When I was at Target with my 2-year-old (he'll be 3 in June) the other day, I heard a mom say, "Dora is for girls" when her little boy showed interest in a pair of Dora The Explorer socks. Many thoughts rushed through my mind immediately... Are you serious? Why is Dora for girls? Why wouldn't boys like Dora? Is Dora for girls because she is a girl? Who cares if he likes Dora socks? He's just a kid. Of course, I said nothing out loud because the child was not in any immediate physical danger. In fact, his mom is probably a really sweet lady for the most part (or maybe not - just giving her the benefit of the doubt). But I personally wouldn't choose to say that to my child, and here's why.
As you can see, I included a picture of my son playing with a doll at my grandparents' house. Here are my exact thoughts on him playing with this doll. He played with lots of toys that day - the doll, trucks, horses, a teddy bear and old-fashioned lunch boxes. He's learning some about babies right now from us because I'm pregnant with my second child (a girl), therefore he seems to be drawn to baby-ish things. Kids like baby dolls. The baby had a hat that matched her dress and my child likes anything with a hat...no exaggeration. As long as I don't believe an item to be truly harmful to my son, I'm not going to read too much into what types of things he plays with. Do I have plans to go out and buy him a Barbie doll? No. But do I believe it would be wrong to do so? No. When it comes to these gender-related topics with my kiddo, I'm pretty darn neutral. While I don't believe there is anything wrong with buying "boy toys" for boys, I also don't believe there is anything wrong with mixing it up. I'm prepared to help my son have fun with toys and other random fun items, no matter if they're pink or blue. It just doesn't matter. And, yes, sometimes a child shows genuine interest in things more related to the opposite sex for a long period of time. And, yes, sometimes that can be a sign of a gender non-conforming child (learned lots about that on www.RaisingMyRainbow.com). But, you know what? It doesn't always mean anything at all. And even if it does, that's okay too. These fresh, innocent minds learn from what we say and do, and that includes telling them that it's wrong to play with a toy because it may have been intended for the opposite sex. Can you imagine if we lived in a world where a child never heard something like that? My child still lives in a world like that, but I know that one day when he's old enough to comprehend it, someone is going to tell him, "those are for girls". Super looking forward to that. Ugh.
And to add a little extra annoyance to this whole deal, there's quite obviously a double standard. Typically, when a girl likes or does something "boy-ish", it's all good. In fact, she's probably considered to be tough, capable, just as strong as the boys and totally adorable. It's like it's some sort of special talent when a girl likes something typically intended for boys. But when a boy likes something considered to be "girl-ish" it's not okay and makes him a wimp? Or even more extreme, gay? Look, I enjoy being the nurturer in my family, keeping my house clean and even preparing food for my loved ones, but the feminist in me comes out roaring when someone insinuates that a girl thing or skill or tendency is any less than that of a boy. Not only is that insulting, but it's illogical.
Quite frankly, if my son follows in my husband's footsteps, he'll grow up to be a big, strong, masculine young man that loves the outdoors and has a good heart. He laughs at burps, plays with tractors and loves to go outside and get dirty. There are plenty of male stereotypes that he already fulfills, and the odds are against him being particularly feminine, no matter how many dolls he plays with while he's little. But my point is that it's not for me to decide or force. It's also not worth stressing over. Little kids are learning and exploring constantly. If he ends up genuinely disliking baby dolls, I want it to be because that's his preference, not because he was scared into thinking that way. I want him to fill his life with things he truly loves, instead of things society told him to love. I know I can't shield him from everything out there that I don't like, but I can continue to work very hard to create a home that's safe and open and optimistic and non-judgmental. I dream of a world where all parents create a kind and peaceful household in which children are taught to be open-minded.
P.S. Dora's shirt is practically a crop-top. Maybe that little boy just thinks she's hot.
Written by: Britney Crosson
Updated 4/24/18. This blog post was originally published on 3/6/14.