My little boy has really been into "dress up". Every day he comes downstairs in a new outfit and has a new identity. Some days he is a train engineer, a robot, a spaceman, a pirate, and for awhile a witch... complete with the witch hat and dress.
The first day he wore the witch dress he asked me, "Mom, am I a girl?"
"No, you are a boy."
"Are witches boys?"
"No they are girls, boy witches are called warlocks."
"Oh, well I am going to be a witch."
After that he wore his witch dress around non-stop for a good two or three weeks. To him it was all make-believe and deep inside it made me proud that my little boy valued girls (or witches) enough to put them on par with things like train engineers and pirates... which are pretty important at our house! He hasn't yet been taught that being like a girl is somehow inferior to being like a boy and that that boys shouldn't act like girls. To him boys and girls are equal in value... and there is just as much worth in being a pirate as their is in being a witch. I love that and I hope he doesn't loose it as he gets older.
Yet despite how much I enjoyed watching him play around in his witch dress I found that when it came time to take him to the grocery store I hesitated. I'd had no problem taking a train engineer, a pirate or a robot to the store but something in me balked at the idea of taking him, in his frilly dress, out in public.
My reaction bothered me.
If Rose, my little girl, had been dressed up like a pirate, a basketball player, or something else traditionally "boyish" I wouldn't have hesitated taking her to the store. It would have just been cute. Yet I worried that in taking Asher to the store in a dress might attract criticism or embarrassment and I didn't want to chance it. So I had him take the dress off before we left.
I've been thinking a lot about this and it has made me realize that our gender expectations are much more constrained and defined for boys than they are for girls. It is alright in our society for a little girl who doesn't like "girly" things to choose an alternative identity and be a "Tom Boy". She can dress like a boy, like sports, and do other things that are traditionally " boyish" and not be socially criticized for them or have her femininity called into question. Yet for a boy it is a different story. If he doesn't like things that are traditionally "boyish" , or doesn't excel at them, he doesn't have much of an alternative. He can't become a "Tom Girl" and dress like a girl, play with princesses and dolls and do other traditionally "girly" activities without being socially criticized for them or having his masculinity challenged... often in very harsh ways.
I realize that in a world where homosexuality is rampant and where gender is seen as a personal preference that it is very important to teach children how to honor and love their divine nature as a son or a daughter of God. It is something crucial to their eternal development and they should learn to love and value it at a young age. Yet, I think that we are too harsh on our boys when it comes to gender expectations. We expect them to all fit into a certain, very rigid, mold of masculinity and if they don't fit into it they experience criticism and social pressure... most often from other boys and men. I think that because of this many boys who don't fit into the ordinary mold of masculinity end up assuming that something must be "wrong" with them or feel like they need to seek an "alternative" lifestyle in order to fit in.
Granted, I hope my son isn't still wearing dresses (or witch hats) when he is 25-years-old but I hope that he still remember that it is alright for boys to exhibit "feminine" qualities just as much as it is for girls to exhibit "masculine" qualities. Christ was the ultimate example of this. He embodied traits that are traditionally seen as "feminine"-- compassion, love, tenderness, mercy, long suffering, patience-- and yet He was the greatest of men. He is the ultimate role model of masculinity and the one I'd like my son to pattern His life after.
Yet I think that our world is a hard place for a boy... maybe more so than for a girl. What do you think? Is it harder in today's world to be a boy or to be a girl? Why?