As the march of progress continues ever forward, we've begun seeing a shift in many areas of modern life. One notable area that's had a lot of change is parenting. Compare the way kids are raised today with how they were raised even 20 years ago and you'll see many major differences.
A lot of these differences are for the better, with one example being less enforcement of gender roles among children. Though it's improved, there are still areas in which society is lacking, like how we address young boys and their interests. These prying questions do more damage than you might think—and one mother called out one specific question.
Gender-Categorized Interests Are Becoming A Thing Of The Past
Well, that's what we hope, anyway. The reality is much more complex than that, as there are still many systems that continue to subscribe to the idea of gender-based interests and hobbies. Girls only being into cooking or fashion for example, while boys remain interested in cars and comic books.
But with each new generation of parents, we see these beliefs become less and less common. That doesn't mean they've been eradicated entirely. There's still a lot of work to be done to allow children true freedom of expression.
One Mom Noticed Just How Bad It Still Was
Marya Markovich has two young sons whose interests lean feminine when it comes to public perception.
She explained that they both like baking, drawing, reading, writing letters, and cute animals. One does like comic books, a stereotypically male interest, but much prefers female protagonists like Ms. Marvel or The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl.
Neither of them really likes sports, be it participating or watching, and this was a particular point of contention Markovich had regarding how people talk to her boys.
The Question? The First Thing Adults Ask Boys About Is Sports
When meeting a new person for the first time, Markovich noted how a common first question was, "So, do you play sports?"
Her sons would answer no, then the adult would ask what else they like to do. While no one says it's a bad thing they don't play sports, the implication by it being the first thing they ask is that it's expected of boys to play sports, and not doing so isn't 'normal'.
The Subtle Question Has A Huge Impact
None of us are strangers to being harmed by someone's words. People make assumptions about us on first impressions alone, and when we actively challenge those assumptions, it can sometimes leave us feeling a little alienated or insecure.
This effect is even stronger on children, who are still learning about themselves. When others impose preconceived notions upon kids, they'll start taking those notions as guidelines or rules about what they should be into, regardless of if it's what they want.
Markovich Noticed This As Well
As the truth is, one of her sons does play a sport. He figure skates.
However, because of the way people grill him when he says he skates, he's stopped sharing this fact. Markovich's daughter also figure skates, and the difference in reactions when people find out about their shared hobby is shocking.
When they learn the daughter skates, Markovich says, "[...] they beam at her, as if she suddenly has possession of a few rays of Olympic glory."
When it comes to her son, they hesitate, then immediately ask if he plans on playing hockey.
The Conversation Shifts Away From The Boy's Real Interest
Markovich noticed a similar thought pattern happening with her other son. When he was in second grade, he enjoyed the Nancy Drew and the Clue Crew book series. He never checked them out of the school's library though, as he said to his mom, "Girls can read boy books, but boys can't read girl books. Girls can wear boy colors or girl colors, but boys can only wear boy colors."
When he asked her why that was, she didn't have an answer.
Now, She Has Some Ideas
She believes that much of the solution lies in asking kids less about specific, pre-determined interests one thinks they should have based on their gender, and instead talking about current events in their lives and asking what media they do engage in—like asking what they've been reading or playing lately.
She also suggests various social areas that could broaden their horizons to stop boyhood from appearing as a narrow set of ideals, such as Boy Scouts including badges for things like journaling and childcare.
Girl-Dominated Areas Need Work Too
As previously mentioned, one of Markovich's sons figure skates, and she's seen him face some issues that left him feeling ostracized from the sport.
"Girl-dominated activities like art, dance, gymnastics, and figure skating could be made more welcoming to boys, with increased outreach and retention efforts," she said, "My son could write his own essay about trying to fit in to the nearly all-girl world of figure skating, including the times he has had to change clothes in a toilet stall at skating events because there were no locker rooms available for boys."
Be Aware That Even The Most Innocent Questions Can Leave A Mark
This look into young boys' development is truly insightful and provides an eye-opening perspective on how we talk to kids.
If we ever want people to feel truly free, to express themselves without worry, it has to start young. No one should have any interest forced upon them by societal expectations or judgment from their peers. Everyone ought to have the opportunity to discover what it is they truly love, as beauty and progress come from people being able to pursue their passions free of shame.
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