My daughter is going through her princess phase. Let’s hope it’s a phase. She’s 5. I remember someone warning me that this would happen. I didn’t think it would because my daughter (photo above, center princess) didn’t talk about princesses and would let us dress her in black and blue. But then she started asking to go to pre-school as a princess. Cleverly, my partner said, “Here are your princess jeans and princess shirt” and she’d happily put on whatever we gave her.
Now, however, it’s all about long hair, big gowns, tiaras, necklaces, bracelets, purses and lip balm. All things my partner and I do not have. So she’s not learning this stuff from us but from friends and movies. (Princess Elsa is her favorite because Elsa has magical powers.)
Our son, a few years older, is naturally gifted at athletics and is interested in cars. He wants to wear sport jerseys and ballcaps. And I remember when we first gave him a doll, he considered it for a moment, then took it and whacked it against the arm of the couch. When we gave our daughter her first doll she cradled it in her arms and talked gently to it in a very nurturing way before tucking it into bed.
He likes to destroy things. She likes to tidy things. His favorite color is blue. Hers is pink.
I grew up as a sissy boy. I wasn’t good at or interested in sports. I played with Lego and Matchbox cars, sure, but I also wanted to play with my sister’s Barbie dolls, have pretend tea parties and liked skipping rope. I’m grateful that my parents let me drop T-ball and hockey when I wasn’t interested, enrolling me in drama camp instead. I was allowed to sit at home and watch mini-series like “Lace" and "North & South" on TV while doing my rug hooking.
I was teased, daily, for not sticking within my gender norm. But I must have had an independent spirit back then, because I didn’t really care. I simply did what I wanted, regardless of what other kids said. All this to say that I don’t subscribe to gender binaries and I wouldn’t raise my children with strict notions of gender.
Our kids, I pledged, could have cars and dolls, wear blue and pink, do hockey and ballet. And yet it’s hard to find fun, colorful clothes for boys – or something blue for girls. We put our son in ballet, which he enjoyed for years, but he repeatedly asked to play hockey. We tried our daughter in soccer but she prefers to push around toy strollers.
Pink or blue – it still seems to be one or the other. Certainly when I walk into major toy store chains, I can immediately see the aisles of pink toys on one side and blue toys on the other. It doesn’t matter if a section is actually labelled for boys and girls or not, it is evident to the intended audience.
Naively I had been assuming that society is now more open, diverse and understanding, and also that we live in an enlightened urban area. But it surprised me when my son was teased about his ballet classes as kids at school snickered, “Do you wear a tutu?” We also hear “That’s a girl color” and “That’s a girl toy.”
Our kids have two dads so not everything will conform to stereotypes. But let our daughter wish for high heels for Christmas. Let our son have his sports. Our princess is also headstrong and holds up her side of belching and farting matches with her brother. Our jock still plays dress up, loves cuddles and attends ballet performances. It doesn’t have to be entirely black and white – or blue and pink.
And me? I’ll drive my son to the hockey arena for 8 am on Saturday mornings, but I’ll sing showtunes on the way.