I was the type of child who didn’t fit into any gender stereotype. I played with toys, I wore clothes, and whether those things were ‘girly’ or not didn’t matter to me or my family. I’d walk out of the door with a curly, high ponytail, a fluffy bow in my hair, a star wars t-shirt, and a frilly, pink skirt. Because I liked those things. I played with action figures more than barbies, but loved the tranquility of drawing more than fighting. It didn’t matter. I liked those things.
Now I’m all grown up. As an adult, I tend to be more of a feminine dresser, but I still carry around my ‘tomboy’ sensibilities. And it doesn’t matter. It still doesn’t matter. Gender stereotypes are gross stereotypes, like most stereotypes.
I’m an assistant manager of a fast food restaurant, and I’m training to be the future general manager of the store. It’s a hard job, but rewarding in ways I can’t explain. I like challenges, I like keeping busy, and I enjoy working with a variety of people. But it also has it’s downfalls.
I’ve noticed, recently, a steady increase in fathers irrationally upset over their sons getting ‘girl’ toys. One of the problematic things I see in my line of work is that the toys we feature for children are often gender separated. Doll troy, truck toy. Girl toy, boy toy. And heaven forbid a child want one that doesn’t fit their gender stereotype.
The other day, I was relieving one of my employees so they could take a break. I don’t find myself in a position to take orders often anymore, because of my rank, but I enjoy it when it happens.
As I took an order, I accidentally entered in a ‘girl’ toy instead of the requested ‘boy’ toy, and when the driver pulled up to my window, he revealed himself to be a very angry, very, very manly father who was, at all costs, going to display his very, very big manliness to me by cursing and being all… manly. While his children watched from the back seat.
He was disgusted we had given his little BOY a GIRL toy. “Do you want my son to be a sissy?” he asked me. As a professional, I am not allowed to answer in any righteous way. I simply apologized and exchanged the toys. I couldn’t help but notice the boy in the back seat looked disappointed that he couldn’t keep his fairy light up toy. But it was the look on his sister’s (presumably) face that struck me the most.
She looked downright sullen for a five or six year old.
Could it be that even at that age, she was seeing what most adults can’t?
When you designate negative connotations to descriptive words like ‘girly’, what are you doing exactly? You’re doing something very dangerous. You’re disrespecting your mother/wife/sister/daughter for their femininity. By being feminine, in other words, they’re automatically not as powerful as you, as valid as you, as important as you. If girliness is something you don’t want your son to be, the women in your life are then placed below you on a societal pedestal.
That’s dangerous. That’s problematic.
In a world of rape culture, full of misogyny and bigotry, when we instill in our young boys that if they make a girly choice, it’s a wrong choice, how on earth are we to teach our boys to respect women as equals? If femininity is wrong in comparison to masculinity, what’s to stop our boys from growing up into sexist individuals?
There’s nothing wrong with boys wanting masculine things. There’s nothing wrong with girls wanting feminine things. There’s nothing wrong with any gender desiring any gender-specific thing. It’s when we instill in them that they have to desire what’s specific to their gender that we don’t only limit and confine them, we raise them to automatically disrespect that which is ‘wrong’.
That little girl in the car, she understood it. She hung her head. She watched her dad curse and carry on about how his SON would be a SISSY if he was allowed the doll. She felt disrespected, in her own way. I could see it on her face. She may have been too young to understand WHY, but if a child of five or six can feel the power of gender stereotypes, why can’t all of us adults?