Wednesday, August 14th, 2013
Joe DeProspero has two sons, a wife, and is complimentary birth control for anyone who sits near him in a restaurant. His writing has been described as “outrageous,” “painfully real,” and “downright humiliating.” He talks about the highs and unsettling lows of parenthood while always being entertaining and engaging in the process. He has written the fiction book “The Boy in the Wrinkled Shirt” and is working on releasing a parenting humor book. He currently lives in New Jersey with his wife and two sons and can be emailed at email@example.com or followed on Twitter @JoeDeProspero.
From the moment we’re conceived, we’re instantly identified and divided according to our gender. If the sonogram shows a penis, blue blankets are dutifully draped upon rocking chairs, the quickest route to the local Boys & Girls Club researched and mentally stored for later. If the sonogram lacks a penis, baby shower attendees will come equipped with (and ready to unleash at a moment’s notice) any shade of pink that exists as of this typing. These two paths are typically followed like GPS directions when you’re in the bad part of town: You don’t dare try to “do it your own way” for fear of serious repercussions.
And we’re all guilty of “genderizing” someone, as I like to call it. I’ve certainly done it. In fact, my wife and I just picked up a flowery dress and a doll for my soon-to-be 2-year-old niece’s birthday party. I mean, it would be rude if I showed up with a Matchbox car and a whiffle ball bat, right? That’s most definitely how I’d feel walking into the party. And I’m not saying giving a girl a doll or a boy a toy car is a bad thing. But where I do have a problem is when it goes beyond gift-giving and becomes a close-minded, limiting philosophy about what our children should be exposed to and where their interests should or shouldn’t lie.
While I see myself as far from the perfect parent, this is one area where I feel like I’m doing the right thing- giving my kids the freedom to explore their surroundings and establish their “favorite things” independent of my input and potentially misleading influence. After all, who am I to impede their happiness?
Well, regardless of the child’s contentment, I’ve known an embarrassing amount of people who force their preconceived theories on their kids quite liberally.
“Put down that doll. It’s for girls.”
“Isabella, you can’t be Batman for Halloween. Only boys can be Batman.”
It happens everywhere, and you’ve seen it happen, too. I think we’re far too quick to label a toy as “for girls” or “for boys” when, in reality, there is very little actual difference between the two. And really, when I think of the toys I “borrowed” from my sister growing up, many of them would raise an eyebrow with the traditionalists out there (not to mention my undying affinity for The Golden Girls). Let’s go through them, one by one, so maybe we can determine what’s so “girly” about them.
Barbies: Growing up with one sibling, a sister, getting intimately acquainted with Barbie was inevitable. And like any kid (girl or not), I thoroughly enjoyed playing make believe. And in fact, Barbie was where I first realized my fascination with taking women’s clothes off! Not much “girly” about that.
Kitchen: Some of the most famous chefs in the world are men! And I’m sure they started by making their moms fake blueberry pies in their fake oven.
Baby Stroller: For whatever reason, pushing a stroller is always seen as a feminine act. But any father will tell you that we spend just as much time behind a stroller than behind a grill.
Dolls: Perhaps the most traditionally girly toy of all. And you’ll almost never see a boy given this as a gift. But I’ve got news for all you traditionalists out there. Boys play with dolls all the time. We might call them “action figures,” but they’re dolls. They are toys designed to appear like a living thing, allowing children to create fictional scenarios and fantasize about them being real. They’re dolls. Even if they’re wearing a helmet and carrying a gun.
The color pink or purple: I’m not necessarily suggesting that you adorn your sons in hot pink Juicy sweatpants, but my 4-year-old came home from camp the other day and grumbled that another kid told him “purple is for girls.” It should be noted that purple is Antonio’s favorite color and has been at least since he’s been able to speak. I was infinitely proud when he followed that up with, “But it doesn’t matter.” He’d heard that phrase from my wife. And that’s exactly the kind of thinking I want to instill in my sons. I firmly believe that allowing children to be themselves instead of forcing them to be like everyone else yields a happy kid who won’t resent his/her parents for stifling their creativity.
This leads me to a post I recently came across on the NFL Facebook page. It was a photo of a woman, donned in standard referee stripes, with two simple words: Coming Soon? It was about Sarah Thomas, who is in line to become the NFL’s first ever full-time female referee this season. I’m a massive NFL fan, but I knew immediately that the comment thread would include a significant dose of close-mindedness (read: barely literate ignoramuses). However, even I was surprised by what I saw.
Since I was seeing exponentially more of the top two comments than of the bottom two, I decided to chime in and have my voice be heard.
Turns out I wasn’t alone. As of this screen-grab, 465 other NFL fans agreed. But some…did not.
What I’ve highlighted above is exactly the type of ignorance I never want my sons to exhibit. And yes, my “brilliant observation” comment was strictly sarcastic. Not that its recipient was aware of that.
Clearly, not every football fan is prepared for female involvement in their male-dominated game of choice. But maybe, just maybe, they’d be a little bit more prepared if they were raised to retain the open-mindedness they were born with, encouraged and not discouraged to try new things, and instilled within them respect for the opposite sex.
If you disagree, I’m sorry to hear that. But as a parent, I feel that it’s my responsibility to enable my kids’ happiness, not restrict it.
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