Boys who like to wear pink

2008-06-18 00:00

Spare a thought for our friend, called “Chris the Greek III” to differentiate him from Chris the Greek I and II. He’s a big and brawny man, given to pursuits such as powerlifting, rugby and kick-boxing.

Now the father of three sons, he and his middle son are struggling with aspects of an identity crisis brought on by the same issue: John’s favourite colour is pink.

That may not sound like a serious matter, but for Chris and John, it certainly is. Although he wants to do all the right things that modern parenting practice says he should, like affirm John’s individuality and personal choice, Chris’s very traditionally masculine self is warring with the very idea of his son liking pink.

For John, it’s hard to understand why he is getting the message, sometimes subtly, like from his teacher, sometimes very unsubtly, like from some of his peers, that pink is definitely not “okay for boys”. Should he give up something he really likes because of outside opinion and pressure? That’s a tough life issue to wrestle with when you’re only five.

Considering their dilemma, I fell to musing about who exactly sets the rules about what is, and should be, “girl stuff” or “boy stuff”, as my own offspring would call it.

We are blessed to be parents of one of each gender and have always tried to be “equal opportunity” parents. They were both given dolls, they both have skateboards with all the accompanying accoutrements and both were offered the same kind of extra mural lessons, whether ballet or ball skills. They both have chances to bake, bang nails into wood and take the kind of risks on a bike or a swing that make me not want to watch.

Despite our best gender-neutral efforts, or anything any expert may say to the contrary, boys and girls just are different. Like it or not, they have preferences and make choices apparently defined by their gender. Whether those differences are intrinsic or learnt, I certainly cannot say.

For example, it’s easy to tell which is Anna’s skateboard — it’s the one decorated with glitter glue — and Jason’s toy dinosaurs are the ones with bits of their anatomy chopped off “just to see what would happen”. And yet, if there had been boys in the ballet class we went to watch, not just girls in pink tutus, I have a feeling Jason would have joined too. And that brings me back to where I began, with Chris and John.

We had to make a trip to the haberdashery shop recently as a visiting relative had sparked an interest in our household in knitting.

I fixed the shop assistant with my best trying-to-be intimidating stare that said: “You say anything rude about knitting and you’ll regret it.” And it worked. She looked surprised, but said nothing. Which is why, if you see a group of children knitting together, the one with the bright red wool and knitting needles with smiley faces on them, that’s our boy. And just you try to say anything rude about “girl stuff” or “boy stuff” — you’ll regret it too.

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