Girls run a constant risk of being taught to associating [sic] femininity with frivolousness, and we might be teaching boys a form of subtle misogyny as well. As Sociological Images notes, “unlike men, who are supposed to reject all things feminine, women are encouraged to balance masculine and feminine characteristics.” NPR’s article “Two Families Grapple with Sons’ Gender Preferences” seems to give credibility to this assertion. While the boys who name their animals girl’s names, identify with female characters in movies, and want to wear skirts might get taken to a psychiatrist; girls are expected to identify with male characters in movies (there might not be any female ones), can wear only slacks (I refused skirts and dresses for years), and are free to name their stuffed bears whatever they’d like (mine was Tom). The implication that girls can aspire to be male, but that boys shouldn’t condescend to act like girls is disturbing.There's really no "might" about it: we're teaching misogyny to boys AND girls, in myriad ways, practically as soon as they are born.
I've mulled over this stuff in the past with regard to shopping for kids' clothes and how horrifyingly gendered the clothes are *even for tiny brand new babies* (see, for example, the vomitrocious Heelarious high-heeled crib slippers for newborn girls), and I've been wanting to post about it again because of a recent conversation about the things my nephew Henry is interested in. Practically before he was verbal he became interested in music, and his parents have always encouraged all of his interests, basically following him wherever his intellect ranges, from Mary Poppins to Houdini to Jerry Lee Lewis to dance class to swimming lessons. He spent most of a year wearing a tuxedo as much as possible. And already I hear people saying things like "well, when I was a kid the only boys I knew who liked musicals turned out to be gay."
First of all, who cares? But second of all and much more importantly, it is so damaging to kids of both (all) genders to be shown a reductive vision of what's okay for them to be interested in. When we dismiss certain interests as girly or gay, we reinforce the idea that a narrow version of masculinity is the only thing that boys can aspire to--and maybe worse, that "girly" or "gay" interests (whatever those are) are not important or worth nurturing. Not only that, but we project our own crap onto a kid who simply likes what he or she likes. A kid is a human being first. If he or she wants to draw pictures or shoot baskets all day long, for corn's sake get that kid some crayons and a b-ball and let him or her explore.
Look, I'm not saying that boys and girls are exactly the same--hormones are the real deal, and they have as-yet-unplumbed impacts upon thought processes and behaviors. But I watch myself carefully with all kids to make sure that I'm interacting with them as individuals, as people with distinct personalities rather than as "boys" or "girls." This means that in a few years, if Willa turns out to want to wear a princess outfit every day, I will get over myself and help a sister out with a sweet getup, and make sure she and her brothers are reading The Paper Bag Princess.
And if someday I have a son who wants to do the same thing, I hope I can likewise get over myself and buy him the princess outfit his heart desires. I will never, ever, ever say "boys don't do that" or "girls can't do that," and I will do my damnedest to deflect the influence of (even well-meaning) haters who say that kind of stuff. Believe that.