My Son Likes Girl-Things. Is He Gay?

il_340x270.409005563_ivtpRandom Moms across America think they know: My son has got to be gay. He wears khakis today but wore a dress to school from age 4 to 6; he used to do ballet and still doesn’t like sports; in preschool he was all about playing princess but now is all about Pokemon; and, in spite of the clear gender divisions in third grade, he plays with both girls and boys. I mean, what straight boy is into that kinda freaky gender mash-up?

This mom knows better, and she goes on to remark that, actually, butch boys can grow up to be gay, and fem boys can grow up to be straight.

Interestingly, few moms worry that their little tomboys will grow up to be lesbians.

But this mom gets LOADS of advice on how to turn her son “boyish.” Take away the girly toys and clothes, and enroll him in sports!

So much worry about girly boys.

Yet what we think of as “girl stuff” turns out to be “boy stuff” in other times and places.

Boys shouldn’t wear pink? Years ago the country staged a great debate on whether pink or blue should designate girls or boys. Some advocated pink for boys – such a robust color! Blue is so dainty.

The Cabbage Patch craze of the last generation led a lot of boys to want dolls. One of my little boy cousins got one for Christmas. Today most people would call him a manly man, complete with wife and baby. (And G.I. Joe is a doll, too.)

Ancient Roman men wore skirts, though the one on the left is armored! (A likely relief to some macho men out there.)  Other Roman men wore dresses (robes).


And we mustn’t forget men in tights, circa “Romeo and Juliet.”


Moving on to the court of the “Sun King,” Louis XIV, we find him wearing lots of lace, ruffles, curls, and color. And gracefully posed!

The American founding fathers had considerably less glitz, but they still wore more color, lace, ruffles, and curls than most men today would be caught dead in. They also hired instructors to help present a more graceful appearance. One of my male students asked, “Ok, but what did the manly men wear?” This is what they wore!

In more modern times, Scottish men can still be partial to skirts, though they call them kilts. Below are traditional and more recent versions of the garment.


Judges, priests, and scholars also continue to wear “dresses” today.


Perhaps the most surprising expressions of manhood come from a culture entirely different from our own: the Wodaabe of Nigeria in Africa. There, men adorn themselves with makeup and jewelry. Because white eyes and teeth are part of the beauty ideal for men, they often roll their eyes and show their teeth to show off these features.


In our own time and place there’s Rod Stewart, who seems to be strongly hetero by all accounts. But check out these shots:

Rod and Britt        
                                                                                 © Chris Walter

There’s a difference between sex and gender. Sex is biologically-based. It’s made up of our genes (xx for girls, xy for boys), hormones (testosterone, estrogen), anatomy (vagina, penis, breasts, etc.). But gender is all made up. Or what cultures make up to mark biological differences.

If clothing, makeup, jewelry and toys aren’t naturally “boy” or “girl” things, how can doing “boy” or “girl” things mark sexual orientation?

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on March 11, 2011, in feminism, gender, men, psychology, sexism, women and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 61 Comments.


    i am a trans girl male to female and i like to have sex with men and i look at myself as a woman my enter self is female you you think i am gay even i was born male and yes by the way i wear dresses and skirt most of the time as a rear woman would do

    • Labels on sexual orientation is a personal choice. I know people in your situation who would call themselves straight. But most would probably call themselves queer. Up to you.

  2. Wow. this post was great. I have always wondered myself where the girl/boy things came into place. Like who should wear and play with what. As you clearly pointed out, men have always dressed themselves up, better than us women can do. And it was a symbol of power and wealth and not being girly. Even so close as the 80’s it was a very prominent style. I personally love it! I am a total rock/metal fan and I actually get jealous sometimes of the guys being able to dress better than me and have nicer hair :/ I definitely agree that what kids do , does not determine them being gay or straight. My sister in law is a HUGE right wing homophobe and I love it because her daughter is such a cute tomboy. I just get a kick out of her belief that her daughter is going to turn out to be a lesbian because she likes trucks and only plays with boys and hates pink. Its so ignorant to think that way and to force your child to wear skirts and pink against their will. I am a mother of a 4 year old boy, and honestly it never once scared me how my son would turn out. Of course I had thought about it, but either way, whoever he is nothing could change my love for him. Everyone should feel free to be who they are and not be shamed. Thats the huge problem with society. Everyone is so unaccepting of things that are different.

  3. I do not think a boy who likes girls things are going to be a gay and a girl who likes boys things will be a lesbian. For example, even though one of my cousins is a boy, he likes to play the game on iPad which he can make up himself, but he just enjoys how his face is going to change when he put many colors on his face. So not necessarily, every children understand this toy is only for a girl or a boy and play with it. I think they are just interested in anything because it may be the first time to see it and attractive for them.

