Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Taking on Gender Roles

We're not big into traditional gender roles in our household. My 4-year-old daughter went to bed tonight in her Buzz Lightyear pajamas, she loves baseball, soccer, the colors blue and orange, the movie Cars, Thomas the Tank Engine and Bob the Builder. Oh, and she calls herself "Ben." Don't get me wrong, though -- she's not all "boy" in a girl's body. She also likes princesses (though isn't obsessed with them), Dora, hearts and a good cuddle.

My 2-year-old daughter likes everything her sister likes. And she goes by "Bill."

I've tried hard to let my daughters explore their interests rather than pushing them to like what I think (or what society thinks) they should. And the result? Two sweet, happy children.

As my girls get older, I'd like to continue to let them pursue their goals and interests without feeling limited in any way. Which is why I feel daunted by any discussions about gender roles.

My older daughter's observations started innocently enough: boys don't wear earrings, girls have long hair. She got really confused last year by Casey on American Idol when he wore his hair down. Then the observations got a little harder for me to address: only boys play baseball. I struggled with that one, because she's a baseball-loving kid and underneath that comment I heard the silent, "But I like playing baseball." I told her she could do whatever she wanted and I vowed to sign her up for T-ball if she wants to do it in a couple of years.

But this week I felt really challenged. We have a couple of baptisms coming up in our family and my daughter asked me, "Why do only boys get to pour water on babies' heads?" (We're Catholic.) I asked her how she knew that and she said, "I just do. I know a lot of stuff."

I tried to explain to her as best I could that in our church only boys are priests while in other churches girls can be too. But I felt disingenuous saying it, because it goes against what I believe: that my girls should be able to pursue whatever dreams they have in life. Having said that, though, I realize that in real life, my girls will face challenges because of their gender.

So what I'm struggling with is: how do I communicate all this to my children? Should I? Do I prepare them optimistically with the "you can do anything" or be a little more realistic with "well, you can play T-ball now, but when you get to high school, people are going to want to move you over to softball."

I don't know the answers to these questions. But I struggle with them. And I'm trying to do my best.

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