Tuesday, May 13, 2014

True gender equality: letting my son wear pink if he wants to

The other day, I gave my little girl pigtails. I used pink elastic bands, and topped the look off with a bow clip. Stepping back to admire my handiwork, I heard a little voice beside me. "What about me?" my son said. "I want that too!" It was then that I realised that I've been thinking so much about my girl growing up feeling equal to boys, I'd totally neglected giving the same message to my son.

All of the evidence says that my son is likely to earn more than my daughter, achieve more seniority in the workplace, and do fewer chores in the home. If they both want to be actors, my daughter will be playing mothers while my son is still cast as a romantic lead. If they both write books about coming-of-age that include a romance, his is more likely to be called "literature" and given a serious cover. Hers is more likely to be given a pink cover with shoes on it. If they both become politicians, her looks are more likely to be poked fun of. It's completely natural that given all of these potential obstacles she'll face, parents of daughters the World over go the extra mile to reinforce Girl Power.

But, still. Where does this leave our sons? Parents give their daughters trucks as a point of principle, but don't give their sons dolls. Girls are dressed in pink and blue and all of the colours in between, but dressing boys in pink still seems to have a taboo around it. Which is silly, really, as the pink/blue gender divide is 100% nurture, not nature. Girls wear trousers, but the same people who dress their girls in trousers will look askance when they see a boy in a skirt. Especially a pink skirt.  With frills.

The thing is, if we are sending the signal to our sons that skirts, pink and dolls are wrong, won't we also be sending the signal to our daughters that her many of her things - her girl things - are somehow inferior? Especially if she's given "boy" toys and wears blue, when he's never given "girl" toys or wears pink. And if that's the case, how can our daughters ever grow up feeling truly equal?

We also have to ask ourselves why we as a society aren't more embracing of pink for boys and them playing with dolls. Some people say they don't mind, they just don't want their sons to be bullied. This is said without the self-awareness that if they say such things in their children's earshot, they have become part of the problem. Others are scared their sons will look 'gay', without realising how disgustingly prejudiced and homophobic that sounds. Not to mention ridiculous. It's not as if a young boy will go from being heterosexual to homosexual after a few hours wearing a tutu, or getting a doll for their birthday. Many more point to nature, saying things like "my son has never liked pink, it's in his genes", or "my son has never shown an interest in dolls." Never mind that he has never been dressed in pink, and never given a girls' toy.

So, with those thoughts in mind, I did my son's hair. I gave him two pigtails, which he declared to be just like "giraffe ears", and wore them proudly around the house for the next hour. He also enjoyed admiring his bow clip in the mirror, before throwing it to the ground. As he grows up he may want to wear pink, or he may not. He may play with his dolls and toy pram, or he may choose his trucks. But just like my daughter, I want him, too, to have a choice. 


  1. I think as long as you are taking the childs lead you are fine, you just have to be so careful about pushing your own agenda. My wee man loves dolls, tutus etc but gravitates toward traditional boy colours, ny girl can't get enough pink. dolls princesses etc - she also loves construction and robots. The fact is that kids will get bullied if they don't fit in - and it's great to fight this - but you have to be the one to fight it - not your kids. I think it's our duty to help kids find a place in society that they can feel comfortable and if we start out making them look different to prove a point we are not helping.

    That said one of the reasons I embrace the inner princess of my daughter is that I don't want her growing up thinking girly things are wrong either - girls are different, no better or worse. Equal doesn't have to mean the same

    1. I certainly agree that you can't push an agenda with your children and shouldn't make your kids look different to prove a point - my son has never asked to wear a skirt, for example, so he's never worn one. To me it's about having the option though, should he decide he wants to at a later point if that makes sense