My child is a pretty typical two and a half year old. My child loves getting dirty and going for hikes. My child loves dinosaurs and cars and trains and trucks and building things with blocks. My child likes wearing jeans and t-shirts and hiking boots, or better yet no shoes at all. My child is the first kid at the playground to climb up to the top of something dangerous, even when the older kids are too scared. My child loves rough and tumble play and never sits still. My child’s face is always covered in god knows what with their hair in their eyes. My child is strong willed and innovative and assertive and fearless.
I know what many of you are probably thinking. Typical boy.
But what if I were to tell you that my child also loves playing with dolls and princesses and mermaids. My child has gotten a pair of tap shoes as a gift from their gymnastics teacher and won’t take them off. My child loves playing dress up, especially with necklaces. My child has strong emotions that they are currently discovering and is being taught that it is ok to cry and feel these emotions. My child is compassionate and sweet and helpful and finally learning to snuggle and give kisses.
So wait now. Do I have you confused? Is it possible for one child to do all these things, enjoy all these things, and be all these things?
Yes, my friend. Yes.
My two year old daughter is all these things and more.
So why does it matter? Why am I telling you all this? Well, it’s because already at the age of two I have seen and heard more sexist things toward my daughter than I care to tolerate. Yes, my two year old. And yes, the most hurtful ones have been from other moms on the playground and in our circle of friends. Let me share with you a snippet of some of the comments that have stuck with me:
- For the first year and a half my daughter was called a boy far more often than called a girl. I don’t really care because at the end of the day it doesn’t matter. I normally don’t even correct strangers unless they get obnoxious about it, then I kindly correct them and move on. Usually they apologize embarrassed, and I tell them it really isn’t a big deal. Occasionally though, I get some clap backs. These have included: “Then you shouldn’t dress her in jeans, those aren’t for girls.” As his wife stands next to him in jeans. “Then you shouldn’t dress her in blue.” This particular outfit was a pink dress with blue flowers, my bad. “Then you should have a pink stroller.” Really? You want to buy that for me? And my stroller is light grey. “Then you should really put a bow in her hair.” Have you tried to keep a bow on a one year old who is bald? Would hot glue or super glue be better? “Then you really shouldn’t have her in tennis shoes, it’s confusing.” What should my two year old be wearing at the park? Pink stilettos? I could go on, but I won’t. You get the idea. Though these comments are annoying, they have mostly been by strangers who I simply smile at and keep walking down my Target aisle in peace. For now these comments only bother me, but one day my daughter will understand what is said and these comments will start to become her inner thoughts. I don’t like that at all.
- When my daughter was not quite one I met two other moms and the three of us hit it off. Both of them had sons the same age as my daughter, the moms and I had similar interests, and quickly I considered them my best friends. We all hung out fairly often for probably about six months, and then I noticed our play dates started getting fewer. I figured life happened and they were busy, we have all been there, no big. But then I saw them tagging each other in pictures on Facebook. They were having play dates without me! A little confused and a lot hurt, I scheduled a play date for the three of us again. While we were hanging out at the park one mom mentions how the two moms have been hanging out, but it wasn’t personal and I should have no hard feelings. “It is just so nice hanging out with a boy mom, you wouldn’t get it. I don’t have to worry about my son playing too rough with her son, or having to use his manners. He can just go and play and do whatever he wants. Have you found any girl mom friends? If you did you would get it.” This confused me even further because 1. My daughter was taller, stronger, and more adventurous than both the boys in question (maybe even combined), 2. Boys don’t have to be polite to each other(???), and 3. The kids were not even two years old. A year later these two moms still have regular play dates (according to what I see on Facebook), and I haven’t seen either of them in months. I keep trying to tell myself that really this was their excuse for not wanting to hang out with me, instead of being an insult to my daughter, but unfortunately I don’t think it was.
- When my daughter was not quite two I met a mom who had just recently moved to the neighborhood. She had a daughter slightly younger than my daughter and a son slightly older, so I thought the fit was great. She kept mentioning how she had no friends and was lonely, so I invited her to a few group play dates and everything seemed to be just fine. I then tried to figure out a play date for just our families, and her response was, “That is really sweet, I would love to hang out with you, but it just won’t work out. My son hates playing with girls and there is just nothing I can do about it.” Um… what? 1. How does a two year old even know the difference between a boy and a girl and 2. How have they learned to hate anyone already? Hate is something that is taught, it is not something we are born with. Considering a two year old probably only has a few adults in their life as role models, yes, I am going to side eye you. Kind of a lot. Who taught your two year old to hate girls and why? Just to make sure I wasn’t giving a two year old enough credit, I just now as I am writing this asked my two and a half year old if Mommy and Daddy were a girl or a boy and she said Daddy was a baby and Mommy is a dinosaur, so I am pretty sure that rests my case. Needless to say, I haven’t seen that mother since.
