Lately, I find myself feeling more and more pensive about the future. Specifically, the future of my children and the children of the world at large, in regards to gender, identity, and the stereotypical roles that so many people want to assign.
My daughter is four years old, and my son is just over a year and a half. She loves everything from My Little Pony and Frozen to dinosaurs, trucks and astronomy, and my little guy shares all of his big sister’s interests. Her favourite colour is blue, and his seems to be purple, at least at present. During the winter months as I’ve transported them both in the stroller on the bus to various activities, random strangers have taken note of the colours of their blankets, and I am constantly asked if my son is a girl. Granted, at this age, babies are often “pretty” in general, with those pouty lips, chubby cheeks and beautiful eyes and lashes, so if I were to put him in a dress, one might be hard pressed to note the exact difference. The same could be said of my little girl at that age—occasionally when she was dressed in blue or neutral sleepers, she was mistaken for a boy, even though she’s very feminine. However, I am both amused and annoyed at the assumption that my son is a girl; amused because as I said, he’s a gorgeous little thing. Annoyed because when I politely correct the person, I usually receive a blank stare and a protest which often goes something like, “But you’ve given him a purple blanket, and your daughter has a blue blanket.” My response usually is a not-too-brilliant, “So?”
I present this merely as the foundation of a larger problem. For example, my daughter is no longer interested in her teddy bears since her stuffed unicorns and rainbow ponies have taken over. I could not be parted with her “first teddy” however, so I set it aside. And my son found it and now he is inseparable. He sleeps with both his sister’s old first teddy and his own “first teddy.” My husband and I find this absolutely adorable, but it has startled a few people we know. Why? Because while my son’s original “first teddy” is dressed in blue, my daughter’s is a pink bear. My son also loves to play with his sister’s Elsa ragdoll, her old pink toy computer and her rainbow butterfly, and this too shocks people.
I cannot understand this way of thinking. I was brought up in a time when it was believed that allowing boys to play with a doll or to like the colour pink meant that they would not grow up to be “manly” or masculine. Yet, studies have shown that boys who are allowed to indulge these interests at a young age and to play with girls (including their sisters), grow up to be more caring and sensitive. How is this a bad thing?
For my daughter, I often hear comments about how “girly” she is and how she’ll likely grow up to do something artistic. And if she does so, wonderful! BUT people often pointedly dismiss her other interests in science, numbers, and technology. Since age 2, she has been able to name the planets and dwarf planets, count to 40, and when she steals my cell phone, she often makes changes or opens things on it I had no idea even existed. She is always talking about rockets and starships, astronauts and going to Mars. She also enjoys playing doctor. The possibilities that she will grow up one day to be an engineer, scientist or physician are equally strong.
I find myself worrying about both of my children when all these comments are thrown at me, or I read about the state of affairs in modern society. There was a time when women were not allowed to attend classes at Oxford University because it was thought their minds were too “fragile” to handle the same level of education as men. The brilliant feminist author and novelist Virginia Woolf railed against such a system in her book A Room of One’s Own, where she also painted a picture which has stayed with me: the concept of Shakespeare having a sister who was just as much a genius as her brother, but suppressed. What might she have written, had she been permitted to have a voice?
Today, with misogynistic men in offices of great power, women are still being dismissed as less. And men are being goaded to be alpha males.
This leaves me with a conundrum of sorts. My daughter is currently in playschool and will begin kindergarten this autumn, and already her own playschool teacher has made mention of how “different” she is. My son is not yet 2-years-old and he is saying two and three-word sentences. Our pediatrician has said both children may well be gifted. This is both a blessing and a concern. I know from experience what it is to be unusual, to think outside the box, and to have my feelings, hopes, dreams and ideas stifled or brushed off as insignificant. It is disheartening. How am I—how are we, as parents—supposed to combat the standard worldview and ensure we raise well-adjusted, polite children who are also not brainwashed into gender stereotypes and bias? Is it not difficult enough to ensure that they do not fall into the trap of prejudice and bigotry?
I’ve given this a lot more thought than perhaps I should be doing while they are still so very young. Yet, that may not be true either since it is crucial to teach your children values, ethics, and integrity at a very young age. Or at least, to begin to do so. In all of this, I am not certain that I have truly concrete answers as to how we will manage to ride the waves of chaotic society. What I do know is that I am not going to stop my son from playing with a pink teddy and enjoying the colour purple, and I am not going to ignore the wonder of seeing my daughter’s interest in science. I am going to encourage both of them to be who they are meant to become. I am going to teach my children that each of us holds within ourselves two halves: the animus and the anima, (masculine and feminine), and it is vital to our sense of inner peace and balance that we each embrace both. I am never going to admonish my son if he cries, or tell him to “man up;” I am never going to allow my daughter to believe she is less capable of colonizing Mars than a male astronaut, if she chooses to follow that path. I am going to let them play together, whether they’re building a fortress or having a tea party. And I am going to make sure they never forget that they have a true gift: each other. They are brother and sister and have so much to give and to teach, both to themselves and to our entire family. Most of all, I am going to allow them to grow and evolve, not just physically, but mentally and emotionally, and to encourage them to follow their hearts. I only hope it will be enough.
What’s new with R.A? I am currently working as lead editor for 8th Publications in Michigan, and diligently pursuing my own writing career. At present I am writing a science fiction novel which is the beginning of a series, and which I hope to see adapted on television one day.
My family continues to thrive; my son is talking, dancing and growing rapidly, and my daughter will begin kindergarten in September. It’s hard to believe.
As for hobbies, lately I’m delving deeply into my old passion of science fiction, exploring everything from Farscape and Stargate to Babylon 5 and Battlestar Galatica.