By: Selina Boquet
Remember that really horrible present you got for your birthday as a kid? The one that told you what you should like because of your age, or your sex, when your personal taste was far from the stereotypical norm? Perhaps you were a little pigtailed rough ‘n tough girl who received a frilly dress from Aunt Carol, or a sashaying delicate boy who was graciously given a football helmet and cleats by Uncle Pete. Presents from well-meaning friends and relatives can easily pressure gender roles upon unsuspecting little people who do not fit into neat little gender boxes.
One the most offensive presents I ever received was a New Kids on the Block Sweater from JC Penny from Grandma. I remember I was seven years old and greatly disturbed that Grandma thought I listened to such music. All of my friends were obsessed over the ‘cute boy band’, yet that was not me. No way was I going to drool over some silly boys. Yes, I was a lesbian even at age seven.
I do sympathize with my grandma a bit more now that I have my own children and I’m actively trying to raise them without gender role stereotypes. It’s not as easy as I thought it would be. I’m trying to listen to my children carefully. I’m trying to buy them things not just because I want them to have it or because society or my family thinks that they should have it. I find this simple task to be surprisingly difficult. In my fight for raising children who truly live authentic lives there are many obstacles to tackle. The first obstacle is myself.
When I began planning for my twins’ seventh birthday I had no idea what wonderful adventures were in store for me. I would be forever changed as a mother. I would feel a little older and a little wiser for having survived such a plight. I wanted this party to truly be of their own unique design and creation.
Keeping up with my perception of these ever-changing children of mine can be confusing. When did they grow up so fast? Yesterday they were little twin babies suckling and cooing and today they’re listening to Justin Beiber on their headphones. No more princesses, no more Caillou; my kids are growing up. I wanted them to have another sweet little baby party. You know, with pastel colors and the comforting characters from my own childhood like Care Bears and Strawberry Shortcake.
In Party City, picking out their birthday décor, I had to stop myself from interfering with Savana’s eclectic style. She chose Monster High, which makes me feel extremely old because I had no idea what that is. They look like Brats dolls dressed as monsters. This frightened me at first because I realized that she was changing. Change is scary. Despite my passion for instilling autonomy in my children, at this moment I felt some primal motherly instinct scream deep inside of me,
“No! You’re getting Disney Princesses and that’s final!”
Instead of blurting this out, I bit my tongue and let her choose exactly what she wanted. Upon taking a closer look, I realized that the dolls had some very androgynous characteristics. The gift bag sets came with mini skateboards and black and white marbled ‘decomposition books’. What’s more the feet on these dolls are enormous just like mine! They wear great big, stylish drag queen heels. (I wear size 11 and I love drag queens because they can find the cutest heels in our size! I need a drag queen bff so I can double my shoe closet.) Maybe these dolls were not so bad after all. I mean even the dolls themselves are monsters. That’s a stereotype-bending paradox right there. Aren’t all monsters boys?
Ezekiel, my sweet little monster boy, stuck with the good old fashioned Hot Wheels Cars as his theme. Safe and non-threatening. It was the selection of his birthday gift that threw me for a bit of a loop. He wanted drawing pencils. Drawing pencils?! For a seven year old? I know he loves to draw and he has a special talent, but I had my doubts that a set of charcoal drawing pencils from the art store would be more exciting to him than the latest greatest new toy. Yet after the party, when all was quiet and the last guest had gone home, I peeked into his room. He was there, happily drawing with his new pencils and his new easel, listening to Adele. He looked so mature, so unique, and so authentic. My heart filled with joy. I had given him tools to nurture his soul. Maybe this growing up thing isn’t so scary after all.
When I asked my soon-to-be seven-year-old daughter Savana what she wanted for her birthday, she said she wanted a skateboard. When we searched on the Internet, she pointed at each feminine looking skateboard, exclaiming that it was the perfect one. Great! What an easy present to buy right? Wrong. I thought I’d just drop into Target, Toys R Us, or Big 5 to pick one up. However, in each store that I went to, I only found boyish looking skateboards with flames and dragons. I should have ordered online, but it was too late. With each failed attempt, my persistence grew.
Grandma and Grandpa (on their dad’s side) added fuel to the fire. They gave Ezekiel a skateboard and Savana received clothes. Girls can ride skateboards too! The gender stereotypes were coming at us from all different angles. Finally, a friend helped me find a discounted purple skateboard at the Enjoi Warehouse where she used to work. We found Savana a professional skateboard complete with a panda and rainbows painted on the deck! Gotta have the rainbows. Savana was elated when she opened her present! Just what she wanted. Now let’s hope she doesn’t break any bones.
The day of their birthday party is somewhat of a blur of screaming kids and the scorching summer sun. The kids all jumped, danced, and played their hearts out. My favorite part was seeing that my kids felt free to reveal their own personal style. I could feel the joy in both of them as their individuality was celebrated that special day.
Creating cookie cutter Dick and Janes is the greatest form of discrimination. When I was in church, the homophobic environment created dark, bold lines between gender roles. We were definintely taught that women were inferior to men. I suppose this might be part of the reason why gender neutrality is so important to me.
Right now I’m currently working on un-brainwashing my kids and trying to shake them free of their gender molds that the church and society has pressured them into. We all know that we teach our children more with actions than we do with our words. I can tell my kids a million times that they can be whoever they want to be but if I don’t take the time to listen to their heart and cheer on their passions, then my words fall meaningless.