- My daughter and I are very active members of an organization called Hike it Baby. This organization is made to help children and their caregivers get outside more, and through Hike it Baby we have found many of our dearest friends. One of the things I love most about Hike it Baby is most of these parents get it. Their daughters and sons are out hiking with mine and no one bats an eye when our genderless kids are fearless and dirty and wild. Unfortunately there are still a few parents in the organization and people we see out on the trail that have “things” to say about girls being outside. “Hiking is dangerous for little girls and women, you should be ashamed of yourself.” Thanks, but we’re good. I’m pretty sure the only thing dangerous out here is you and your thoughts on women. “A woman carrying a child while hiking? Let me go ahead of you, I must be faster.” What did you say? I couldn’t hear you as you were eating my dust. “Oh wow, you let your daughter climb that? I would never!” Yup, and she’s better than the boys! “I bet she doesn’t like getting dirty, right?” Have you actually looked at her? “Is this an organization mostly for boys then?” Nope! Hiking and girls are not mutually exclusive. “My two year old daughter hates being outside, I’m surprised yours likes it.” That is false, no child hates being outside. “I just don’t think my daughter would like to go hiking.” Have you asked her? Have you let her try? I bet you’d be surprised! Again, the list goes on, but you get it. Here is a story I shared with a Hike it Baby group last April about an experience we had on the trail:
- I am in many “mom groups” on Facebook. Almost daily I see advertisements for “Boy Mom Only” groups. I have clicked on a few out of curiosity and one even stated on the “info” that this group was for “Boy moms only, this group is not for moms of girls or mixed genders. We will ask you for a picture of your son for proof.” What are we, prepubescent boys who just made a fort? Why as parents do we need to divide ourselves further? As moms we are already so divided over formula, stay at home moms, cosleeping, vaccines, circumcision, homeschooling, and more, why do we need to add our children’s sex organs to the list? But whatever. I roll my eyes and keep scrolling. In one of the groups I am in they just yesterday played a “game” where you post toys boys play with in alphabetical order. Though I secretly wanted to troll and post things like “dolls, princesses, tea sets” (because why can’t they?) I instead rolled my eyes and kept scrolling. A friend of mine gently commented, “**time out to say that girls can like and do all these things too. Ok, carry on,***” and then was passive aggressively harassed by a mom who said, “Yes obviously they can you can talk about boys without always having to include girls too.” with a gif of someone rolling their eyes that said, “People are so easily triggered these days.” But what this mom was trying to get at isn’t the point. Yes, of course we can talk about boys and not girls. But to me, a post that screams “boy mom only” would be a question about how to care for her son’s swollen foreskin, not about the types of toys boys can play with. And of course, all the answers were very stereotypical “boy toys” like cars and guns and tools. Which is fine, boys can play with those. But so can girls. And boys can play with toys like dolls and princesses and tea sets too. That mom’s reaction to my friend’s comment is why it has taken me two years to write this blog to begin with. I sometimes wonder if I am being too sensitive and emotional about the topic, but then again I am female so what else am I expected to be? This is my soapbox to die on.
Dear Boy Moms.
I am not trying to bash or shame you. I think it is great that you are proud of your children and I have no problem with you rocking your #boymom hat every day. I know so many “boy moms” that treat my daughter just like how they treat their sons and for that, I thank you. I am not talking to you. I am talking to the “boy moms” I meet every day at the park who treat my two year old daughter differently than they treat their two year old son. I’m not naive, I used to teach high school and middle school for heaven sake. I know one day sex and gender are going to play a very large roll in our children’s lives. But that day is not today. Not when they are two. Not when they are playing in the sandbox building castles. When they are two they are not a girl or a boy. Their genitalia does not matter. They don’t care about that stuff. They just care about who has the best snacks and who brought the best toys. I get it, gender stereotypes were pushed on me as a child too so I know this is something ingrained in all of us and hard to let go of. When I was a kid I desperately longed for an RC car but instead was given doll after doll every holiday. Please, from one mom to another, let’s stop pushing these gender stereotypes on our children. Let’s let them be children and play with whatever they want and wear whatever they want. Let’s stop the microaggressions we think and say every single day before our children are old enough to pick up on them. Let’s teach our children that you should have manners with everyone you interact with. Let’s teach our children that we should not treat another child on the playground differently based on their sex organs or skin color or ability. Let’s teach our children that we can have friends of all different kinds. Let’s teach our children that it is ok to have emotions and to cry. Let’s teach our children that hate is never tolerated. Let’s teach our children how to be decent human beings.
Boy moms, I am trying to raise a strong female and I need your help. The words you say are more than just words to a child who looks up to you. I can try to be a good role model to my daughter and lead by example, but that can only counter what she hears from others and the media so far. Please don’t add to it. The words she hears and the things she sees will become her inner dialogue. If you are in my life you are a female role model to my daughter, whether you signed up for the job or not. But if you aren’t willing to do it for me or the other “girl moms” out there, do it for your son’s possible future wife, his future female boss and female colleges, and his potential future daughters. But most importantly, do it for him. A two year old boy who hears his mom tell him he has to treat girls differently on the playground, may grow up into a teenager who doesn’t know how to communicate properly with girls, who may grow up into a young adult who says inappropriate comments to women, who may grow up into a man who thinks women are weak and below him and negatively asserts his power over them. I know, I know, I may be reaching, but it has to start somewhere. The #metoo movement is too large to ignore. Those countless men who are out assaulting women were once boys. Innocent two year old boys who didn’t know there was a difference between him and the kid playing next to him. Where did it go wrong? Maybe it all started at the playground when they were two. Maybe we can change the future so our daughters and granddaughters and nieces and cousins and friends can learn about the #metoo movement in history books instead of experiencing it themselves. Let’s raise the next generation to be decent human beings.