions and comments to share as the girls did!

    They are feeling just as much pressure to live up to who they think society expects them to be and we have to make sure that they feel safe and secure enough to be who THEY want to be!

  4. I find that my boy is even more likely to be pigeon-holed than my daughter. From the time he was 6 months old, we’ve gotten the comment, “Oh, you’ve got a little engineer” or “He’s gonna be an engineer.” (Silicon Valley type, not railroad.) You would not believe the number of times we’ve heard this over the years. And honestly, his dad is one and he might be. But I hate the fact that his normal curiosity in how things work brings out these comments so often. I don’t want him thinking it’s the only thing he can be. I wonder if he’s still gravitating toward it simply because he think he should because he’s heard it over and over and over.

    I also hate boys clothing. I hate that they’re mostly ugly or violent or demeaning. I don’t want skulls emblazoned across my young son’s chest. I don’t want insults (either about him or about others) on his shirt. And given that we don’t do corporate branding, that leaves us with solids and stripes. Yay.

    • Hi Julie – My husband and I are both engineers, and we get that comment about both our daughter and son when they’re inquisitive or into building things!

    • sarah m says:

      hawaiian and tie-dye shirts are a big fave with my son (4)

  5. Christine C. says:

    Amen on the gun thing. I say that because I had a particular experience with that today. We were at chick fil a and I didn’t end up taking my little one into the play area because there was a little boy (probably about 3) running around with a toy rifle/shotgun thing and pointing it at the other kids in the play area. I just wasn’t comfortable with my kid being exposed to that so young (she’s not quite 1.5 yr). Ugh!

  6. sarah m says:

    melissa, i’m just really excited by the broader exploration of gender limitations that you are offering. thank you. even if one were only concerned about their girls, they’d have to admit that empowering boys into an authentic masculinity can only help the girls. thank you again for your courage to follow your heart.
    there is so much to say about the above “thought bites”.

  7. I think parents (and other adults) tend to push their own wants and desires onto children instead of letting them explore the world and figure out what they want to be for themselves. I don’t want boyhood or girlhood for my kids, I just want childhood. My boy loves weapons because he does. He also loves hip hop dancing and asked if he could take a class with his sister next year. My girl loves pink and playing “babies” but she also likes going fishing with her dad. Just let them be kids.

  8. This is why I started Let Me Run.

  9. I am afraid the problem goes much deeper than this and begins with more aggressive, more firm treatment as early as one year for many Male children. This increases in severity over time and more so as Males fall in lower socioeconomic brackets. This is coupled with much “less” kind, stable, verbal interaction and less mental/emotional/social support, knowledge, and skills for fear of coddling. This increases over time and continued by society from peers and teachers to others in society. This creates more social/emotional distance from parents and other authority figures who have knowledge; higher average stress that hurts learning and motivation to learn; more activity due to need for stress relief; more defensiveness and wariness of others further hindering emotional and social growth; and higher muscle tension (creating more pressure on pencil and tighter grip) that hurts writing and motivation to write. It creates much lag in development creating a learned sense of helplessness in school. This differential treatment continues on through adulthood, almost fixing many Males onto roads of failure and more escape into more short-term areas of enjoyment. Also the giving of love based on achievement that many Males thus falling behind academics then turns their attention toward video games and sports, risk taking to receive small measures of love/honor not received in the classroom. My learning theory shows just how differential treatment by groups creates large differences in accumulation of mental/emotional/social/academic growth over time.

  10. My 3 yr old son wanted to dress as a “Daddy” for Halloween last year. So, I let him. He had a baby doll in a stroller, a baby carrier with another baby doll on his back, and a diaper bag as his trick or treat bag. The looks he received and the questions people asked as he was trick or treating broke my heart for him. He wanted nothing more than to be a daddy because he just wanted to copy the great example set for him by his own dad. His hero is his amazing daddy. But, by criticizing the choice he made, it communicated that wanting to be a daddy, a good daddy, wasn’t a good choice. Thankfully he’s still of an age where he doesn’t remember it now, 7 months later. But, what if he was of an age to remember that choosing to be a good dad wasn’t the right choice?

    • Brooke –
      I don’t understand why we don’t encourage more of our sons to be good daddies. Being a good dad is always the right choice, and I’m so glad that your family reinforces that to your small son. 🙂

  11. mother-to-be says:

    There seems to be a fear that if boys are allowed or encouraged to do anything that is associated with girls, they might ‘end up’ being gay. This seems completely irrational, since it is a scientific fact that sexuality is inherent, not a product of socialisation. But it seems that a lot of parents are disturbed by the idea that their kids might grow up to be gay, and they think that by encouraging the boys ‘to be boys’, they can somehow prevent it. Taking a wider view on this – I wonder whether the whole business of forcing girls into an ever narrower and more sexualised ‘femininity’ and boys into a narrow ‘masculinity’, and both into traditional gender roles is not a manifestation of a profound unease among adults about equality between the sexes and the acceptance of homosexuality. It is no longer (officially) acceptable to force women into domestic roles and force gay people to pretend to be straight – but it seems that it is OK to force young children into those binary categories. Has childhood become the place where adults try to control human identity in a way they no longer can in the case of wider society?

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