The other day, I needed to buy some new pillows so I went to the supermarket and was wandering around the clothing and home wares department having a browse. It was pretty quiet in there as it was only about 9.15am and there were only one or two other shoppers in the whole place. One other customer was a woman, probably in her mid-to-late twenties and her son, who obviously wasn’t quite school age yet, but still looked roughly 4-ish.
The kid was wandering around fairly unchecked and at one point started to try things on from one of those free-standing jewellery and accessory displays that turns – you know the ones, right? Anyway, he became particularly enamoured with a pair of novelty sunglasses which had red, heart-shaped frames. He put them on and after admiring himself in the tiny mirror for a few seconds, turned to his Mum and, with huge amounts of pride and happiness said “Mum! Look at me! I love these glasses!”.
The mother turned to him, narrowed her eyes and with pure vitriol in her voice said “Oh my god, take those off, you look like a girl”.
My initial reaction was one of sadness as I watched the boy, clearly deflated after being rebuffed by the mother from whom he’d so wanted a little bit of praise and affirmation, take off the glasses and put them gently back on the shelf. He looked really sad, and not in that “I wanted something and Mum wouldn’t buy it for me” way that kids do, but in a genuinely confused and upset way. But the more I’ve thought about it, the madder I’ve felt.
Firstly, what is it about red, heart shaped glasses which is designated as a GIRLS ONLY thing? Even if you do subscribe to the (bloody annoying) notion that colours are somehow gendered, surely red is a pretty neutral colour? And hearts…I mean, do only girls have hearts?! Err, no.
Secondly, even if you do think that red, heart shaped glasses are ‘girly’, SO WHAT if he does look like a girl? How is that somehow a negative thing? Is it really so bad to let a child experiment with what they feel comfortable in and form their own notions of femininity and masculinity? I know loads of guys (Husband included on one or two occasions) who’ve worn pink and absolutely rocked it. They didn’t look like girls, they looked like MEN IN PINK, just like this little boy simply looked like a boy in heart-shaped glasses. There’s a big difference.
Also, I genuinely thought we were getting past the days of negative gender stereotypes? I see little boys on my friends’ Facebook timelines playing with dollies, pushchairs, vaccums, ironing boards; all toys which, even in my lifetime, would have firmly been in the girls toys aisle and equally, I see MANY girls playing with Thomas the Tank Engine – Burrito Baby got her own tool kit and farm vehicles for her 2nd birthday whilst Sausage’s favourite things are Pokemon, Match Attax and her NERF guns. But these are “boys toys”, no? Or, is it possible, that we can just have fun with things we like, regardless. Well, yes, obviously it is.
It makes me so sad to think that little boys are having their joy, their individuality and their creativity squashed by parents with an archaic notion of what it is to be a boy and I really dread to think about the issues that this could cause them as they grow up. As a parent, I strongly believe that, although it’s our job to guide our children in terms of morality, safety and care, it’s also really important to allow them to develop their sense of self.
What do you think? Would you allow your sons to wear red, heart-shaped sunglasses? Or do you think that boys should be boys and girls should be girls and that the old-fashioned line in the sand between the two genders should remain? I’d love to hear your thoughts.