To All The Outcasts: A Cry Against Gender Inequality.

Have you ever felt like an outcast?

I think we all have, at one point or another, which is why we can relate to the idea.

Some people feel more out than in, forever.

My kids might be some of those people, too. Outsiders, so to speak. Which is why, as we watched World of Dance together one day, we all became very absorbed in some of the personal stories. We watched a young boy cry while telling his story of reaching for acceptance from his father, who saw dancing as “sissy stuff”. His classmates saw him as different: weak and soft were adjectives he often had hurled at him. The bullying took its toll but he never quit dancing. By the end of his story, I felt like crying with him. The kids seemed to understand him on a deep level, too.

We often focus on how girls are affected by gender stereotypes but I’ve seen how it can affect both sexes. I have a son and a daughter who have both been labeled “unconventional” in their own ways. In some households, I imagine their interests would be suppressed. With close-minded parenting, I can only believe that my daughter would become a doormat and my son would become a bully. A bullying man who sees women as doormats to be used is how we get to inequality being reinforced and cycled over and over through generations. I know that sounds over-dramatic but I firmly think this is the truth and that we can break the vicious cycle- and NOT by putting men down…either sex down, really, but by supporting both and working together. The next generation is our chance, so I guess I’m speaking to the parents out there.

Both of my kids have dealt with prejudice so I feel extra-emotional about this topic.

My ten-year-old daughter, Isabella, has been told over and over that she isn’t “typical” of girls her age. (This is the kind of comparing I hope will stop in the future). She’s in love with videogames and playing ice hockey. Her love of toys is usually related to learning practical skills, biology or veterinary skills- which is why her room doesn’t have a lot of dolls, but Schleich animals, a microscope and drawing materials. When her friends talk about doll clothes, Shopkins or Barbies, she never chimes in.

Shopping angers her because we are always going to the “boy’s” section to find the styles and colours that she likes. Isabella always has a speech ready to vent her ire at the company’s assumption that all girls like glitter, rainbows and pink. The blue “for girls” is always a baby or turquoise blue when she is looking for navy. Boy’s clothing has the colours she likes, so, when she wears them, she’s labeled a “tomboy”. Being labeled a tomboy seems to be a source of pride for some, but I get offended. Why should she define herself as a “boy” to feel respected and less of an outcast?

I’m equally outraged by the defensive strategy Hunter has to take for his passions. Thankfully, he has a wonderful “if you don’t like it, don’t look” response to every hater. Hunter has a wonderful sense of self that seems to knock down naysayers and bullies but I wish he didn’t have to be so strong. When he wore a pink shirt to school he was told by several classmates that boys don’t wear pink. To which he, wittily, replied, ‘Yes they do because I’m a boy and I’m obviously wearing it.” Proud!

Hunter is sweet, sensitive, and kind. He loves pink and purple. He is constantly told, in subtle ways a lot of the time, to be more outspoken and cry less when overwhelmed. Hunter wants to be in ballet and part of a big show someday. He is told to be strong, a leader, and that ballet isn’t sport. On the playground, he is constantly leaving games when they become too rough or loud. Having quiet chats about possible games or nature with the girls is more his style. I think he is gently teased about this at school. Often, Isabella reports that Hunter was spending recess on his own, enjoying quiet time. He insists he never feels lonely. Hunter defends his choices to choose ballet, wear pink or play quietly daily but I wish he didn’t have to.

Sometimes, I catch myself telling Hunter to stop crying and be strong. I catch myself telling Isabella to “just be kind” and let someone have her full understanding when they don’t deserve it. I rationalize that it’s because Isabella is ALREADY strong and Hunter is ALREADY understanding. But why am I fighting their nature? I should be nurturing who they are- see where it takes them. So many are already going to try and make Isabella more of a doormat and Hunter more of a “man” (whatever that means). It’s up to me to nurture them in to being who they are, at their core: Make their choices normal and okay. Make home a place where they can shine.

It angers me that my kids are both bullied for their choices and forced to be defensive about them. It’s constantly pointed out to them that their choices are unconventional or “odd”.

I dream…..

  • …of a day when it’s taken in stride a child’s choices are just for that individual and not indicative of an entire gender
  • …of a world where, when a black hole is photographed by scientists cooperating worldwide, we celebrate that the world came together and it is just expected that both genders had an equal part in it
  • …of a world where boys aren’t called weak for being in touch with their emotions and girls don’t have to call themselves “boyish” or “tomboys” when they’re strong
  • …of a world without sides or gender designations: toys are just toys for everyone, colours are just colours
  • …of a world where there is one clothing section for kid’s sizes and one for adult sizes, with a myriad of styles and colours for everyone’s tastes. A world where a little boy could wear pink (and a skirt if he wanted that isn’t a kilt cuz, why not?) and a girl could wear a navy Ironman shirt (for example), cut for her body shape and size.
  • …of a world where we speak of the person doing the thing and not what gender they were because we no longer have to
  • …of places with communal bathrooms that anyone can use! This would give families an easier time: placing less importance on gender identity. Also makes it easier for dads to have a place to change diapers, making them more empowered to share baby duty.

Things are shifting. Slowly, I see change. Then I watch a documentary and realize people have been trying to shift things since the ’50’s. But I feel hope. Someday, each gender won’t be identified by certain traits, limited to a group of jobs, or expected to act a certain way. Instead, everyone will be treated as an individual trying their best. My version of future utopia.

The way my kids speak up about their passions and needs gives me hope for future generations. It makes me dare to believe that gender boundaries will someday be a thing of the past. In the near future, I have hope that Isabella won’t have to call herself a tomboy for not liking pink and Hunter won’t have to defend his choice to wear it.

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