The Thin Rainbow Line

Boys and DollsMy boys love cars and trucks. They dig in the dirt. They run around the house having sword fights and defeating zombie invasions. They like both pirates and ninjas. They also have a play kitchen, with a tea set and play food. They have fluffy toys and dolls and play at looking after babies. Last year, Big Brother spent weeks and weeks building The Ultimate Dollhouse out of shoe boxes, and then decorating it with matchstick furniture, frilly curtains, and artwork on the walls.

Both boys like trying on make-up and wearing my high heels. They also like making fart-noises at the dinner table.

Big Brother’s favourite colour has always been pink. He likes frills and sparkles and fairies. He likes having his nails painted. His ideal Treat Day is shoe shopping and a hair cut.

Or it was.

Because now he’s at school, everything’s changed.

His favourite colour isn’t pink anymore. Because “pink is a girl’s colour”.

He doesn’t like some of the music we used to listen to. Because “it’s girl’s music”.

He doesn’t want to hear stories about fairies and unicorns. Because they’re “girl stuff”.

He fights himself over his choice of clothes and activities. I can see it in his eyes and I can feel the tension in his body and the pain in his heart. And I can’t make it better.

I can tell him that boys can do whatever they want to do.

I can tell him that there’s no such thing as “boy stuff” and “girl stuff”.

But then he goes to school, and he argues with his friends, and he comes home feeling even worse than he did to start with.

“Mummy,” he said last month. “We were having a wedding in the sandpit today — not a real one, just a pretend one — and Schoolboy said that boys have to marry girls, and boys aren’t allowed to marry boys. And I said he was lying. And he said he wasn’t. But he was lying, wasn’t he?”

Because he’s six. And there’s no shades of gray when you’re six.

It’s not the legal concept of marriage he’s talking about. It’s the wedding that happens at the end of every fairy tale, the wedding that means Love. With a capital L. So I said, “Well, most of the time boys fall in love with girls, and girls fall in love with boys. But sometimes boys  fall in love with boys, and girls fall in love with girls. The important thing isn’t if they’re boys or girls. The important thing is the Love.”

“But Schoolboy’s parents said boys can’t marry boys.”

And then I’m stuck. Because I don’t want to tell my son that his friend’s parents are wrong. Or… anything else that will undoubtedly make its way back through the classroom to the parents in question. So instead I say, “Maybe his parents just don’t know any boys who love boys.”

And then he’s distracted by asking me about the boys I know who love boys, and the conversation trails off into me telling him stories of working in exciting places. Like retail stores.

And I don’t mind having those conversations. I expect to have many, many more conversations about love and sexuality over the coming years. Those conversations don’t make my heart ache.

My heartache is about gender roles.

It’s about my little boy feeling suddenly uncomfortable telling his friends he does ballet.

It’s about my little boy feeling ashamed for doing what he loves and being who he is.

It’s about my little boy coming to me a couple of days ago and saying, “Mummy, can I tell you something funny? Can you imagine (giggle) a boy wearing lipstick!”

And me not even realising why that’s supposed to be funny, and answering, “Yes.” And then waiting for the funny part.

But it wasn’t funny.

It wasn’t funny when I had to explain that boys are allowed to wear lipstick if they like it, and girls don’t have to.

I don’t like this sudden shift. I don’t like seeing my child having a great time playing with a toy, and then see him suddenly stop, put it down, and mutter that it’s a girl’s toy. I don’t like sending him out into the world and watching him struggle.

I don’t like it at all.

I wish I could wrap him up in love and paint his toenails bright rainbow colours and give him a ribbon for his hair and pink ballet shoes for his feet, and then let him run through the mud and build a city full of dinosaurs with lasers on their heads to fight the horde of brain-eating zombies about to attack.

I wish I could protect him from the gender-bias of the world. But I can’t. Not completely.

So I do what I can.

But I feel like I’m swimming against the tide.


I feel like I’m using an umbrella to protect him from a tsunami, while walking on a tightrope above shark-infested lava.

But, you know what?

I’m going to keep walking that line, holding my umbrella in front of us, until my boys are strong enough to walk it on their own.

Because no matter how hard it is, my boys are worth it.

Worth It


Filed under Life With Kids, Opinion

21 responses to “The Thin Rainbow Line

  1. Yay for you! There are so many things the outside world will try to teach our kids that we wish they never had to learn. All we can do is keep reinforcing our own beliefs at every single opportunity, just as you’re doing. Keep it up!
    -Amy at

  2. Kelly Prisk

    I asked Clancy the other day: ‘What would you think about two men getting married?’ She made the most horrible face and said ‘Yucky!’
    I was of course surprised by the vehemence of her reply, and I asked ‘Why?!’
    She crossly said ‘There wouldn’t be any high heels!’ So I said, Well, what about if maybe one of the men wore high heels, what would you think then? And she smiled and said ‘Niiice’.
    I feel your heartache, Jo. The world is horrible and kids are so pure. I hate seeing their open hearts hurt by the stupidity of others. Keep protecting his pure self until he can do it himself. He will find kindred spirits.

