Thinking a Little Less About Gender
As the mother of a little boy, I haven’t found it particularly difficult to guide my son toward a well-rounded view of his gender. He has always been interested in very boyish pursuits: dinosaurs, trains and cars. But he also is very compassionate and nurturing toward animals and other children. He loves to play in his pretend kitchen and use his toy vacuum. He has a baby doll and pretends to feed her from the bottle. He likes learning about cooking when he helps me make dinner. He watches Diego and Handy Manny but also loves Dora and Strawberry Shortcake. I am proud of him, and I’m proud of the job my husband and I have done raising him.
Recently, we had a little girl. Suddenly, I found myself drawn to all things girly: pink ruffles and dresses with little matching panties. I choose frilly clothes for her over practical play clothes. I have saved my favorite dolls from when I was a little girl, and they are waiting for her in the back of her closet. My head is filled with images of painting our nails together and braiding her hair.
The other day, at the library, a little girl in a purple dress and matching hair bow ran up next to me and my son as we looked through the stacks of books.
Her mother followed close behind her. “Lydia, come here,” she said.
“Look, Mommy,” Lydia chimed. “I want this book!”
She pulled out a big book with two construction diggers on the front cover.
“No, honey,” her mother sighed. “I don’t think we should get that book. I don’t think it will hold your interest.”
My heart frowned along with the little girl as her mother led her away to books about princesses. But she wanted that book, I thought. Maybe she’s interested in that book. Maybe she likes diggers. Then I looked at my infant daughter dressed in her pink and brown dress, snoozing in her stroller. Was I already placing expectations on her because she is girl? Was I already manipulating her interests by dressing her in ruffles and bows, in pink and purple?
My good friend’s daughter Lucy is the same age as my son. For the last four years, I’ve watched Lucy’s interests evolve. She loves Dora, dinosaurs and animals of all kinds. She prefers stuffed animals to dolls, books to bows. She loves nothing more than squatting down to play in the dirt. But she also spends quite a bit of time in a tutu. Lucy’s parents have allowed her to find her own interests, without really labeling them traditionally girl or boy interests. They are just Lucy’s interests, Lucy as a whole person, not just a gender.
Maybe my daughter Frances will like trucks, or maybe she’ll like princesses. Maybe she’ll like both, like I did. My sister and I played with transformers and GI Joes along with our Barbies and Care Bears. Maybe Fran will want to wear her brother’s hand-me-down overalls when she heads out to play but also dress up in a tutu when the feeling strikes. What I’ve learned, though, by watching Lucy and her parents is that I will follow my daughter’s interests, whatever they might be.
Carrie Allison is a poet, freelance writer, and mother of two who lives in Independence.