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Gender Stereotypes: What Does it Mean to Be ‘All Boy’?

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My Facebook feed is filled with stories of girl power. I’m given tips on how to empower my daughter to embrace her differences. I’m told she can be a strong athlete and a bejeweled princess. She can be Amelia Earhart and Elsa. And she’ll always be “all girl”.

With my son, the message is a little more skewed. While pictures are posted of little boys with their fingernails painted or dressing in a tutu, there’s still an unspoken discrepancy with what it means to be “all boy”.

While I don’t want to under appreciate the challenges of raising a daughter to be a strong, independent, equal person, there is also a challenge in raising a boy who may not fit neatly into gender stereotypes.

If my son painted his nails and went to school flashing the color proudly, he’d be praised for bending gender stereotypes. But, if he’d rather hold a conversation with his friends than wrestle, people say he needs toughening up. When he expresses caution in the face of a new rollercoaster, eyebrows raise. He’s 8 and seems to have passed the age at which it is acceptable for him to cry when he’s upset or hurt. “Shake it off,” his dad tells him, while I get frustrated at myself for even having the thought that I’m turning him into a “mama’s boy” by hugging and kissing him and telling him it’ll be okay.

Being “all boy” seems to mean playing in the dirt, getting scratches, and broken bones at regular intervals. It seems to mean being loud and rowdy, jumping off shed roofs, and getting into trouble. It means pulling pigtails and capturing spiders and lizards.

But my son is “all boy” too, even if he doesn’t like when the car gets too messy and gets an upset stomach at the sight of blood. He’s “all boy,” even when he’s quietly reading a book perched in our apple tree. He’s “all boy” when he tells his friends it’s not safe to jump off that roof and it’s against the rules to leave the area. He’s “all boy” when he protects his sister and patiently helps his toddler cousin climb to the slide. He’s “all boy” when he holds his sister’s hand and listens to her cry over her mean mother. He’s “all boy” when he stops me from killing spiders and defends sharks because they don’t know they were hurting people.

While we discuss the various ways a girl can be a girl, let’s keep in mind there are just as many ways for a boy to be “all boy”.

Photo: Getty