Snips and Snails

Posted by: , September 8, 2008 in 2:37 pm


“We are raising our son to be a man. If you want to call that gender bias, that’s your choice.”  That is the reply I received when I attempted to start a somewhat philosophical conversation on a parenting messageboard.   

In early 2007, I had been a mom for a little over two years.  I had discovered the world of online forums and like many inexperienced messageboard newbies, I typed a few sentences and soon realized I had stepped into a cyber snake pit.  What is with those women who frequent parenting messageboards only to bully other moms?  Isn’t the main purpose of such messageboards to engage in lively conversation, to offer support to one another?  Oh, are you wondering what prompted the harsh reaction I posted above.  Well, you see, I asked my fellow moms what they think about gender bias.  I went on to explain that I was tired of seeing evidence of gender bias in kids’ catalogs (i.e. boy toys vs. girls toys and boy’s bedroom décor vs. girl’s bedroom décor).  I truly believe it is parents who perpetuate such biases.  Companies are only reacting to the stereotypes that decades of parents have fostered.  

When I posted my comments on said messageboard, I was met with a 50/50 response.  I was happy to see that a lot of little boys are contentedly playing with dolls and hosting tea parties.  And, a lot of little girls have toolboxes and footballs.  But, unfortunately I also learned that a lot of little boys are being raised on a philosophy of tough love.  No sissies allowed!  And, although I cannot say I analyzed those particular responses using APA research methods, replies steeped in hostility only came from the mommies toting around a hardcore “boys will be boys” attitude.

Why am I recalling an incident from 2007 you might ask?  Well, I am just about finished reading Raising Cain:  Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys (co-authored by child psychologists, Dan Kindlon, Ph.D. and Michael Thompson, Ph.D.).  Although the book was published close to ten years ago, it has just as much relevance today, if not more.  Shortly after Benjamin was born, the PBS documentary Raising Cain:  Boys in Focus previewed.  I remember watching it.  I still get shivers thinking about some of the things we saw.  Now that I am reading the book that led to the making of that documentary, I suppose I am again questioning parents’ choices to either preserve or reject societal biases regarding boys and girls.  Mothers like the one mentioned above hold a very concrete definition of what it means to be a boy.  She vehemently defended how she chooses to raise her son when she explained, “there are so few real manly men out there today that aren’t all in touch with their feminine sides…that is ultimately where this feminizing of boys is coming from.” 

Feminizing of boys?  What!?!

Little boys and little girls all arrive here with the same emotional toolbox.  Kindlon and Thompson point out that it is our job as parents to teach lessons that promote emotional literacy.  If daddy punches a wall when he doesn’t get a promotion, little Johnny learns that punching a wall is how one should react to disappointment.  On a smaller scale, if little Johnny is deterred from playing in little Susie’s play kitchen, he learns that kitchens must be for girls only.  Good luck to little Johnny’s future wife, eh?

I am happy to report that our household is 100% free from gender bias.  Michael has been seen donning a princess tiara if a scenario requires for him to do so.  And, I make bad attempts to excel at soccer and T-ball on occasion.  Benjamin has a bedroom filled with everything from tractors and myriad fire trucks to Calico Critters and a Snow White doll.  Nonetheless, I am confident that we are still raising our son to be a man.  A confident, emotionally literate man.  A man, who like his own daddy, will be willing to wear a princess tiara if necessary.  


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