Standing up for Boys
I find that for every inch that my boys grow in height, the clothing sections in major stores shrink by a square foot. A little while ago I came home vexed and frustrated at the absolute lack of choice for my sons. The quality and cost of clothing for boys is sliding downhill. If there is a recession, it has only hit the boy's section, the girl's side of stores, for clothes and accessories, are bursting at the seams. I remind myself that if I can’t find a decent pair of jeans for my 6 year old in this land of excess, I’m not going to find it anywhere. I tell myself to be grateful and move on. Till I realize what really irks me is not the clothing and not just this year, not just in this selection of stores I frequent. I get the feeling that everywhere I look, everything caters to girls.
My then 5 year old had this neighbor-friend, a very sweet girl, only a year older than him, and twice his height. They made excellent pals. They hardly fought, played intelligent pretend games, she inspired him to draw, he inspired her to ask Santa for a telescope. I don’t know what happened when, a little after she turned 6, she found the company of girls more interesting and abruptly everything came to a stop. I suppose she just grew up. But my little boy could not understand it. He asked me - "Why can't she have both girl and boy friends"? It is not just her, I find that girls this age seem to have strong gender preferences and a 'boys-are-ew' attitude. Why so? What feeds it? Would it be justified if 6 year old boys had an anti-girls attitude?
Then there is media and the printed word we are exposed to. On our long summer drives, we listen to audio books and kid friendly music. There was this one series revolving around a 7 year old girl and her best friend, a 6 year old boy. All very good, except, over and over, the 7 year old girl was portrayed as multi-talented, top of her class, great at just about everything you can imagine, and the boy was a goofy sidekick. Except for one episode which highlights his maturity, it was overall an unequal portrayal. Any kid listening to the story, would tend to side with the girl. Could the author have made the main characters both boys or both girls? Or brought them both to a level playing field by being talented at different things? Would the series have the same market appeal if if the girl was the goofy 6 year old and the boy, the mature, skilled, intelligent older kid?
If you are a parent of a boy trying to find a chapter book, you can perhaps relate to this. While the library stocks up several copies of Junie B Jones and Cam Jansen, series like Akimbo and Flat Stanley have to be put on hold or reserved weeks in advance. Why can’t we have plenty of both? Or plenty of books, like the A to Z mysteries, that portray characters of either gender as equals?
Based on my experience raisng two boys, I sympathize with boys who try to fit in a world monopolized by products and services designed for girls. I see us headed toward a time when boys will have to scream to get their requirements fulfilled, to have their voices heard, and it will take an uprising from them to demand respect and equality.
It is true that the girl child deserves the limelight after years of suppression. I cheer them on. Heck, I am a girl :) But does it have to be at the cost of putting down the boy?
We are in the midst of a revolution where the girl is starting to get noticed, encouraged and it is awesome and inspiring. I cheer and celebrate that. There are organizations dedicated to encouraging girls in Technology and Science; it is not everywhere, it is not widespread. Yet. The revolution has started, though, and if you are a parent of a daughter reading this, you know things have changed for the better for the girl since when you were a child.
But how many organizations encourage boys in ballet? Girls are urged to try colors beyond pink and purple, play with trucks, roll around in the mud. How many boys do you know who are not laughed at because their favorite color is pink? How many young boys can you count who have not been shooed away from trying on make-up because it is a girl thing? Heaven forbid, if a little boy were to wear nail polish out of pure fascination. Judgements are passed, labels are stuck and everything is done to chase the pink out of him.
Why? Who encourages this? Who dictated and created a border between girl-centric and boy-centric activities and while girls can migrate, boys can't travel in the girl-centric direction.
I come from a family where men never sat back and let the women do it all. That was unheard of. My grandfather was the more enthusiastic participant in setting up Navarathri kolu, traditionally a woman’s festival. He tended to a thriving flower garden. He was my grandmother’s sous-chef rolling out plate after plate of cheedais (south-Indian snacks). He never shied away from anything because it was a “woman’s job”.
My dad can cook well enough to host a south-Indian feast, he learnt to make complicated sweets like kozhukkattais and vellai cheedais on his own, and is an expert at buying jewelry and fine clothes; no wedding shopping in the family has been done without his presence. My brothers and my husband are excellent cooks and have have taught me a lesson or two in sensitivity.
Inspired by the men in my family, and like many other urban moms in my generation, I am trying to raise sensitive boys in the USA, who will learn to do it all. I want them to be independent individuals who respect and care for human beings, regardless of whether they are male or female. Who can hold equally meaningful conversations about fine jewelry and about sports, who take as much joy and pride in crafts as they would in martial arts, who can single handedly run a household, who wouldn’t have the phrase “too menial for a man” in their personal dictionary of principles.
But I cannot help but wonder – will they be living in a world where external forces favor the girl-child so much that they will have to prove themselves worthy of consideration, over and over, just because they are boys?