Traditional Gender Roles

I was out shopping yesterday when a family happened to walk right across my path.  And the conversation I heard really bothered me.  It was a little boy (I’m guessing about 4 years old), his mother and grandmother.

Little boy: why do people keep looking at this? (He points to a ragdoll-type doll that he’s holding [my 2 youngest girls have dolls just like it].)
Mother: because you’re a lad!
Grandmother: Lads aren’t supposed to play with dolls.

First off, I wouldn’t even have noticed the fact that he was holding a doll had I not overheard the conversation in the first place.  Secondly, I think that boy was being a little over-sensitive.  But I think I know where it’s coming from.

I highly doubt that many people were looking at his doll – at least not as many as he seemed to think.  But I’d be willing to bet money that it wasn’t the first time his mother and grandmother berated him for wanting to play with a doll.  I’d be willing to bet that at such a young age, he’s already forming a complex about how people view him, as a boy that likes to play with dolls.  (Oh!  The humanity!!!  /snark)

I seriously wonder how much traditional gender roles play into fat-hatred and homophobia and the like.  After all, boys that play with dolls are automatically sissies and queers, right?  (<~sarcasm)  I just don’t get it.  What is so frightening and dangerous about a boy that wants to play with a doll?  Maybe he’ll grow up to be a pediatrician.  Maybe he wants to be a teacher of young children.  Maybe he’s going to be the best father in the neighborhood.  Why is it that when people see a boy with a doll, the first thing they assume is that he’s going to grow up to be homosexual or something equally as ‘bad’?

It really just boggles my brain to think that in this day and age, people can still be so hung up on ‘traditional’ gender roles.  My best friend nearly had a heart attack when her oldest grandson wanted to play with dolls.  She even went so far as to give the doll to my youngest, to try and discourage him from wanting to play with it.  All she succeeded in doing was create a need to buy another doll.  I asked her what the big deal was, and she said she didn’t want him playing with dolls.  When I asked her why, the only answer she could come up with was that he was a boy.  No real reasonable reason… just the fact that he was a boy.  I tried to talk to her about the fact that him playing with dolls was no big deal, but she just wouldn’t hear it.  I later talked to her daughter (the boy’s mother) about the whole thing, and she basically said to let Little Miss Naughty have the doll, because she was going to buy him another one anyway.  She didn’t think there was anything wrong with letting her son play with dolls, and she was going to let him as long as he wanted to, regardless of what her mother said.

There aren’t too many times when I would encourage my friend’s children to deliberately go against her on something (especially considering 3 of the 4 of them still live with her), but this was one time I was all for it.

I guess part of the reason this whole ‘traditional’ gender role thing bothers me is that I grew up seeing non-traditional roles all around me.  My grandmother raised me on her own and worked in what was known as a man’s field.  She did things around the house traditionally thought of as “man’s work.”  When I eventually got married, hubby and I started out with completely non-traditional roles: I worked and he stayed home with the children.  Even when he got to the point where he was allowed to work (you know, INS and all that), he took care of the children during the day while I was at work and he worked at night.   After having  The Little Chatterbox,  we realized that one of us was going to have to quit our jobs in order to stay home with the kids, because child care was going to take up the entirety of one of our paychecks.  So I continued to work and he continued to take care of the kids during the day; it made sense, as I made nearly $4 more per hour than he did.  It wasn’t a conscious thing – we didn’t reverse our ‘traditional’ roles on purpose – we just did what seemed like the best thing to do for our family as a whole.  Which meant reversing what would normally have been our traditional gender roles.  And we didn’t think anything of it.

But now I have to wonder if maybe that’s why seeing something like what I saw yesterday bothers me so much.  Maybe I really am a strange woman.  There are times when I realize that my opinion isn’t shared by the majority of western society, and I seriously question myself.  “Am I really that strange?”  I guess maybe I am.

But I’d rather be strange than bigoted any day, thank you very much.


3 Responses

  1. My dad was a mechanic (tractors and combines after he got out of the Air Force, trucks and jeeps when he was in the AF), so I grew up hearing about cars and stuff being worked on and how to diagnose problems. Dad was also a jack of all trades, doing his own plumbing, carpentry, and electrical work on the house. So, even though I was a girl, I picked up a lot of that know-how from him and didn’t think anything of being able to fix things that went wrong with my car, or build a bookshelf if I needed one, or fix a leaky pipe in my house. I still knew how to cook, clean, and sew, but sewing was the only “womanly” pastime that I really enjoyed.
    You aren’t the only strange one, but maybe it’s not strangeness, maybe it’s actually common sense. Doing what you’re good at, or what works best for your family, despite so-called “gender roles”.

  2. Oh, you reminded me of something I witnessed as a very young mother, trying to get into a training program.

    There was another single mom there (this was before I met The Hubster, obviously), older than me, who had her heart set on becoming a mechanic. It wasn’t something that interested me in the least, but I figured if that’s what she wanted, she should go for it.

    So we go for a tour of the local community college, and since she wanted to be in the automotive mechanics program, the auto shop was one of the stops on the tour. The guy from the college was explaining the kinds of things she would be required to do if she entered the program, and then he was all like “are you sure you really want to be in this program?” But it wasn’t exactly what he said, it was the way he said it. His tone of voice. You could hear the “you’re a girl! You couldn’t possibly do this kind of work!!” behind the question, loud and clear.

    But she was absolutely adamant. Yes, she wanted to do it. She had thoroughly researched their program and thought it was very good. And, like you, she’d already been doing repairs on her own car (what she could do, that is; that’s why she wanted to be in that program in the first place – she didn’t know how to do everything and wanted to learn) for as long as she’d owned a car.

    I was still very young (only 19) and very naive (I didn’t really understand the concept of feminism, even though I’d studied it in high school), so I couldn’t put my finger on why it bothered me, but I remembered thinking “why the hell would you even ask her that? If she didn’t want to do it, she wouldn’t have signed up for it in the first place!”

    Traditional gender roles my ass. If you can do it, do it. Hell, even the pastor of my former church back in Illinois was a stay-at-home dad during the week (you know, since he really only ‘worked’ on Sundays). 😉

  3. I work part time transcribing for a reality television show and, in a recent episode I worked on, the interviewer was asking the father of the central “character” about his son’s desire to play with dolls as a young boy. His son is now almost 30 years old, and the father could barely discuss it without choking up. It absolutely boggled my mind that, 25 years after the fact, remembering that his son had grown up with an affinity for things that we label feminine, was still so painful that it was virtually impossible to talk about.


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