  4. My nephew loves to play with dolls wear pink rain boots and puts bows on his head. He also loves to play sports and run, jump, wrestle, ride bikes, dance and garden. His favorite color is purple, a mixture of blue and red. It has been a hard thing for some of the older members of our family to get used to. Many have tried to guide him toward stereotypical boy things. They are quickly reprimanded by my sister, brother-in-law, and myself. Usually with a quick word along the lines of, “Don’t you dare make him feel bad for what he likes. He can like anything and everything he wants to.” Then one of us will let him know that its ok to keep doing what he is doing and ask him to tell us what he likes about his clothes, bows, toys, and games. He is 3 years old no one knows weather he will be gay or straight, gender identify as woman or man. The point is we don’t really care because he is a wonderful little human being and we love him just the way he is.

  5. This article makes me think of Coco Chanel since I have read the biography of Coco Chanel and her biography movie . In her lifetime, Coco Chanel has made a great breakthrough in the clothing. Gaining inspirations from clothing for men, she adds elements of men’s clothing to women’s clothing and makes women’s clothing less bright-colored. She is the first costumer that designed and produced women’s pants. It should be noted that in the 1920s, skirts were the only choice for women. Coco Chanel has brought major reforms to the modern fashion history and also “pants” to today’s women. For me, I think those are stereotype. It is no way to classify dress or color into girly or boyish. Sometimes, if a boy like pink and others tell him that pink is belong to girl. In this case, it may make the boy think he is weird and make him become self-abasement.

  6. Stephanie Masina

    In my culture most men are manly and such we truly frown upon those men that are feminine and girls are usually tomboyish some parents question this and some don’t. My opinion I DONT REALLY CARE’ if a man wants to be a female and a female wants to resemble a man then so be it. Who are we to judge upon what they like, want to be, which way they swing etc that’s all upon them. Honestly do we really got time to be WORRING about what others want and need? Not trying to be selfish but it’s true.

  7. Luz Maria Jauregui

    I don’t think that young male children who are I to girl things are necesicerly going to be gay. I know a little boy (6 years old) who loves wearing nail polish on his toes because he simply likes the color. However, unlike the blog mom, this little boys mom knows her son isn’t gay because he’s shown her his interest in girls and other “masculine” things. Just as you showed us in the pictures from above, men have always been attracted to “feminine” objects, it’s just that now men are a little more afraid to show that side of themselves because they’re afraid they’ll be considered gay.

  8. I think the surroundings you are in really matters. I have some good friends who have more than one sisters and are the only man in the family excluding their father. What I can say about them in common is that not a few people have asked me if they are gay. In fact, they have a sensitive nature and not very manly but are all straight. As far as I am concerned, I remember I actually liked playing “girl things” such like playing house with my younger sister or female friends in my kindergarten as well as playing outside, climbing trees, catching grasshoppers and so on. I also recall once trying on my sister’s skirt out of curiosity as a little boy. I don’t anymore though. My parents never told me, my sister and brother about playing with “gender appropriate toys” but instead they let us play with what we liked. Finally, I am not gay but straight after all, but what is so wrong with being a gay or lesbian?

  9. This has me thinking a lot about gender neutrality in children’s toys and clothing. While i do think that its probably a good idea to start off with that while they are young for various reasons (clothes are easier to pass down through siblings), I also think that it’s important to give them lots of options with their belongings and let it be known that no one is any better than the other. Their preferences should be theirs alone and if they happen to like more frilly or girly dresses instead of pants deemed more masculine, let them wear it. This is probably the safest and most acceptable time in their lives to experiment with that, which is unfortunate, but still true in my opinion.

  10. y s being migendered, for there mightbe the possibility that they are transgendered. Some gays are toal men and uove ither men in that way, though some gays like yostated aremore feminne and love den that ay and choose not lo transiton. Some, ikemyself, rre two-spiitan ahoose to define a unique sexual and oriented rdentity. And frnkly, two-spiits are often sought for advice because they are believed to never fail oelatinships. In ou societya rriages areoften led by women because their husbands arenot loyal so them. wrth i,wome ant men to be more lik tem which wor most lf them ould find very ncomfortabe Sojustlikeyou said, we might be seeing a change soon.

    • Yes, in a lot of cultures to spirit people are greatly valued, because they have a leg in both worlds. I should write more on the sometime.

      And thanks for bringing up the point that a transgendered person may be gay or not. Or, a guy could like girl things even without seeing himself as transgendered, and vice versa for girls. There are a lot of possibilities.

