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Gender roles.

What is it about gender roles? Are they nature or nurture?

Is there something about being a girl that means you like ponies and princesses? Is there something about being a boy that means you like trains and trucks?

How much of this is programmed into them? How much of it is reinforced or suppressed?

I was at a craft store recently and noticed that a young boy was there with his grandmother. She was buying beads for a project. He asked her to buy some beads for him because he wanted a necklace. Rather than being pleased that her grandson was interested in a craft that she enjoyed, she told him “Boys don’t wear beads!”

I, of course, had to disagree. I mentioned that there are cultures all over the world where men wear beads. I mentioned that there is nothing about beads that says a boy can’t wear them. I could tell that grandmother had been programmed too because she immediately changed her tune and started to help him look for beads.

Why are boys taught that anything “girly” is bad? Boys are steered away from pink. They are told that dolls are for girls. Then the worst – boys don’t cry.

I think we do children, but especially boys, a huge disservice when we try to shape them into something they are not. I think we need to let them be who they are, and not try to force them into a pre-made form.

Meanwhile, girls are allowed to play with boy’s toys. Girls can be tomboys. But boys who play with girl’s toys are sissies.

This is terrible. This is dangerous. We are creating boys who are tough and hard and are not in touch with their emotions or feelings, and have no way of getting them out. This is the source of many problems. We have to undo this. We are teaching boys to be boys at the expense of their souls. When we give them “rules” about how things must be, we don’t let them use their own creativity or insight. We stop them from growing.

I remember one time while I was working in Washington DC. I was at a Balinese shadow puppet show. The men were elaborately dressed in long flowing robes. A young boy was sitting near me and he was a little freaked out by the idea of “men in dresses.” Hello, teachable moment. I pointed out that Scottish men wear kilts. I also pointed out that women didn’t wear pants in America as recently as the 50s. Things change. What is now a given will change.

And then there is the idea of Jesus. He never wore pants.

I have a student this year who got very upset when I mentioned that boys can wear pink. This is the same student who says the teacher sings the alphabet song wrong. My husband looks very good in pink. African American men look beautiful in jewel tones. I’m concerned that this student has been given very definite rules that he is constantly going to butt his head up against. He is doing very poorly with his schoolwork, and has no friends. Life is hard when you can’t adjust.

Let boys be themselves. Let girls be themselves. Teach them both how to change a tire. Teach them both how to cook. We need to stop gender stereotyping them. Everybody needs to learn useful skills if we are going to have fully realized people. Perhaps this will mean we will have more discoveries, as people open up their minds to the “what ifs”.

Perhaps it will mean that people will marry out of strength and not weakness. They won’t have to marry someone to complete themselves. They will be two strong people who can both mow the yard, raise the children, pay the bills, and get the chores done.

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