    • Clancy is so beautiful. I can just imagine her saying that. 😀
      I’m so glad to know you, and to have people around me who feel the same way I do. It makes that tightrope just a little less scary. ❤

  3. I love you Jo! I have noticed exactly the same since Little Chap started school. Only the other day he asked me why boys don’t do ballet. I told him they can if they want to and that every ballerina needs a man to lift her in the air but it made me so sad for the very same reason. Here’s to umbrellas. He still likes pink though!

    • Thanks, Emma. Here’s to umbrellas!! I’m so glad your Little Chap still likes pink. 🙂

      If it helps, I got around the ballet thing (for the moment) by showing Big Brother videos of ballet, and pointing out how strong the male dancers need to be to lift the females.

  4. I just love you, Jo. Keep doing what you’re doing. Your boys are very, very blessed to have parents who see them, for who they are, and resist a world that wants to tell them differently.

  5. When I was a little girl (several decades ago) there were so many things girls weren’t supposed to do–now little girls do everything. No reason why little boys shouldn’t have the same chance to experiment. Give Master Six a hug for me.

    • Exactly. And the other side of it is, when you tell small boys that there are girl things and boy things, not only are you limiting THEIR opportunities, you’re also setting them up for a life of believing women have defined gender roles. You hug has been delivered. 🙂

  6. God, I admire you for doing what’s right for your two boys. And my heart aches for Master Six for experiencing these gender-bias conflicts. No kid should have to go through that. Thank you for this post.

  7. A lovely post, as always.

    If I remember correctly from my Child Development class in college, this kind of change (learning gender stereotypes from other children and changing behavior to conform to those stereotypes) is normal. Depending on the child and his/her parents, these changes may or may not become permanent. My guess would be that your little one will eventually go back to loving “girl” things as long as you are his mom. Hope this helps.

    • Thanks, Bonnie. I had a feeling that this is the “normal” age for gender-differentiation, so it’s nice to have that backed up. I guess the best thing I can do is keep making our home a safe place for him to be himself, and hope that he finds his way back to being confident in expressing himself as he sees fit. It’s the internal conflict that upsets me so, not the change in his likes and dislikes. Thanks for giving me hope that they may not be permanent. xx

  8. janna

    This explains our life exactly right now. I had the same conversation driving my 4.5 year old son home from preschool the other day. Saying “there is no such thing as Boy Games and Girl Games honey”. I had to figure out how to help him understand so he could apply that concept to more than just power ranger games and princess games. But at 4 there is little in terms of grasping theoretical concepts. Everything is concrete. Everything is “this” or “that”.
    But tonight he still asked me to paint his toenails pink. Daddy was in the room and let go a tiny itty bitty sigh and when we were done I said “show them to daddy!” And his response was “that’s AWESOME buddy”.
    I pray he is never the boy teasing others over gender roles. I pray he is never teased. Or at the very least I pray that if he is teased, he has enough strength and confidence to say “So what! I feel sorry for you for thinking that way!”

  9. Yep. I seem to say that a lot to your posts. I love how you put them together, but I especially love what you write about. My boys and I have constant conversations about there not being girl toys or boy toys, and that girls can play whatever games the boys like to play, and vice versa. At school, they have come to an understanding (all the kids my boys play with) sometimes they play princesses and the boys are princes, and sometimes they play Star Wars and the girls (who want to be princesses) get to be Leia or Padme.

    True, they are still bought into gender sterotypes, but it was one way I could think to bridge the gap that the other kids were forcing on my kids. Sometimes, if they try to get me to be the girl character when I’m playing with them, I might say “I want to be Darth Maul. He’s cooler.” And they both agree (because Darth Maul is the bomb!) and we get to talk about how anyone can be anything they want. If I notice something gender-biased, I’ll point it out and explain why that kind of thinking is silly, and try to reinforce that people are people first, and there really isn’t that much different between us all – no matter what we look like, what our gender is, or who we love, or any of those many other things the world gets trapped up in.

    Keep fighting the good fight. You are not alone!

  10. “I wish I could wrap him up in love and paint his toenails bright rainbow colours and give him a ribbon for his hair and pink ballet shoes for his feet, and then let him run through the mud and build a city full of dinosaurs with lasers on their heads to fight the horde of brain-eating zombies about to attack.”

    Enough said. You know how I feel about it. Beautiful. xxoo

  11. I believe the true definition of Parent is Teacher. You have beautifully expressed an important lesson for our children. It teaches love, acceptance, differences that are actually common bonds between all people. Beautifully written, thoughtfully taught, and should be shared with all parents. How about sending to a magazine.

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