Because Boys Can Be Ballerinas Too: Expectations of Gender Roles in Small Children

I really didn’t think expectations of gender roles in small children was a big issue but after posting a picture of my kids on a twins forum where both my 4 year old girl AND boy happened to have a barrette in their hair, I was asked this question recently regarding my kids and how they sometimes wear things that are typically for boys or girls…..”Do you pay attention to gender with your twins or do you let them wear whatever they want? I’m nervous about letting my boy wear girl things even though he really wants to because I don’t want him to be made fun of.”

There was even a mom on the thread that expressed great remorse over NOT letting her boy wear a bow when he wanted to and she felt enormous guilt over that.  I tried my best to calm her and let her know she has plenty more chances to let that boy wear a bow if he wants to and that one thing is not going to damage her boy for life and that she is indeed a good mom to even be questioning this stuff.

Nobody wants their kid to be made fun of.  But this is tricky business because our actions are putting our own reaction on these kids.  That’s putting our fear on these kids.  That’s putting our own expectation on the people who surround our kids each day and projecting that they won’t be cool enough to handle our awesome kids – SPOILER ALERT – most of them will absolutely be able to handle it and handle it well.  And also, our kids have an enormous capacity to work this stuff out on their own with other kids which causes me to cheer and cry all at once.

So, my short answer to that moms question up there was, “both”.  I mean, they are four years old, so I let them wear what they want, within reason.  But they are four, so they would wear swimsuits and dressy shoes every day if I let them and we live in Chicago, so that doesn’t really work.  But beyond dressing for weather, and the occasional “fancy clothes day”, they are pretty free to pick and choose their clothes and accessories.

One of the greatest things about having boy/girl twins is that they are blank slates as far as knowing what’s for boys and what’s for girls – in the stereotypical ways at least.

Every time I look for something that my boy wants – currently it’s Trolls pajamas with Branch on them because we are OBSESSED with Trolls (and I mean WE) – I cannot find them.  Because they are only in pink and then I wind up throwing things and swearing at my phone.  Oh and then there is the sizing discrepancy in clothing for boys and girls that starts at birth.  I’ve had two same sized kids for four years now and had to buy them completely different size clothing.  Guess which kids clothes are sized smaller. Go ahead, I’ll wait, while you immediately guess that girls are made to feel as though they need to wear a bigger size than necessary FROM BIRTH.  It makes me rage.

But I digress.  Back to it.

My girl got a ballerina puzzle for Christmas.  And well, as I should’ve predicted, my boy wanted one too.

Only guess what?  YUP.  Not many boy ballerina puzzles out there.  When I posted this on my Facebook, my kind, creative friend Samirah jumped in with, “I WILL MAKE HIM ONE”.  And so it was done.

“Hey! He looks just like me!”
My boy likes wearing a tutu sometimes when they dance or put on a show.  Because boys can be ballerinas too (or as my friend found out – sometimes they’re called ballerinos or male dancers). Some of the strongest, most graceful men alive are dancers – I mean have you looked at their muscles and bodies?  You see how physically demanding what they do is?  And yet, they are still often thought not very manly.  Well, my boy really likes the boy dancers.  He likes the Nutcracker and the Rat King.  He is a fan of Donald O’Connor and Gene Kelly in Singin’ in the Rain.  He is fond of West Side Story and that snapping.  It’s in your head now too, isn’t it?  You’re welcome.

My boy likes to have his fingernails and toenails painted and for our next mama/bubby outing, we are going to mani/pedis because that’s what his sister and I did the last time and he wants to do it as well.

My boy also happens to enjoy wearing barrettes in his hair sometimes.  Whenever I buy barrettes (they call them bows), I have to make sure they have blue and green ones in there because those are his favorite colors.  You don’t want to see the commotion if there are no bows for him to wear.

My boy loves jelly shoes – we just got new pairs for this summer after they enjoyed wearing them so much last summer (THEY SMELL LIKE STRAWBERRIES).  There was a neighbor kid last year that said, “THOSE ARE GIRLS SHOES” and my boy said, “No, they’re just shoes” and the neighbor kid just said, “OK”, and we kept playing as my pride beamed over the entire city.  He likes wearing my high heels sometimes as does my girl.

