The pink plate January 10, 2012Posted by mareserinitatis in feminism, gifted, older son, younger son.
Tags: bullying, gender equity, older son, parenting, pink, younger son
Yesterday, I reposted a link to the article about the teenage boy who stuck up for his younger brother. The younger brother apparently wanted a video game with a girl character and a purple game controller. When his dad saw what he had, he flipped out, and the teenager told his dad off.
While I don’t think his dad reacted at all appropriately, I also know that this is a very difficult thing to deal with as a parent. I know that gifted kids tend to be more androgynous, and as luck would have it, I have two emotionally sensitive boys. The older boy never really seemed to be into ‘girl things’ as a kid, but it was easy to tell that he operated a lot more on feeling than logic. Society expects males to be stoic, even at a young age. There’s been research on how this negatively impacts boys in school because of interactions with teachers who expect otherwise.
My younger son has always seemed somewhat interested in ‘girly’ things, starting at about 3 or 4 when he was in love with anything having to do with Dora the Explorer. He wanted to paint his room pink and decorate it with Dora and Boots. I never did it…but that was more because I didn’t have time. But when he asked me to get a Dora the Explorer backpack, I declined. However, I have painted his toenails.
I have had concerns in the past because at his previous school, there were some boys there that were obviously being bullies. While this stuff doesn’t bother me, the younger son has always been extremely emotive, and I didn’t want to bring on any additional bullying when he wasn’t able to emotionally handle it. Putting him in a bad situation is asking for a meltdown, which would make the bullying worse. Painting toenails was okay because I didn’t think too many people at his gymnastics class would freak out. Painting fingernails would have been visible at school, and I’m sure a lot of emotional trauma would have ensued, and, probably worse, I don’t know that the teachers would have done anything to prevent it given the problems we were already seeing.
At his new school, he has requested to wear a bracelet to school. He happens to love animals, and this one had cats. I was okay with it, but I was fairly sure the dress code at the school doesn’t allow jewelry, so I said to ask the teacher. The teacher said he shouldn’t wear it, but I don’t honestly know if it’s because it’s a ‘girl’ thing or the dress code. However, given I’d already said the dress code was likely to forbid it, at least he’ll feel like it’s a rule for everyone and not that he’s being singled out as a boy who wants to wear jewelry. I don’t get the feeling that they would let other kids pick on him if he chose to wear nail polish or something at this school, as well, so I would probably let him do it there if he asked. (Although this would require another good look at the dress code, first.)
He also, very shortly after the Dora obsession, started making the connection between girls and pink. For a while, this turned into, “I don’t want to have anything to do with pink because I’m a boy and pink is a girl’s color.” After all the stuff before, I somewhat feel like this was my fault. He used to love pink, but now it’s a girl’s color, and I go back and forth wondering if I caused it because of all the Dora stuff.
He took the ‘pink is a girl’s color’ to mean that all girls must like pink. Just a couple weeks ago, he was asking me what color to make a character on a Lego website, apologizing that pink was not an option. I told him that I didn’t like pink all that much. He seemed surprised when I told him my favorite colors are actually purple and blue. (Growing up, my favorite color was always blue, and I never really got any shrek for it. It makes me very mad that society puts this double standard on boys and girls.)
We have a set of multicolored plastic plates that we sometimes use for lunch, and at some point, the younger boy started to refuse any food that was on the pink one. The older boy tried to set a good example in these situations.
I’ll take the pink plate because it doesn’t threaten my masculinity.
I doubt the younger boy understood exactly what he meant, but he got the gist of it: it’s okay for boys to eat off pink plates. Still, it’s taken a while for him to come to terms with this. I have been intentionally giving him the pink plate, but it was only last week when he finally took it. At first, I thought he didn’t notice, but as he finished up his lunch, he said that he’s okay with using the pink plate now.
This has actually been a very difficult thing to deal with. My younger boy seems far more aware of what people think than the older one was, but at the same time, he’s obviously interested in things intended for a female audience. He likes pretty things, and he really loves animals. Trying to find stuff on cats and dogs for boys is tough: most of the age appropriate animal-related stuff that isn’t covered in garish pink is about sharks and dinosaurs. This is the same kid who has talked about wanting to be a vet and will get very upset at me if I go to the pet store without him because he HAS to see the kitties up for adoption. But liking cats and dogs doesn’t seem to be gender neutral in our society. This is completely ridiculous.
As a parent, I find this hard to navigate. I don’t think it should matter if he likes pink things, and I don’t want anyone making him feel bad for his interests. I’ve had to deal with enough of that myself (A girl who likes physics and math and engineering?!) that I don’t want him to have to deal with it. On the other hand, I don’t want him to walk into a situation where someone might make fun of him and not be prepared to deal with it. I guess, because of that, I have been erring on the side of caution when making these decisions…but also fear that even those decisions may be giving him the message that there are girl things and boy things, and that it’s not okay for him to like girl things. I’m not sure how to avoid both problems simultaneously, so for now, I try to look at which is the bigger problem for each individual situation.