A boy who is denied these opportunities to prove himself is at risk of becoming a man who struggles with his identity and with his understanding of self worth.
For some boys this might look like hunting and fishing trips. Camping and using pocket knives and jumping off of boulders and killing it on the soccer field and generally having the experience of doing the hard thing and coming through the other side with the knowledge that he has what it takes, that he is enough, that he is capable of leading, of providing, of greatness.
This has less to do with being out in the great outdoors, being naturally athletic, or being any particular good shot with a bow and arrow, but it has everything to do with testing himself against some opponent, whether it be the elements, an animal, or even his peers, and discovering for himself that yes, he measures up. He does not fall short.
This does not mean that girls aren’t outdoorsy! I can’t emphasize enough, the stupid stuff we fret over with “gender norming” our kids is so much less about colors and kinds of toys and neutral language and so much more about what is intrinsic to the nature of men and women.
Girls aren’t going to pick up dolls just because they’re silly and pink and soft and isn’t that just adorable how she’s trying to breastfeed her teddy bear? No. I have watched my 3 year old decapitate her brother’s snowman with a lightsaber and then pretend to nurse her stuffed kitty cat, within the span of fifteen minutes. She weeps and rocks her stuffed animals to sleep at night if they’ve had a bad dream. And then she stands on the edge of her bed literally roaring in defiance if anyone should dare trespass and remove one of her beloved “babies” from their positions.
She is not weak because she is drawn to mothering behaviors with her toys, for if she is called to motherhood, it will be the source of her greatest strength and ability. (It’s not for nothing we use the expression of “mama bear” to communicate deep, protective and don’t-you-dare-mess-with-it anger.)
This hysteria over neutral-colored Legos and removing all swords and tutus from toy boxes is missing the forest for the trees. A little boy is standing 12 inches from my elbow right now playing in a pink toy kitchen, stirring soup and preparing steaks to feed the cat. This doesn’t mean his gender is “confused.” It does mean he likes being involved in food prep and his chief enjoyment in the 4’oclock hour is chopping vegetables.
We are foolish when we typecast certain “behaviors” into rigid gender norms and then insist that our children refrain at all cost from manifesting them, should they match up in a way we are currently collectively frowning upon.
What good is there to be gained by discouraging a boy from expressing strength and courage on the playground, whether he is shouting down a bully or rallying his friends to the winning kickball run? And what good is served in correcting a girl who longs to be told that she is beautiful – who in fact has a profound and fundamentally good desire to be affirmed in her beauty on a soul-deep level – that she ought not be concerned with something so trivial or vain?
Conversely, if a boy enjoys cooking and art and a girl is an absolute terror on the lacrosse field, these, too, are good and beautiful manifestations of their particular individual giftedness. This does not indicate a confused or wrongly-assigned gender, but normal and healthy diversity in this thing that we call being human.
Being a mother is intractably a female role; being a hairdresser is not.
While the world frets on about the sexism of fairy tales, about girls dreaming of true love and affirmed beauty, and boys about vanquishing dragons and journeying into uncharted territories, I’ll be sitting here reading Cinderella and the Chronicles of Narnia to all of them, male and female alike. And they will perhaps get different things from the same story. They will perhaps encounter it with their male or female minds and focus on particular aspects which attract or repel them, and that will be fine. That will be good.
Our differences are our strengths, and denying the intricate design of the complementarity between the sexes is to deface the image of the Creator Himself.
This article originally appeared at Mama Needs Coffee.