My friend Laura is quite the feminist. She has worked hard in her job and has gone straight to the top. When she was 30, she and her husband decided to have a child. She got pregnant and had a beautiful baby girl, Maddie. Laura always swore that she was going to do whatever it took to make sure that her daughter didn't become a "girly girl" or find herself "pigeon-holed" by being a girl.
To combat this, she decided that she would only buy trucks and cars for Maddie to play with. It seemed to work for a while but then one night Laura came into Maddie's room to check on her girl and found that Maddie had tucked her Tonka truck in beside her, taking care to make sure that the blanket was up nice and high so her dear truck wouldn't get cold. The next day Laura went out and bought Maddie a doll. Maddie kept playing with her trucks and cars but she was opened to a whole new world of being able to care and nurture her baby.
So when I took Ethan to preschool, I was faced with a similar situation. We have never really purchased a lot of toys for him so everything he plays with is a gift from someone else. He loves to play with cars and trucks and blocks. But when we got to his class, Ethan made a beeline directly for the baby dolls. He picked one up so tenderly and gave it a hug. I thought it was the sweetest thing. And excellent preparation for the new baby on the way. Then another little boy ran over and did the same thing. His mother, however, was not as pleased.
"Oh, no, Junior. That's for girls." She looked at the teacher apologetically and said , "and I can't seem to keep him out of his sister's play kitchen set. I try to tell him that the kitchen is for girls." Ethan's preschool teacher made a joke about how she wished the kitchen was for girls because her three grown sons can cook up a storm but her daughter can't even boil water.
I almost hyperventilated at the thought of a kitchen being only for girls. I instantly thought of my friend who told me that her 16 year old son still expects her to make him a snack when he comes home from school every day. When this friend told me that, I asked if he had anything wrong with his hands. I cannot even imagine any child asking me to make a snack at 16. I'm trying to figure out now exactly how much longer until Ethan is self-sufficient. I didn't bring it to this woman's attention that some of the most famous of chefs in the world are men and that if she played her cards right, she could have dinner on her table every night without ever having to lift a finger. I wondered if her daughter was stuck cleaning the bathrooms and the dishes while her son would eventually only have to take out the trash as a chore. I don't have a daughter, but I do know that my husband is messier than me in the bathroom. And my son is learning fast. As far as I am concerned, as soon as his little hand can operate a toilet brush, he has a new job.
So why are we so concerned about our sons wearing our shoes? If wearing women's shoes as a small child causes any sort of issue when a boy gets older, nearly every man in the world would now be a cross-dresser. I don't know of one person whose mom doesn't tell a story about how they used to try to walk in Mom's shoes when they were little. It doesn't seem to be as big a deal if our daughters are walking around in Dad's shoes. And why do our sons try on our shoes, our clothes and carry around our purses when they are little? Maybe because they are more colorful, shiny, fun and different from what they normally wear. Little brothers like to wear what their big sisters are wearing sometimes too. Ethan wears Dad's shoes too, but who wants to clomp around in those 10 pound boots when you can try to balance your foot on a shoe with a tiny little heel? Now that's a challenge. Let's be honest. For all those of us who have been forced to wear high heels for years--once the novelty wears off they are a pain in the calf.
By making a big deal out of what is proper for a boy and what is proper for a girl, we just might be stifling our children's willingness to explore and learn by trying new things. And let's be honest. It's either stilettos now or stilettos later.