      • Yes, there are a ton of possibilities, both hard and soft-science based.
        I look forward to your new post, should you ever decide to write one about two-spirits. There is a radio show called the Two Spirits Connection the Sacred Tree of Life.

      • Sounds interesting. Thanks for letting me know.

  11. All societies need to stop put people in boxes. Wodaabe in Nigeria is refreshing and important for ”us” in the West to see, but even that culture creates gender roles. I’m sure a Wodaabe man without white teeth and jewelry is looked at as not very manly. Gender roles and expectations limit people, create anxiety and force people to act in certain ways. Even the definition of transsexual: ”born in the wrong body”, creates a box. Why id it wrong? I’m looking forward to when one can be born just in a body, and then act as you like with that body. To all the random moms that think they know: let children be children instead, and play whith what ever they want. It has nothing to do with sexual orientation.

  12. When I began reading, part of my mind automatically disagreed with you; my initial thought was ‘Ancient and outdated traditions aren’t relevant! These things are girly in Today’s society, and that’s what matters.” A few seconds later caught myself, and realized how silly that was. I came to realize that your entire point was that the interpretation of ‘Boyish’ vs ‘Girly’ is totally made up; that there are no activities children can engage in that are inherently feminine or masculine. And it was unsettling that my automatic reaction was to agree with today’s interpretation. Oops. I find it odd as well to think that an interest in ‘feminine’ activities is thought to be linked to being gay. Even if enjoying fashion and jewelry and such WERE inherently feminine, that would still have very little to do with sexual orientation. There’s multiple levels of silliness going on in these mothers’ heads, and it’s incredible to me how prevalent such thoughts are.

  13. i don’t think that it mean the son is gay, but i know in some restrict cultures and i guess even cultures who aren’t strict, they don’t want their sons to be acting like a girl, because they think he might be gay or not manly like a man should be. For instance i have a friend her little brother was raised with mostly girls and he is close to his sisters so he is emotional and very sweet, which for a guy it is not manly to be like that and some people tell her he might be gay when he grows up, but really it is because he was just raised by mostly girls around him. however sometimes parents freaked out because i think its other people that brings that to their attention. I think a parent shouldn’t worry about their son who they think might be gay, i believe that if you are gay you are going to be gay, but you cant assume that when a guy plays or acts like a girl they are gay.I feel like parents shouldn’t freak out, because it shouldn’t mean anything honestly just because their kid likes to play with a barbie or whatever it might be.

  14. All the points in regards to certain gendered tastes not being an indicator of sexuality are well said. I remember now looking back on my childhood and how the checks and balances were ever present. Whether it was seeing a teacher tell a child not top play with a doll, even though a GI joe and transformer are just guy dolls if we are being honest. Furthermore, let’s say for a minute these “girly” tastes were an indicator of sexuality? So what? I have met a ton of both sexualities and they both have good and bad people, so having a child who is hopefully a good person when he or she grows should be the main concern don’t you think?

  15. Like this article says, gender is a cultural thing; while, sex is biological. A lot of parents tend to feel threatened by their kid’ interests. If they do not fit in with what its expected they feel as if their kids are being real boys or real girls. It is expected for boys to be more aggressive playing outside with toy cars and for girls to be more calm and play indoors with tea cups. We are in a society in which we have categorized behaviors and descriptions to either belong in the female or male group. A proper man in our society can not have any womanly interests and must not display any type of femininity. If a man likes shopping or cooking and tends to be emotional and sensitive, there is no doubt that others may label him and think he is a homosexual even though his interests and personality do not dictate sexual orientation. It is very unjust to be beleieved to be different due to characteristics that should not matter or affect how someone see you.

  16. I definitely think you should as a parent encourage your child if he wants for example to have shoes that have a “girl” color/model. Let him continue to buy sparkly and pink things. It is wrong in the fashion industry and the whole thing around “girly” and “boyish”. It is definitely a social stereotype society we live in.
    I think it’s good when we raise our children to be gender neutral. If he later develops into being transsexual, transvestite or gay, does not matter. It is nothing wrong with that. We can help children by limiting traditional gender roles in their own behavior and by providing children with nontraditional alternatives. For example why not expose the child to mum when she is washing the car, or dad cooking in the kitchen with an apron on.
    Many times children generally goes thru their “phases” of interests and I believe that it is just fine if the parents try to encourage them to stand up for themselves if it’s something they like.

  17. There have always been roles assigned for men and women, and these roles almost always give men more power. For example, it’s the role of men to be aggressive and emotionally closed off (when we reveal more about ourselves, we are put in a more vulnerable position). It’s predominately the role of men to be the money-earners. Little boys are encouraged to be astronauts, firefighters, presidents, doctors, whereas little girls are often encouraged to be ballerinas, to play a musical instrument, to become nurses, not doctors.

