Posts Tagged ‘stereotypes’

I’m in an ongoing conversation with a teacher/friend about gender and identity. She shared how her 5 year old son is very into the notion that “colors are for everyone” lately. No “boy colors” or “girl colors.” Any color for any person.

In talking about Q and how confining sex and assumptions around gender can be, she suggested the notion (which was really suggested by this wise 5 year old, but not in so many words) that gender is for everyone. As in, any gender for any person. Or every gender for every person. Or whatever gender anyone wants. No restrictions based on stereotypes. It came from the suggestion, by said wise 5 year old, that on a particular day when he was hanging out with Q and folks kept thinking Q was a girl, that maybe, in fact, he WAS a girl that day. None of us really know, he suggested. So wise. And so doable inside of the notion that gender is for everyone. So, I’m going with this conceptualization. I like it and am using it.

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I’ve been away from this space for too long and very much am looking forward to a return. Things have “heated up” in the domain of identity, at least in my mind, and so I’m definitely looking “out there” for support.

More on that in my next post.

I came here right now to reflect on the dynamics of summer. This is the second, if not third, year in a row when Q, in the summer, moves much further towards the feminine. Last summer was the beginning of the pony tail. This summer has been all about barrettes, nail polish, other hair accessories, tight shirts, etc. I definitely think that he feels a freedom during the summer without the subtle gaze of peers that occurs each day in school. He did some camp, and a swim team, but the day in day out experience of school was just not there.

And I think this has him let down his guard a bit. I find it intriguing to see what emerges during these times. And, looking ahead to the start of school in 10 days or so, I do think about the effect of being back in that peer group, now with even older kiddos……

For now, though, a snapshot from tonight. My hair was unruly due to pre-hurricane humidity, so I requested a barrette loan. Q donned one too and requested a photo.

Hence, barrette twins:

barrette twins

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Thanks for all the congratulatory wishes on W’s arrival. More on that in days and weeks to come, I’m sure.

A few of you asked if Q is excited for the start of school, and the answer is a resounding YES! He is a school lover. In spite of the extra social pressures he feels there and the insipid need to monitor himself, he loves his school, his teachers, his friends, and, most importantly, the routine of it (he is a seven-year old, after all!). So, luckily, he’s excited.

We’ve been talking a lot about back-to-school. For us, we talk about non-traditional things, though. It’s not the type of pencils to buy, who he hopes to sit next to, or what he’ll learn in science but rather how he might respond to a kid who teases him about his newly-achieved ponytail. Or how he might respond to other children who, we learned over the summer, persisted in making him feel unsafe and uncomfortable (not just for what he chose to wear, mind you).

This year, though, I’m trying to push him a bit in these conversations. We’re talking a lot about power. To this point, Q has talked about ignoring kids who tease him, and I think this is his general M.O. But, the teasing has, in the past year, gotten the upper hand. An example or two: He was teased about wearing clips in his hair, ignored the teasing in the moment, but stopped wearing the clips. He was teased about wearing a bandana, again ignored it in the moment, but then ceased wearing said bandana and anything else pink, for that matter.

So this year, I added the layer of power to our conversation. That the teasing and teaser end up with the power if Q stops doing/wearing the thing he’s teased about. And I think he got it. At least got it on a new level. He declared that if he gets teased for his ponytail, he’ll “wear it every day for at least a week!” In my mind, that’s progress. Standing up for himself in a new way.

So, as we inch towards school, it’s with excitement, some new tools of communication and self-expression, and always with a bit of trepidation about what lies ahead. Thanks to those of you looking out for Q on this part of his journey. As always, I’ll keep you updated!

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nail polish is on. Ponytail is in.

Intriguing, eh? Thoughts, anyone?

he's so proud to have reached pony tail length!

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Following the advice many of you gave, I checked back in with Q about the stereotype conversation. ‘Twas interesting and enlightening for sure.

