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.