    It’s not just actions that have been assigned gender roles– it seems like everything has to be dubbed feminine or masculine. There is guy’s music (Kid Rock), and there is girly music (Justin Bieber). There are kill-’em-all dude movies and there are chick-flicks, fancy tight girl’s clothes, or plain loose-fit guy’s clothes… Small, colorful, and decorated equals girl; big, tough, and violent equals guy. The message we’re getting from this is that ladies are weak and pretty, and men are almighty.

    The fact is, taking every action and every object in our culture and saying it is masculine or feminine is ridiculous. It is only that way because some jerks said so. The truth is, people like what they like, and often that goes outside of their gender norm. Lots of guys like girly stuff, and lots of girls like guy’s stuff– maybe some people are more secretive about it because of what we are taught about gender roles– but that is just proof that gender roles are a social construct designed to create a power imbalance. We should break gender roles, often. And we should do it openly. Maybe one day we can break them for good.

  18. I now realize how much we unconsciously internalize “gender roles”. I never even thought about why pink goes with girls and blue boys or why I tried to meet the social requirement as a woman. Those fixed ideas are not questioned for a long time in our society, and the ideas become the norm. My son, a second grader, wanted to wear my bra yesterday. And I let him. He sometimes wants to wear skirts or earrings. He likes playing with both boys and girls, but he is not a kind of naughty boy. I know that he has more chance of being homosexual than “ordinary” boys. But in terms of my criteria, he is an “ordinary” boy.

  19. My youngest child was a boy. Since children look to older siblings for guidance on behavior, he looked to his sisters, one of whom was a “girly” girl (not my fault, honest).

    While he and his best buddy played with cars and Brio trains and other “boy” toys that had previously belonged to his sisters, they also played dress up and Barbies. When a sister painted her face, they wanted in on the fun. By 16, my son had beautiful thick waist length hair.

    My son is now in the California Conservation Corps digging ditches, climbing mountains, and spending the weekends with his girlfriend. He lost interest in dresses and make up years ago, but has decided to let his hair grow again (a previous girlfriend persuaded him to cut it off).

    How the girls turned out: Major in the army, expeditor at Apple, mortgage broker, and a student working to simultaneously get her master’s and teaching certificate – all hetero.

    This is a small sample, but I think it shows that while gendered toys and clothing may affect a child’s attitudes, it won’t have any affect on their sexual orientation.

    So, relax – let them play and experiment.

  20. i deffinitley don’t believe that if a male at a young age, or even an older age that do things out side of there gender boundaries that they will most likely to be gay, and even if they do end up being gay, or lesbian, thats fine! tats okay! thats what they want to do. cool. my brother grew up with no dad, and often joined me in playing “girly activities” , and he’s the farthest thing from gay at the moment, he’s been in a serious relationship with his girlfreind for about 4 years, and shows no signs of being attracted towards the other same gender. i really just think its up to that individual, and which gender he finds attractive to her or him.

  21. It amazes me how much society influences how we feel about things. I allow my daughter to play with what would be considered boy toys and her girl toys. I see no problem in letting her play with what she wants. I recently started dating a guy who has 2 kids. A girl and a boy. When we first started dating he had a big problem with his son playing dolls. After I gave him some knowledge he has lightened up about it, unless his male friends are around, then it has to go back to “machoness”.

  22. Didn’t Kinsey’s studies show all people are essentially bisexual? Bonobos are a very close relative and are all bisexual as well. I don’t see why we would deny harmless pleasure if it was indeed harmless. If there’s fear of jail time, disease, public denouncement, etc… then that’s one thing, but when considering t he biology and ideal, I think we would relate to each other in much different ways than we do now.

    • We may all be bi in some way. Institutionalized people who have no option but same-sex will “go the other way” if they have a strong sex drive, and preferred option is not available.

      • … except that doesn’t describe sexual orientation. Sexual orientation isn’t about the actions, it’s not about whether or not you have sex or even who you actually have sex with, it’s about the innate desire to have sex with others and who you innately desire to have sex with (same sex, opposite sex, and so on). A person who is heterosexual and has sex with a same sex partner in prison doesn’t mean they’re homosexual or even bisexual. It means they’re heterosexual and have an innate desire for sex with others, so, sex with someone else is preferred to sex alone (aka masturbation), and, therefore, they may choose to have sex with a same sex partner under those circumstances.

      • The science in this area shifts a bit from time to time, and so so does my thinking. There is a difference between sexual orientation and arousal. Sexual orientation appears to stay stable but arousal has some fluidity. The fluidity seems to kick in in same-sex institutions where people don’t have other outlets. And in prison some gay men will try to appear female in appearance – long hair, no pockets on their jeans in order to accentuate the butt – for instance. So a good imagination — fantasizing that he is a she — can help.

