My middle child loves rainbows and unicorns, princesses and fairies, purple and pink. And, no, he is NOT just like your tomboy.
I recently went to a coffee shop and saw a birthday tea party underway. Grade school girls in pastel hued tulle giggled and sipped. Then I spotted her: the tomboy. She sported a button-up dress shirt with a suit vest and matching slacks, her hair pulled back into a ponytail beneath a fedora. She looked fierce! I wanted to find her parents and hug them. Then it happened. I realized my son would never be granted such leniency in social norms. A second grade girl in a suit is far different than her male classmate in a dress. And the jealousy overcame me in a full-on internal tantrum of, “It’s not fair!” “And why can she but not he?”
It wasn’t my prettiest moment. But, at least I kept it all inside.
I love that there’s a surge in pro-woman, strong-is-sexy, intelligence-glam, STEM-focused female empowerment. It’s long overdue! Women deserved flexibility to be, pursue, live, and dress as they are so inclined. But men deserve that as well.
Girls t-shirts with “Smart and Powerful” as opposed to “Pretty Cute” slogans, Ninja Turtle tutu outfits and superhero gear in the girls section, dresses covered in dinosaurs and robots, primary colors instead of pink hues, boxy cut shirts and longer shorts (an aim for mobility over femininity)… fantastic! I love it. Blurring lines between the socially constructed gender lines should have been done decades ago.
However, the boys have not been granted the same flexibility. No Disney princess T’s or pink sparkle tennies. No “mermaids are for everyone” slogans or ballet themed pajamas. Girls are allowed — if not encouraged — to venture into the land of socially deemed “masculine interests” (hello, the entire plot of “Mulan”), but boys are not escorted into “female” territory.
A girl can play sports, refuse skirts, rock a pixie cut and be labeled as a “rebel”, a “badass”, a “tomboy.” A boy does ballet, wears a dress, and grows his hair long and he’s called into the counselor’s office. He’s labeled as “confused”, “wussy”, “different”, and many words I refuse to grant space on my blog. Yes, the girl may suffer bullying and social pressures to conform but, in all likelihood, it won’t touch what a gender-bending boy will experience. Not by a long shot.
The line of acceptability is moved much farther back for girls than it is for boys. The repercussions are swifter, bigger, more socially accepted, and far more dangerous for boys. And it’s not fair.
As a wise friend once said, and I paraphrase (because I cannot remember the names of people I see every day at carpool, no less a paragraph once spoken): It’s rooted in a sexist society, this notion that being female or feminine is lesser. It is through this lens that girls aiming to be more masculine is acceptable, whereas the inverse is unacceptable.
What a thought, right?! Do we devalue women and femininity so much so that we consider the desire to aspire to “femininity” immoral, wrong, treacherous? We consider the souls so inclined to be broken, wrong, or misguided because “Why would you ever want to be remotely feminine?” I hope not.
Women are strong. We have to be! We put up with endless limits, demands, expectations, and dangers that men never even consider. Why would a boy wanting to emulate what society deems feminine be anything but a compliment… a tribute to the ferocity of the feminine?
Often former tomboys or parents of tomboys attempt to parallel their lives with ours in order to empathize with our experience with my gender-bending son. Though I genuinely appreciate the emotional efforts, our experiences are not the same. I truly, genuinely wish they were. I ache for it to be so in my scared, proud, joyful, protective, worried mama heart, I do. But it’s not. Maybe one day it will be the same for all children.
Until then, I will continue loving, supporting, disciplining, preparing, enjoying, and fighting for my child. I will continue to survive and savor parenthood one day at a time.