my boy wore nail polish: questions about gender roles and boxes

On gender roles and boxes

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I only own two colours of nail polish: dark purple and silvery blue. About twice a year I paint my toenails because, well, FLIP-FLOPS! So one day when I was doing my toes, I offered to jazz up some little boy nails as well. They were quite thrilled about their spiffy new fingertips, and Cubbie was all over it as well when he got home from school. He was pleased as punch about his pattern: his right hand and left foot were blue, and the left hand/right foot were purple.

fancy nails, gender boxes

He was pleased as punch until the next day when he got on the bus and two of his friends (one boy, one girl) emphatically told him

“that’s a GIRL thing!”

He was embarrassed and upset when he got home, but it sparked some interesting conversations.

My husband, great dad that he is, reminded Cubbie that the most important thing about any hairstyle, clothing, or nail polish is NOT what other people think; the important thing is whether or not he likes it.

Case in point: there is a young man at my church that was teased for years by his peers because he chose to wear his hair long. But he liked it, so he kept it. Did it make him feminine? Nope. Many moons ago when I was in University, I had a male acquaintance that always wore dark nail polish. I’m sure people looked at him sideways sometimes, but he liked it, so he kept it. Now he’s a husband and father and still jazzes up his nails.

I struggle with the idea that in 2016 we STILL feel like we have to pigeon-hole children into gender stereotypes and roles…and if they don’t conform, they must necessarily be gender-confused or transgender. We’re still using gender-stereotyped boxes to define our children, whichever way we look at it. Either they conform to the traditional boxes, or they don’t, in which case we put them in the opposite box.

I believe there’s a third option.

In the past, there’s been Boxes A and B (male and female), with children conforming to gender stereotypes.

In today’s culture we have the freedom to put our children (or ourselves) in the opposite box if they don’t fit the one they were born into.*

Rather than packaging our children into Box A or B, can we just eliminate the boxes?

I’m not suggesting an asexual, genderless society. (although did you know that God has a special place in his kingdom for eunuchs? I think that says something about his vast love.) What I am suggesting is that we allow each child to be unique, fully the way God made them. God himself is so diverse and multi-faceted that every human on earth reflects him in a unique way. We can’t put him in a box; we shouldn’t put his most precious creation in one either.

For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.

(Psalm 139:13-14)

Let’s let a boy wear nail polish and love My Little Pony and even wear princess dresses without thinking he must actually be a girl.
Let’s also let him love car transmissions, hunting, wrestling and hockey.
Let’s let him be the unique combination of skills and interests that God placed inside him, rather than worrying when he doesn’t fit into society’s neat little “boy” box.

Let’s let a girl hunt and play with cars and blue Lego and swear off dresses forever without thinking she must actually be a boy.
Let’s also let her love pink Lego and frilly dresses and beauty.
Let’s let her be the unique combination of skills and interests that God placed inside her, rather than worrying when she doesn’t fit into society’s neat little “girl” box.

I believe my son can wear nail polish and still be a son. Why? Because what’s on the outside – whether it be clothing or hairstyle or his favourite color or the media he likes or a dislike of sports – doesn’t change the fact that my little boy was created a male.

Because what is a male?

My husband does not like talking about cars or sports, so he often feels like he doesn’t identify with the “manly men” who burp and drink and stand around the open hood of a car discussing the finer points of its transmission. Does that make him less male somehow? Or is being a “male” more to do with how he was created by God, and less to do with his feelings or interests or skills with a wrench?

And what is a female?

I have more than one female friend who is the breadwinner in her family while her husband stays at home and raises children. Does that make her less of a female? Or is being a “female” more to do with how she was created by God, and less to do with her feelings or interests or skills as a homemaker?

(On a somewhat related note, I was part of a panel recently on “Biblical Womanhood” and honestly, we never came to a definition of what “Biblical Womanhood” looks like. Although if we had, I would have been concerned because BOXES again! If you’re looking for an interesting book on the topic, here’s the one I just finished…A Year of Biblical Womanhood.)

My boys are unique and have unique interests, which may or may not include wearing nail polish, having long hair, or reading a lot of Thea Stilton books. My guess is that you will have at least one child that doesn’t conform either – maybe temporarily or just in small ways, or maybe permanently and in more noticeable ways.

My job as his mother is to love my son the way he is rather than putting him in a box of stereotypes, or freaking out when he doesn’t fit in the box.

Or maybe I’ll just make a big sign that says “DOWN WITH BOXES”!

*I don’t mean by this post to say that being transgender is not a real thing for some people, simply that I think there would be a lot less gender confused children and adults if we allowed ourselves to step out of the box of stereotypes and live freely in who they were created to be. Down with boxes!*

 I love this post from a woman who desperately wanted to be a boy when she was a child. Please read it, because I think it does a brilliant job of illustrating exactly what I’m attempting to say.

So I feel like I totally went out on a limb here and you probably either don’t agree with me or don’t understand what I was trying very awkwardly to say. But after all it is my blog and you didn’t have to read it, hahahaha. Anyway, it’s still an important conversation to have with your kids. Please share how you approach this issue with your children! And if you found this thought-provoking, would you share with a friend? Thanks!