  23. True Patriot

    Those people who are against men being feminine don’t understand what America is all about. The Declaration of Independence and Constitution give EVERYONE the rights to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and equal protection under the law. And that includes the freedom of men to wear “feminine” clothing and play with dolls.

    Furthermore, I’m sick of how Fox News promotes conservative family values, which stand for sexism, homophobia, and transphobia. Look at how the people on Fox dress – the women are FORCED to look pretty in skirts, while the men have to dress ugly in suits! If we TRULY believe in a free democratic country, the news shows would let both men AND women wear pants OR skirt suits! The United States needs a lesson in everything that our Founding Fathers fought for.

    Thank God for the secular humanists, who will end our patriarchy and replace it with democracy!

  24. My Sons likes Girl- Things. Is He Gay?

    I don’t believe that if a boy plays with girl toys makes him gay. I say this because I have boy cousins and friends that have kids relatives have kids that are boys, and they play with all types of toys and many different color toys. I was in a saturation many times where I was around kids who wanted to play with toys that are called to be a girl toys, and I didn’t stop them. I feel like kids have to go through a stage of Identity. Being that kids don’t know what that mean when you say ”this is for girls not boys”. Kids really don’t get the full understanding of the different genders at a certain age. Just like when you give kids a bath, and the child ask mommy what’s that? and they point to their private part, it can be a girl or a boy, my point is they don’t get the full understanding. They are curious, inquisitive, desiring to know. What’s makes it ok when a girl plays with boy toys? is she going to be gay/lesbian? I grow up playing with all types of toys also, one of them was a Mr. T head.. maybe that was a unisex toy?….I just think parents shouldn’t band their child/kids from exploring, people shouldn’t be so close minded. To me that’s like saying don’t eat broccoli because it’s green or because it look like trees.. Just laughing out loud to myself about this topic..

  25. The blog has made good points regarding the relationship between sex, gender and sexual orientation. I don’t find anything wrong for boys playing with cars and balls and girls playing with dolls and Barbie. Even before one is born, parents will buy a bunch of baby stuff that correspond to the baby’s sex, like blue things for boys and pink for girls. I seldom see parents buying a Barbie for their son, or a ball for their daughter. But what will the babies and children choose when they are provided with toys that confirm the identity for both genders? If a baby is provided with Barbie and cars as toys since he/she was born, is it a must that a boy will choose the car and a girl will choose the Barbie? I guess not.

    Parents do have the power to control what their children play with. They can definitely force their sons to play with boy stuff and play sports, just to ensure they don’t turn sissy or become gay. But as the author has pointed out, a boy that likes girly things does’t necessarily turn out to be gay. It just means their sons are interested in girly stuff, like make-up and dolls. If parents banned all girly stuff from his son’s life when has really has an interest in them, it is highly likely that the parents are giving up the chance of cultivating the son’s talent in for example, cosmetics. Our society has strict rules regarding gender roles. Those who violate them are seen as abnormal and are widely criticized. These gender roles have actually imposed a lot of impacts on our growth, and also on our development. Since gender roles are deep-rooted in all cultures, there is still a long way to go for the “abnormal” ones to be seen as normal individuals again.

  26. I think that this mom is extremely paranoid and needs to just let her son be who wants to be. Even if he is gay, if that’s what he is, you can’t change it. I personally think that he will show more masculine signs when he reaches his teens. The fact that he has boy friends and girl friends is great, it shows he can connect with more people.

  27. I don’t necessarily agree that if a boy likes girl things he is gay. Growing up with three younger brothers and being the only girl I had no choice but to join my brothers in their adventures. I know I was one of the only girls around my friends that could climb a tree, and beat them at playing Nintendo, I was really proud of that what my brothers did it was a fun way to play together. I have two girls, and one boy, and they all play together some times my daughters convince my youngest which is my son to play Barbie’s. Other times they play wrestling matches with him. But the one thing he does decline is to play dress up; he always says, “That’s for girls”. Which in a way is funny because he never declines when his sister lets him drive the bright pink Barbie convertible. I do believe that no matter what we play with or whom we socialize with as children if our need for the opposite is there we will always veer towards that.

  28. Though the mother who has little tomboys doesn’t worry about their children’ sexual orientation, the mom who has girly boys does. This is very interesting for me because this shows, I think, people pretend gay people is more strange sexual orientation than lesbians’. I guess, it might be a type of sexism. I mean society thinks much of male’s sexual orientation.