Among other things, I asked him what boy stereotypes he knew of. Mainly, he talked about “boy colors.” And he explained that the reason he doesn’t break stereotypes is that he likes the “boy colors.” He was quick to say he also likes the “girl colors,” namely pink and purple. But I understood, finally, that since he doesn’t only like the “girl colors,” he doesn’t see it as breaking stereotypes in that area. Wise, this boy is. Really wise. Clearly more so than me — he’s transcending these binaries left and right.

I then asked about his hair. Again, I was enlightened. His hair, according to him, doesn’t break stereotypes, because it’s not yet as long as he wants it to be. When it is (which is down to the middle of his back), he’ll be breaking stereotypes. Right now though, he’s just in process really, in that domain. Logical? Certainly to him. But he did explain that most boys have hair about “an inch or a centimeter long,” and that his was definitely much longer since, after all, “it’s the longest hair in the family!”

I mentioned to Q that last year he talked a lot about being a stereotype breaker and asked if he still felt like one. “Well, maybe,” was his answer. But then he explained, emphatically, that he could do or like whatever he likes, no matter what other people say. There’s my boy!

I was heartened not because I want him to cut a path outside the norm all the time, but because I was able to see that he’s still got a great sense of gusto for being who he is. And that’s really what’s most important to me — him knowing who he is, even when it’s changing, but mostly him feeling good about who he is. Good and strong.

So thanks for your responses. I’d always love more. And know, next time you’re wondering if you’re a stereotype breaker, that the answer isn’t always as easy to come by as it seems. No matter the clothes you’re wearing at that very moment! (a reminder to those who forgot: Q was clad fully in “girls’ clothes” yesterday when he initially proclaimed he doesn’t break any boy-girl stereotypes).

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At Q’s school, there’s a question on the white board each morning, and kids read it and write a response below. Everyone can then see their response and they usually discuss the variety of experiences, opinions, etc. in those responses.

Today’s question: Do you break boy-girl stereotypes? (spurred on by kids from an older class coming in later today to talk about stereotypes and, I believe, do a survey about them — did I mention I love our school?)

Q’s response on the board? “No.”

My internal response: “What?!?!?!?”

There stood my kid, clad wholly in clothes from the “girl” side of the store. Growing out his hair. Purple shoes. And he said he doesn’t break those stereotypes.

Part of me was shocked, part intrigued, part worried. I’ll admit to worried, because last year he talked about how he was a stereotype breaker all the time. This year, not so much. And this seemed to be the clearest message possible.

Now of course I’m fine with however he wants to be and identify and dress and all that jazz. I just still worry that there’s something he now feels like he has to hide (see my last post). I could be wrong. But what if I’m right?

I think I need some advice and opinions here (even if just to tell me to chill the heck out!).

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Today Obama signed into law the Hate Crimes Bill. Inclusive of gender identity. Groundbreaking stuff, I tell you. And not an easy path. I have yet to hit the airwaves, so to speak, to here from those who decry this action. And yet I can’t help but honor those who have given their blood (literally), sweat, and tears in the fight to bring this bill to fruition. For that deep courage, thank you.


My own little guy’s fight against stereotypes, while certainly not as monumental, has definitely hit some bumps of late. Hence the many questions I’ve posed here. It’s been wonderful hearing from you. Those of you just stopping by for the first time (thanks NY Times parenting blog commenter for the mention!), welcome, and please do join in the conversation!

Q is in first grade, and the gendered pressures are definitely hitting him in a new way. While in kindergarten he wrote for his first writing assignment that something he likes about himself is that he breaks stereotypes, he’s now hitting some bumps in that road. Recently, his pink and purple bandanas have garnered him some teasing. And as he grows his hair out, he’s VERY choosy about what he’ll use to hold it back out of his eyes. Whereas headbands used to be de rigour last year, they are off the table as an option for school. He’s also making certain choices, explaining that they work “only on the weekends.” Partly, this breaks my heart, as he encounters the reality of society (albeit in his generally lovely and accepting, sheltered school environment). Yet he’s also been able to take this opportunity to grow his strength. To tell other kids that he can wear pink “because I like it!”

