Wednesday, February 16, 2011

angel boy

the little snow angel
Something I was thinking about the other day is how new babies, to a certain extent, are genderless.  Besides the way we dress new babies (and why must every girl's outfit be pink and every boy's outfit be blue? a range of colors is good, shops!), most of our interactions with them are the same whether the baby is a boy or a girl. We play the same games, give them the same toys, love them the same way (hopefully that last one, at least, never changes!).  What brought this to mind is that Jon often calls Gus a little angel. Although technically angels are sexless, and the three angels in the Bible actually have male names and characteristics, in our society, we generally seem to think of angels as female and something associated with girls and women.  Yet it seems a perfectly natural thing to call a baby boy, maybe because he is a baby first and the boy part doesn't really matter at this stage?  At what stage, though, will it start to "matter"?  Is there a time in a child's life, tacitly agreed upon by society, at which point we no longer call our boys angels (and is it the same point that they start earning the rather disturbing moniker little devils with their behaviour!)?  Will we wake up one day and realise that we no longer refer to Gus as beautiful or gorgeous, but handsome? What do we as a society, and our boys as individuals, lose when all the best words are too "girly" to be used to describe growing boys and men?

There are societal pressures on both sexes to fit into certain roles in life.  We often encourage girls to challenge these boundaries.  Part of parenting a girl is to ensure that she knows that she can choose any toy, clothing, or even profession that she likes and that being a girl shouldn't keep her from doing what she wants to do.  I don't know, though, if we make this effort for boys.  This isn't meant to be an "OH NOES, WHAT ABOUT THE BOYZ?!" sort of idea (i.e. pretending that boys and men don't have all kinds of privilege in our society in relation to women and girls).  It is about giving all our children the same opportunities and a full range of experiences and options. For example, if my son grows up and has children, I obviously want him to be a caring and empathetic father. To help with that, I want him to have the opportunity to play with dolls and develop that empathy as a child (doing this by making sure there are suitable toys for this in the house, even if we have only boys, but obviously not forcing him to play with them). On the flip side, I would want to gently discourage him from the overly aggressive ways of playing that are often described as "boys being boys".

So how do you go about raising a well-rounded individual, boy or girl?  Who knows. I think it is really easy to buy into some of the stereotypes on a day-to-day basis.  Even now, I find myself attributing some of Gus's characteristics, like his wanting to stand up all the time, to him being a boy.  But they are really just part of who he is, as a person, no need for limiting adjectives. When we go for walks and I point out the trucks in the construction site to him, I always think, "would I do that if he were a girl?"  And I guess that's the point: do it. If you talk about trucks on the way to the store, try and talk about something more "girly" on the way home. Take an occasional inventory of clothes or wardrobe and see what is missing. And actively try to notice the characteristics in children that don't adhere to society's preconceived notions of what a boy or a girl is meant to be; it is so easy to see only what we expect to see. It's not that I think there are no innate differences between males and females--there probably are. But not nearly as much difference as is normally assumed. And regardless of whether there are innate differences or not, each child should be treated as an individual and not expected to fit some mold of who they should be.  That is the real trick to parenting (although probably not the easiest one to master!).

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