"Do I look beautiful mommy?" asked my five year old son in the middle of an aisle at Target. He held up a shirt against him and wanted to know if he looked good.
"You look so beautiful," I responded, bending down and planting a kiss on the top of his soft head. He smiled back and put the shirt in our cart (I don't really remember telling him he could get it but whatever). I heard people snicker around us as I told him he was beautiful. Only one other mother in the boys clothing section smiled sweetly at us. I paid no attention to the snickers and kept on shopping. My kids followed suit and the snickers and one rude comment (regarding my response) made no impact on our day.
At five years old, my middle son has the brightest, bluest eyes, a sweet little face (it fools the best of em'), and a cute little body (totally not weird when a mother says this). He really is a beautiful boy, as is my seven year old son who has dark grey eyes and a long, lean body. I didn't always tell they them were beautiful. I would tell them they were funny, sweet, smart, strong, quick. I didn't begin telling them they were beautiful until I had my daughter.
She was a petite baby, with the same bright eyes as my middle son. She really was a gorgeous baby girl. I didn't think twice saying this to her, whispering it in her ear as I rocked her to sleep as an infant. When she began playing dress up with her little friends at one year old, I had no qualms telling her she was beautiful then too. It was during one of those dress up sessions that my middle son put something on and after hearing me tell his sister she was beautiful, innocently asked "am I beautiful too mommy?"
I didn't hesitate one second as I responded, "of course you are my little love." You see, in our house we don't have gender roles. Nor do I really teach my kids about them. I'm (hopefully) teaching all of my kids to speak for themselves, speak up when something is wrong, not to let anyone take advantage of them, never judge any person or situation, that they are strong, smart, and quick. All three of my kids, even though two are boys and one is a girl, are all being taught this.
Several friends of mine shared a post on Facebook with the line "I'm going to teach my daughter to be strong and not let any man tell her what to do. I'm going to teach her to be courageous and be leader." I was instantly irritated. Teach your daughter(s) that, great, but what about teaching your son(s) the same thing? At three years old, my daughter is more out spoken and more courageous than either of her brothers. Yes, these are qualities that I will help nurture, but also I will instill them in my boys as well.
Teach boys how to be gentleman? Great, then teach girls to be ladylike. Teach boys how to "treat a girl right" (as many of my friends have claimed)? Then teach girls how to treat a boy. The street goes both ways in gender equality.
When I first met my husband we were 15 years old and working our first jobs together. From the beginning, our relationship was built on equality. We had a friendship and a partnership. We did the same job, learned the same things, and supported each other from the start. This partnership has carried into our marriage and how we parent our children. We both pay the bills, we both take care of the household chores, we both make important decisions together. It's not one of us wears the pants and the other takes orders. I mow the lawn and my husband cleans the kitchen every night (he also scrubs the toilet better and has more patience painting our daughter's nails than I do).
People want gender roles to disappear, for gender equality to take hold in all areas of life: jobs, pay, leadership, etc. What about never teaching our children gender roles in the first place? What about teaching our sons that they can play dress up, be beautiful, play football, and are the smartest? What about teaching our daughters that they can do the same things?
The next time you claim to want to teach your daughter something, be sure you teach your sons as well. Imagine a life without gender roles, with gender equality, with no "who's better than who" mentality. Food for thought.