He has a new conviction behind his choices, and I so love that about this boy. He’s learning a bit more about what it means to stay true to his own likes and beliefs, and that will surely serve him well in life, whether it’s about what he wears, who he hangs out with, what he does for fun, or what he does for work.

And, this journey does take courage on his part. And brings some sadness and frustration on his part (and mine/ours). But I’m thinking that today’s signing of the Hate Crime Bill is a fine example of where these little acts of courage can get us. And I know that my boy’s courage will get us far, too.


All it takes is love as the lens!

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Q has been in an interesting phase of playing with his identity lately. I love watching this develop, as I think it’s all about the development of 5 and 6 year olds, the ego, considering oneself in relation to others, etc.

Here’s how it’s played out: Q is now very conscious, when he’s choosing his clothing, about whether he’d like to be perceived as a boy or a girl that day. If he wants to dress as a girl, he will often choose a skirt, but most definitely a sparkly headband and other acoutrements. While much  of his other clothing still has others perceive him as a girl (think string tank tops), he feels that he’s seen as a boy in the rest of his things. Most importantly, though, to him, he won’t mix and match. This is mainly in the area of accessories. Lately Q has wanted to grow his hair longer. We’ve been letting it grow a bit, but it’s quite shaggy right now. In our family, we wear thick, stretchy “yoga headbands” to keep unruly hair out of our faces. But Q will only wear those (and other headbands), if he’s dressing like a girl and wanting to be perceived as a girl.

I’m intrigued by this move to dressing in order to be perceived in a certain way. It’s moving a bit away/beyond/to a different space than just dressing because certain clothes strike Q’s fancy. I like hearing Q talk about these kinds of choices because in doing so, he really shows how much he has his finger on the pulse of gendered stereotypes and how he’ll be perceived in certain clothing. An astute boy, he is.

The yoga headband

The yoga headband

The hat

The hat

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We’ve been in the midst of moving, hence the absence of posts in the last few days.

But, I wanted to come on to address an issue that came up in a comment, and that I’m sure might swirl around out there, if not now, at some point.

A reader wrote, “Have you ever thought that you might be pushing your own beliefs onto your son…. It seems to me that you WANT your son to be a homosexual or transgendered, and would feel dissappointed if he wasn’t.”

That, my friends, is a powerful accusation. And I believe that it’s actually at the root of why I started this blog in the first place. Let me try to explain. And please know, also, that I approved the comment in the interest of open dialogue and also in the interest of trying to further clarify my purposes and goals here, as it can be tricky for me to muddle through them.

So, as a lesbian, I fear OFTEN that folks will think that I/my wife and I are trying to turn our son gay/queer/transgendered/etc.. That somehow we will understand him better if he chooses a life similar to ours in the domain of sexuality. Or that my desire to promote understanding and acceptance of queer folks is somehow foisting my son into the spotlight as a mascot for “my cause,” so to speak.

Well, it couldn’t be further from the truth. What I’m really trying to do with Q, and what I’m trying to write about here in the hopes that others will do and think the same, is to open minds and broaden social boundaries. Implying that letting Q wear dresses is an effort on my part to put my agenda on him and turn him gay is completely the opposite of the truth. In truth, “letting” him wear dresses, headbands, read fairy books, etc is about me allowing him to set the agenda when it comes to expressing who he is. He is expressing his identity and passions inside a much larger arena than is normally seen for boys. And that is his agenda. Not that it’s a political agenda. Not that it’s an overt agenda. It’s just his agenda for being who he is and doing what he likes. And my job, and really my struggle here, is to support him in that so that he feels comfortable and confident being both a boy and someone who loves dresses; or both someone who loves purple and sparkles and magic wands and someone who loves running around like crazy. So, I believe that he’s leading this journey. And I am following, supporting, and grappling, as I’ve written, with my own internal issues around being a mother who has a son who wears dresses on occasions. And you should know that I also grapple with the fact that he plays soccer even though he told us he didn’t want to. And that sometimes I ask him to practice cello when he doesn’t want to. There is much to grapple with in motherhood, and this happens to be one of the most challenging things. And one of the areas that I believe has the biggest potential to reshape some folks’ perceptions about how the world is “supposed” to be, and how the world might be when Q is older.

