As I put Widget1 to bed last night, I handed him a shirt with a motorcycle design. I expected him to protest that he preferred to wear his Mario pajamas — which would have been a problem, because his Mario pajamas were dirty. Instead, he exceeded my expectations and opened up a whole new Pandora’s box of problems. Yes, the motorcycle shirt was rejected, but not for want of a mustachioed Italian plumber. No, my son protested the choice of bedtime attire because, and I quote, “I want something pretty.”
The request took me off guard. My son might have a sensitive side, but never before in his life had he asked for “something pretty.” Surely a Harley Davidson was a million times better than pretty. Right?
“Why do you want something pretty?” I asked.
“Because I’m kind of a girl,” he said.
My blood ran cold. Did I hear what I thought I heard? Was gender confusion already beginning at the tender age of 6? How does a boy who loves Ninja Turtles, obsesses over video games, struggles with aggression problems and has already chosen the girl he is going to marry get the idea that he is “kind of a girl”?
His answer: “Because my favorite color is purple.”
*the sound of my intestines unclenching*
I don’t know where Widget1 got the idea that the color purple is feminine. Personally, I’ve always thought of it as the color of supervillains. And grapes. (The grocery store calls them red, but they look purple to me.) Maybe the kids at school said something. Maybe he discovered Prince’s Purple Rain album. Or maybe he made a logical inference from the fact that his mother’s favorite color is purple. Whatever the case, it was shocking to me that he could even conceptualize the idea of being “kind of a girl.” But I have a hunch how he got there. My wife recently had the difficult task of explaining to our son why our property manager Evan has started showing up to work in a dress and going by the name Eva. Widget1 doesn’t always pay attention when we’re trying to teach him something, but he’s a smart kid and he’s a thinker, and when he DOES hear something and it sinks it, his mind runs with it. At a young age, he’s suddenly discovering this strange sociological crisis that what was once a hard scientific reality of boy versus girl has become a subjective labelling game unconnected to such silly things as genitals and the basic chromosomal building blocks of life.
I think this is a problem. I think we need to call things what they are, and people who they are, regardless of whether they might prefer to be otherwise. We need to be realistic that there are males and there are females, and they are different from each other, and their bodies are distinct and their brains are wired differently. We need less “you can be anything if you just believe” and more training children to cope with basic human nature, both the good and the bad, that will always be there no matter how much we dream of a world where nature is no longer natural and all colors fade to a lukewarm androgynous gray.
This Christmas, we’re taking a stand for common sense by showering our children with gender-specific toys that celebrate boyhood! Well, no, I guess that’s a lie. Widget2 is getting a kitchen and the boys are also getting a Wii U, which is far less gender-specific than, say, an Xbox One. The point isn’t to go all macho crazy and rip the heads off of Barbies, but to not be afraid to acknowledge that boys will be boys. That’s why you’ll find our toy shelves overflowing with cars, dinosaurs, action figures and Batman playsets. And yet on occasion, the boys will also sit down and watch My Little Pony.