  29. I think of sexuality as a continuum. We all fall at some place on the line, sometimes on the feminine side, sometimes more masculine, and sometimes more in the middle. We all have a mixture of both sides to us. So if someone likes certain things designated as “boy things” or “girl things,” it’s natural. We all like a variety of different things, and a lot of the time, the “for girls” or “for boys” label has been imposed by society. For example, it is only recently (as previously stated about togas and robes and dresses that men have worn for centuries) that America decided boys can’t be interested in fashion. When I lived in France a couple years ago, it was very normal to see guys shopping and wearing designer clothes and caring about their hair. Culturally, it was accepted that everyone cares how they looks. I think the concern with looks is apparent with most people everywhere, but it is downplayed in America because of the “masculine” stereotype that boys feel pressured to live up to.

    I agree that sexuality is inside and doesn’t always show itself out the outside. Homosexuals don’t necessarily act like people of the opposite sex. Sexuality isn’t so black and white. My good friend is lesbian, but doesn’t act like a boy or enjoy “boyish” things. Male actors and dancers learn elegance and drama and poise, yet they aren’t all gay, despite the stereotype that they are. A young boy I babysit is learning to be an actor. He cares a lot about his appearance, loves dressing up in costumes, and is constantly singing in preparation for his shows. Yet his parents aren’t worrying, or even pretending to know, about his sexuality. He’ll fall in love with whoever he falls in love with, in due time. What does that have to do with his love of theater? I think when we’re kids we try on lots of different things, until we find what we enjoy. And those things to which we’re drawn don’t always say something about our sexuality.

  30. It is so sad but gender assignments start before children are even born. They continue to be perpetuated throughout the generations. They are so archaic yet still considered the “norm”. I was in Target not too long ago waiting to make my purchase. In front of me were a pregnant woman and her young son. The little boy pointed to a doll by the cash register and then to his mother’s stomach and said “That is what baby sister will play with.” Right after this proclamation he pointed to a little racecar and said “This is what big boys play with.” At a young age and even before birth children are ingrained with gender restrictions: there are boy toys and girl toys. I work with children often hear discussions over the crayon box about “boy colors” and “girl colors”. Where this ideas and assignments came from, we’ll never know but it isn’t as simple as crayons and toys. Young girls, grade school age, are already under the impression that some jobs, doctor, lawyer, architect, are strictly male fields because that’s what they see the most. All of these issues fall back on adults, particularly parents. From the jump, prior to outside exposure in daycares or classrooms, parents need to instill in their children gender equality. If left to society, girls will continue to play with pink dolls and boys with blue trucks.

  31. Emma Betancourt

    This topic always gets me especially because my cousin is like this towards my nephew. He sometimes puts his hand on his hip and points “girly”. I just don’t get it. She gets mad at him and is always telling him to act like a “Real boy”. What, is he acting like a fake boy? I just don’t understand and never will. Let the kids be kids.

  32. To be quiet honest, I believe of course that dressing and showing interest in things of the opposite sex can be a call for attention on whether or not one is homosexual. Now, in terms of if this is unacceptable, it is not. There is a point and limits, but when a child just shows interest, i do not believe that parents should be concerned. In society, tomboys seem to be more accepted as straight then feminine men. It is only natural that there are males who have female characteristics, environment and one’s own unique self has much to play in their persona. Everyone does have the right to choose what interests them and what does not, this makes each individual different and creates diversity. Even if a child was gay, this should not cause alarm. Variety creates a more interesting world.

  33. I have a four year old nephew who doesn’t know his gender yet, although his parents encourage him to play with “boy toys” such as games and cars. He prefers to wear colorful clothes such as pastel colored shirts, he would wear a plaid pink shirt with khakis. He claims dark color clothes such as blue and black are too “boring” for him, he loves to wear colors. I think it is because he parents are open and allow him to dress himself. In addition I think it is because he gone to school yet, he will be attending this upcoming fall and I think that is when the gender labels will begin. I think our school systems is a big influence one the gender roles because that where children begin to interact with other children and through observations will begin to shape themselve.

  34. I think children dressing for the opposite sex has nothing to do with being gay but more as looking up to an adult or older sibling. Society makes such a big deal of how people should dress that when someone goes out of the norm they think its bizarre and something must be wrong. Influencing children with unisex books, toys and movies isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It can teach them values.