Also, regarding the idea that I am attempting to mold Q into something that he may not be, I believe it is vitally important to recognize here that we’re talking about a 5 year old. A 5 year old who likes to wear dresses, read certain books, has a girl as a best friend right now — different things that push against the mold of what many folks expect from boys. But we are most certainly NOT talking about his sexuality, who he will be attracted to in the future, etc. The conflation of liking fairies or wearing a dress with one’s future sexuality is a prime example of the labels that society is all-to-fast to slap onto kids and adults. One’s play and dress preferences as a child do not correlate or cause one’s sexual preferences in the future. And I’m talking about Q, a 5 year old boy here. His preferences come and go in terms of what he wears, what he likes to play with, etc. Some of them usually sit beyond the normal social boundaries of what boys are expected to like. But these are not romantic or sexual preferences. At all.

And to the commenter’s final point about disappointment if Q is not gay or transgendered or queer or not heterosexual in some way. I really don’t care. I will support and love him no matter who he chooses to love. I will, however, be disappointed if he feels that he has to suppress his interests or his self-expression because of external pressures. That will be a true source of disappointment for me. All I want for my little boy is for him to value himself as an individual and to be able to express all of his passions and interests. Not much. Just that. Like any parent, I believe.

A passionate boy

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Last night, as I was watching random television, I invented a term for this phenomenon that bugs the heck out of me: gender funneling.

Gender funneling — verb. Actions that serve to constrict the choices available to children because of their sex. Actions ascribe certain identities, proclivities, and interests to children because of their sex. (I know I’m not Webster material here).

Here’s what I saw: A family with a boy and a girl created a new bedroom for the boy, who was three months old. It was full, top to bottom, with sports images and paraphernalia. And then the parents commented, “Well, we hope he likes sports when he gets bigger.” To me, that is a prime example of gender funneling. You take all of the possibilities that life presents to this little boy. And then the parents, because of their notions of what boys like/will like, narrow down those possibilities, funneling them down to only those they deem acceptable (i.e. sports for boys). I see this kind of pattern happen, unwittingly, all over the place. It happens on television, in books, in personal communications, in the toys offered for boys and for girls, in the clothes available.

The bottom line is that gender funneling simply promotes gendered stereotypes and sends messages to kids who don’t fit into those stereotyped roles that somehow they and their interests are somehow outside the norm.

Which brings me to the beautiful assembly at Q’s school this morning. It was a school-wide celebration of GLBT Pride. In and of itself, the fact that his school has such an event warms my heart and makes me teary. It’s hard to find such an open and embracing community. I was particularly touched, though, by a presentation by 1st and 2nd graders on gender stereotypes. They spoke about what these stereotypes are and how they are promoted in the media. More powerful, however, was how each of them shared how they, as individuals, break stereotypes. They then offered ideas for how the other children in the school could break stereotypes or push back on stereotypical statements such as “That’s only for girls.” Hearing these young people feel empowered as individuals making a difference in the world was powerful and affirmed for me that this is the right place for Q and our family for now.

More powerful, though, was this evening. We were out for a family walk, and I was asking Q about the end of the Pride assembly since I had to leave. He told me a few things. Then he paused for a moment. “I was smiling during the part on stereotypes,” he said (he remembered the word stereotypes?!?!?) I innocently asked him why. “Because of what they said about boys and girls being able to wear whatever they want. You know, they were right. That made me smile.” My boy saw himself in that presentation. On some level, he knew they were talking about him and to him. And the message made it in.

That experience will remain with him and empower him for a long time to come, I am sure. So in the face of a society that over-engages in gender funneling, the seemingly small acts of resistance like today’s presentation make a huge difference. Especially to one small boy.

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