My boy is also a big fan of Star Wars and superheroes and pirates and princes and the Beast.  ALL THE THINGS.

Our boy and girl BOTH love to garden and get messy and dirty and run super fast and put on musical shows and play with dolls and play on the ipads and read books and tell outrageous stories.  They are LITTLE KIDS. 

I wrote about when my girl asked to cut her hair short (and all the feelings that brought up) like her brothers (she still loves it by the way – no regrets!), because they like to do/experience what the other is.  

Boys are as sensitive (if not far more so) as girls, but society tends to squash them down and when we squash who they are they become something else. Something possibly dangerous or withdrawn. If we let them feel all their feelings, could that help us with our toxic masculinity problem? I don’t know but I do know we need to be careful how we raise up these future men. Kinder, gentler, full of respect for women. How do they learn that? From us. 

I digress yet again. 

This letting my kids find themselves has little to do with gender roles and more to do with just experiencing everything a kid should be able to experience.  To find their way.  To figure out who they are without our imposed societal notions of who they should be or what they should like to wear.

Our boy and girl are Best Friends Forever and they like a lot of the same things. One day they might not, but who are we to tell them what they can like?
I don’t give a rip what they want to wear – including costumes.  You know who else doesn’t give a rip?  Almost everybody.  What makes me give a rip is if anybody ever makes a comment to him or about him in front of him.  THAT makes me want to give lots of rips – to your hair.  If anybody wants to put any of their hangups on my boy or girl about what they believe to be proper for a boy or a girl to exhibit?  Well, that’s about that person saying it, not about my kids.  Mama Bear is ready.  I’m only responsible for my side of things and I try to keep my side of the street clean.  But for the most part, let’s give each other more credit.  People are supportive.  People are kind and enthusiastic and sharing their ME TOOs about their kids interests when they see my kids with their barrettes and short hair and switched shoes.

These kids are incredibly themselves and who am I to stand in the way of that?  They’re the coolest.

They have a dad (who wears pastels a lot btw) who does all the things –  cleans, cooks, grocery shops, mows the lawn, works full time and is a great dad.  They’ve got a mom who works full time, writes her heart out, tries to help others, and does her best at being a mom in all ways and they’ve got a nanny who loves them like crazy and instills a love of art, music, gardening, and kindness that will be part of them forever.  They don’t see that one of us is strapped to any one thing based on gender.  We are all the things!

This is where small kids are in their development, so why in the world would I want to crush that or gear it toward anything other than what they are drawn to?  They will go through many many interests and looks and desires in figuring out who they are – unfortunately as they get older they will be victim to societal/gender norms as we all are, but I want them to have the confidence and courage to say EFF THAT when they want to as far as how they feel expressing themselves and defending that.

What would it be like to have no “shoulds” imposed on us about what we wear and what we are interested in? Who would we be if we hadn’t felt the need to conform to any standards of beauty or masculinity?  I’m not saying that’s even possible to avoid, but we are doing our best to just encourage these kids to be whoever they feel like being.  And whatever form that looks like is OK with us.

I often can be heard saying, “there is no just for boys or just for girls” because there really isn’t.  They will figure it all out, and in the meantime, it’s fascinating and encouraging to watch it all unfold.  These kids we are raising up are going to be the change and the hope.  They are going to throw us old folks and our pre-conceived notions to the wind and spread their love wings and fly all over the damn place free and uninhibited.  I believe.  I want to be more like them.  A friend recently said, “Believe you’re doing something wrong, then you are. If you don’t, you’re not”.  I like that a lot.  


You are funny smart clever kind brave and cute – the words we use matter

Snapping bras on the school bus – it is more than boys will be boys

I say yes to purple glitter nail polish for all my kids

Nature vs Nurture in Boy Girl Twins

Damn I look good in this swimsuit

This cake tastes like sexism

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