  35. Wai In Vivian Lei

    Sex is what we are born with and a part of us that we cannot change. Gender, however, can be switched despite our biological restriction. Even male who only has male hormones can choose to live as a girl, wearing dresses, putting make-up on or finding a boyfriend. But it is considered going against the norms. The perception of this kind of behavior is no the same in different culture. Western culture tend to view this as a choice to be someone different then who you are. While eastern culture tend to think this is a mental problem. This behavior is likely to be condemned and criticized. It also interests me how women are tend to be more accepted if they become tomboy when people find it harder to see men to switch their gender roles. I think men are considered to be the stronger characters in our society. Their typical gender roles are to be in control of families. They have higher social status than women. I think every one has the right to choose what they do and who they want to be. They should not be judged just because they choose not to follow the norms.

  36. To be honest, before reading this, I have not really thought about the difference or try to differentiate sex and gender before. However, I think a gender role assigned to each sex vary from culture to culture and have an impact on personality formation. For example, Turkish people think that women are the ones who can only stay home to take care of children while men are supposed to work outside. Even though this may not be the exact case for all women, why Turkish people think in this way because this is their culture and they have their own perception toward what gender role should take for each sex. Similarly, right now leggings, shirts with lace etc are not only things for the girls; boys are also starting to dress up in a girly style. Why we think that it is strange or even inappropriate is because as we grow up, we are influenced by the others that we have perceptions toward what a gender role should look like. However, I don’t think there should be a rule or guideline for this. We usually set blue as a color that is for boys while pink for girls; this is only our own perception and practice. I don’t think a child will know what color should they choose for their clothes is “appropriate” and what activities should they join is “normal” at all. We sometimes differentiate and draw the line between the two sexes too distinctly that when someone “crosses” the line a bit, they will see him or her as abnormal. Though we cannot change our sex, as it is our nature; I believe gender is a thing that can be nurtured to vary through cultural differences. We see boys doing “girl things” and fear that they will become gay because we already bear in mind, which things are categorized as a “girly” thing and which are the “boyish” thing. This is how biased perceptions formed. We should try to erase the distinct line and know that gender can be made up, and it’s not a must to change the essence of sex.

  37. Jasmin- You bring up the point about kids imitating those around them. This is socialization and kids learn to do the things they often see most… but it doesn’t mean it’s always going to shape them into who they become.

    On that idea, I have a 13 year old brother. When he was just about 3 or 4, my mom would take him to the toy store and he would go directly to the girl section and pick out toy vacuums, irons etc. My mom bought them for him because he would throw fits otherwise, and also because she found it cute and funny. He would walk around the house with his vacuum and pretend to clean my room. We realized it’s because my mom is a stay at home mom and he would watch her do this everyday. My dad was clearly annoyed with this and would tell my mom to stop buying him toys alike because he was a boy. My mom would say “so what”. I liked her response. Really… so what? Today, he is a complete boy, masculine tendencies and only laughs when we recall on this. It’s natural. I’ve seen my little sister do it too.

    I think dads most often get annoyed by imitation of this sort because they probably feel like they are being judged as parents and because they are scared these little quirks will follow them. But just like how they learn when they’re little, as they grow older, they also internalize “masculine” tendencies and what they should do… this normally comes when they are able to better understand the demands of a traditional society.

  38. In my family if the boys acted like girls it was a big deal. It was not acceptable mostly to my father, so I grew up thinking the same way. Thank God over the years I have learned otherwise. Mostly through a ton of observation, and of course, listening to a lot of educated people. I have seen first hand what forcing Western male gender on boys does. I grew up in areas where gangs and men who felt the need to act “macho” surrounded the community. I was also friends with a lot of males like this because I thought I wanted to be like them in some ways. Although I learned “machoism” was okay, these males seemed so strange to me. I seen and experienced so much that I also felt bad for these males. Luckily I was a female, and the pressure to conform was very low compared to the males. Since my teenage experience with masculinity, my biggest worry is my sons life and the pressure he will feel to conform and be masculine to the max. He is only three years old now, but I still live in the same neighborhood. Because of my fear for his future, I do my best to let him know that it’s okay to show his emotions.

    Although I know what forcing Western male gender on boys does, I sometimes can’t help but think of it as my father and most of society does. My son just started going to a childcare center, and he tells me that other boys are too rough with him sometimes. A situation like this makes me begin to think differently about how I taught my son to act. When he told me, I felt so bad that I taught him it was okay to be emotional/sensitive because now he is too emotional/sensitive. In another situation, I was interested in putting my son in a gymnastics class, so I was looking on a web site that offered this plus ballet, sports skills, karate and cheer leading. To my surprise, since he always pretends like he is doing karate, my son found the most interest in ballet. Along with this he has been wanting to watch a “barbie fairy” movie. Things like this make me question what I teach my son, and it becomes a bit tough to stick to teaching him that things which are considered “feminine” in our Western culture is okay. Although I struggle with what masculine and feminine acts I should teach my son, because of the issues males experience with masculinity, I do feel like I am doing the right thing for my sons future by teaching him differently.

