Menu

Sexism hurts boys + girls alike

Today's girl can be anything she wants. But what of the little boys playing house, dressing up, cuddling baby dolls?

Sexism hurts boys + girls alike

Ask my two children what their favorite part of recent trip to Disney World was and you'll get two very different answers. Not only because of their five and a half years age gap, but also because they are remarkably different people. My older child's favorite experience was the Jedi training at Hollywood Studios while my younger loved meeting all the princesses and riding the Frozen attraction. Their souvenirs were a build-your-own lightsaber and a Cinderella doll, respectively. When my mother took them for face painting, the older one opted for a tiger face and the younger, Princess Tiana.

Reading those descriptions, many may assume I have an older boy and younger girl. If I told you that they were the same sex, most people would assume they are girls and the older is a tomboy. Most of you are fine with that. But what if I were to say that they were both boys? Would you be equally fine with a little boy entranced with and identifying as a princess? Would you accept my parenting if I'd let a little boy play princess?

Where is the positive boy equivalent of a 'tomboy'?

Although there are definitely subcultures throughout our country that emphasize femininity and reject the tomboys, that trend has shifted some over the past decade or two. In many circles it's now not only totally acceptable, but even a point of pride to have a tomboy daughter.

Today's girl can be anything she wants. Girls are being pushed into the STEM fields that they've been shunned from for… well forever. Geeky girl culture is booming, with little girls' clothing lines rolling out dresses and tops covered in dinosaurs, computers and video game characters. Girls can play with Legos and trucks and Minecraft and balls.

But what of the little boys playing house, dressing up, cuddling baby dolls? We don't have a name for these boys other than "sissies" or "wusses" or other such derogatory terms; however, many boys choose toys and play styles that are traditionally thought of as feminine, despite being strongly discouraged from doing so. The pressure to change is applied by both society and parents, particularly the fathers.

Why respecting individuality in our kids makes for better adults

Today's parents are encouraging our girls to play with all toys and games to give them a broader perspective of the world. We are revolting against the "pinkification" of every toy and opting for gender neutral colors and toys that cross gender barriers. We are venturing into the unknown lands of the "boy" toy aisle to help our girls become more well-rounded adults. Several years ago this backlash was supported by President Obama and several movements like "Let toys be toys."

But are we doing the same for our boys? In a society in which we increasingly expect our adult male partners to contribute to housework and childcare, why wouldn't we encourage nurturing play behavior with dolls and toy kitchens? If we want our grown men to be able to identify and express emotions and to work with people of all personalities and backgrounds, why wouldn't we encourage imaginative play and dress-up where they get to feel what it is like to be these other kinds of people?

Humans learn through experience. Long-term memories require reiteration. What we practice, we get good at. Our brains are also designed to pay attention to the emotional responses to what we do. When we are encouraged and applauded, we do those things more. When we are yelled at, or shamed or not allowed to do something, particularly by someone we care about, those memories stick. How our parents respond to our choices affects who we become.

While we know that some play is practice for adult behaviors, we also know that play also is important for later stress management and mental health. A recent study of fathers showed their active engagement with their daughters, encouraging emotional growth… and the opposite with their sons. We need to reverse this trend to improve adult mental health outcomes in men.

There is no 'wrong' way for kids to play

My children are both tough and wild, gentle and sweet, thoughtful and intelligent. They are feisty and fierce and stubborn and opinionated. They are both girls. And they're also individuals, and I value their differing choices and encourage their unique selves. My "tomboy" daughter builds her Minecraft world with polished nails and cat-ear headphones perched on her short hair. My "princess" daughter is more comfortable outdoors, pausing in her pursuit of the soccer ball only to investigate the bugs that terrify her sister. As girls, my children are empowered and encouraged to be all these things.

As a society, we need to be doing the same for our boys by encouraging them to expand their play. My nephews love to play dress-up with my girls, and will happily don a frilly dress; just as my girls will happily grab the superhero costumes when at their houses. My youngest brother often got stuffed into dresses as my sister and I played with him, and he'd smile and entertain us with song and dance and play any role, male or female, that our imaginations required of him.

Most of that came from my parents, who modeled atypical gender roles and encouraged each of us children to be our true selves. But I like to think that maybe a little of his later life success comes from his big sister encouraging creative thought at early ages, and that his success as a husband and father are shaped in part by the freedom to play at those roles as a child.

Ultimately, we give our children the best chance by being supportive and encouraging of their interests, whether those interests and toys are traditionally pink or blue.

You might also like:

This 'mama' necklace is a bestseller for a powerful reason

There's a lot going on in the world right now, but one thing that's certain? You're still mama.

There's a lot going on in the world right now, but one thing that's certain? You're still mama. No matter what is going on at work, what decision you make about heading back to school, or how you're caring for your family right now, we know you're the best mama for your family.

So in case you need a little reminder of just how incredible you are, we love this sweet necklace from Tiny Tags. And other mamas do, too, because it's been one of our top sellers for weeks.

Whether you're coveting it for yourself or want to gift it to your favorite mama, it's one of those gifts that'll keep on giving years later. It's dainty enough to easily layer with just about anything you have in your jewelry collection, but is just as beautiful as a standalone piece to wear daily. And in these tough seasons, it's honestly a gentle, much-needed reminder that you were made for this. You can do hard things. You are doing the best you can even when it feels like you can't make one more decision.

Tiny Tags script 'mama' necklace

tiny tags mama necklace

The charm is 1/2" long and the chain is 16", falling just above most mama's collarbones. All Tiny Tags personalized jewelry is laser engraved by highly skilled artisans to make the most elegant pieces.

$105

And, don't worry, it's totally low-maintenance. Simply polish with a polishing cloth every now and then for extra shine. Now to decide: gold or silver?

We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

Shop

Why do all of my good parenting or baby-focused inventions come after they've already been invented by someone else? Sigh.

Like the Puj hug hooded baby towel, aka the handiest, softest cotton towel ever created.

Safely removing a wet, slippery baby from the bath can be totally nerve-wracking, and trying to hold onto a towel at the same time without soaking it in the process seems to require an extra arm altogether. It's no wonder so much water ends up on the floor, the countertops, or you(!) after bathing your little one. Their splashing and kicking in the water is beyond adorable, of course, but the clean up after? Not as much.

It sounds simple: Wash your child, sing them a song or two, let them play with some toys, then take them out, place a towel around them, and dry them off. Should be easy, peasy, lemon squeezy, right?

But it hasn't been. It's been more—as one of my favorite memes says—difficult, difficult, lemon difficult. Because until this towel hit the bathtime scene, there was no easy-peasy way to pick up your squirming wet baby without drenching yourself and/or everything around you.

Plus, there is nothing cuter than a baby in a plush hooded towel, right? Well, except when it's paired with a dry, mess-free floor, maybe.

Check out our favorites to make bathtime so much easier:

Keep reading Show less
Shop

In Montessori schools, parents are periodically invited to observe their children at work in the classroom. I have heard many parents express shock to see their 3- or 4-year-old putting away their own work when they finish—without even being asked!

"You should see his room at home!" or, "I ask him to put his toys away every day, and it's a battle every single time" were frequent comments.

Keep reading Show less
Learn + Play