  39. Cheuk Wing Szeto

    Gender is really a thing that separates people. It is not only categorized male and female, but it also categorized the things that male or female should do or not do. I think this is really unfair, especially for boys, because just like you claim, boys always cannot do what they want. As my own experience, I always try to avoid doing things that look gays, because I don’t want others think that way. Although sometime I am not doing that on purpose, I think it just happen naturally. In the course of time, I think every man just get used to it.

  40. I think that if a kid has older siblings he or she feels like immitating the brother or the sister, but that doesnt mean that the boy or the girl will grow up being gay or lesbian. Sometimes kids are too small to know whats good and whats bad, and parents should not be hard on their kids because that is going to make the children feel ashame of himself or herself and bad things might result from this.

    • Thanks for your comment. Some boys have what we think of as feminine personalities and preferences, and some girls have masculine personalities and preferences, and others are a mix. And each culture varies on what’s considered feminine or masculine. It’s not a matter of right or wrong, really.

  41. I agree that sex is biologically-based. But gender is all made up. I think parents should accept their children for who they are. You cannot force a child to change to someone they are not. I had a friend who has been a tomboy ever since she was very young. Like the article says, few moms worry that their little tomboys will grow up to be lesbians. Her parents did not worry either. Now she is 21 years old and she is a lesbian. Her parents want her to find a boyfriend because they don’t want their daughter to become a lesbian. My friend is now very painful because of the pressure that comes from her parents that against her to become someone who she’s not. Same for the boys. If a boy is born to be a homosexual, they will become a homosexual. And as parents, they should accept it. If a boy is straight and likes girl-things, they should just let it be. Gender is all made up. Everybody is different, and if being different does not harm other people or society in any way, the parents should accept these difference.

  42. Darlene Pizzitolo

    I don’t think a kid who dress in clothing for girls will become gay or girls who dress in boys clothing will be a lesbian, I guess parents buys into what socity think will happen if their son plays with dolls and if their daughter plays with boys toys like race cars. But what parents don’t undrestand is sexual orientation is about how people feel inside not about materialistic things.

  43. I agree with what you said above,”If clothing, makeup, jewelry and toys aren’t naturally “boy” or “girl” things, how can doing “boy” or “girl” things mark sexual orientation?.”
    What rules in society say that these specific activities or items make a boy a boy and a girl a girl? Sexual orientation is not based on materialistic things but rather how girls and boys feel on the inside. In our modern society homophobes are common, but if we no longer discriminate by race why should sexual preferences be discriminated against? You provided examples above about how the most manly and important men in history wore dresses, and lace, and ruffles. It seems now in the 21st century all of that is forgotten and things we orientate as “manly” and “girlie” determine which sex we prefer and who we truly are when these materialistic things mean nothing to who we truly are.

  44. When it comes to the definition of “gender,” I think it really depends on the culture or the society we live in. Some society would consider a guy dressing as a girl as disgraced or ashamed, and in some society it is acceptable in a way. An example would be in our society, guys can openly dress however they want, including putting on make-up or wearing girls’ color. In Eastern societies, however, they tend to be more conservative, and guys cannot openly dress feminine. Or else, he will most likely be criticized or being disapproved of. In this case, if it is a child or a son dresses or acts as a girl, I think it is important to reinforce the importance of gender role, and allow the child to learn such norms.

  45. From the culture I grew up, it was a big deal if a boy acted like a girl, but it didn’t matter if a girl acted like a boy. And it seemed to be a shame for the parents to have a girly son. The reason that people so worry about their sons for acting like girls might because male sometime takes a stronger role that female dose. So when people see a tomboy, they might consider she will have a stronger role than other girls, but in opposite, a boy acts like a girl may lead him to a weaker role in society.

  46. You go gal- great question for homophobes but I will bet you dollars to donuts they have some crackpot answer for ya like the devil makes them do it. Wish these folks would worry about real problems. And I believe you have already done a piece about how the tomboy fares better than the fairy boy because she – at least- behaves like the male!

  47. THANK YOU! At last a voice of reason. Sex is not gender and neither does it have anything to do with sexuality. To add to your list (thank you for the new examples by the way!) ancient Greeks from whom this whole robes and armoured skirts came from and all the ancient civilizations that had a fondness for robes. Oh and up until almost1900 the Greeks wore skirts with tights too (foustaneles). Pants are in fact quite recent addition to men’s wardrobe in most cultures, in fact you could say that they went against tradition and what men wore! And in many eastern countries today too they still wear long dresses. Also most men in history had long hair, often worn in plaits to for convenience…Funny how all those things are forgotten now…

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