I never thought he would feel that being born a boy was a limitation.




I wanted my first child to be girl.  The feminist in me very much needed a little girl to breathe fire into.  I could’t wait to teach her that she could be anything she wanted to be.  I knew I would fight with all I had to make sure she knew that being born female was not a limitation…

That she was worthy of respect.

I would buy her trucks if she wanted, put her in Karate, and give her the freedom to break any girl stereotype she wanted.  Of course, if she wanted to be a princess in a tutu most of the time, that was okay too – because in my book, feminine does not equal bad.  No limits.

Then I had a boy.

Then I had another boy.

I recently read a post by Dresden Julia Shumaker  on BlogHer.com about raising a son in the “princess culture” and if all this girl power is hurting our boys.  She echoed many of my own thoughts and experiences since having two boys of my own.

I never worried too much about my boys having to “break stereotypes”.  I never thought they would feel that being born a boy was a limitation…

until recently.

My oldest son likes to wear my bracelets.

He likes the feel of my makeup brush on his face.

He wanted to be a princess for a long time because most of the shows we watched that were age appropriate had a princess in it.  We were hard pressed to find a children’s show starring a prince.

He is also four.

My husband not too long ago asked our boy what he wanted to watch on Netflix streaming one weekend.  My son promptly replied, “My Little Pony!”

A slightly perplexed looked crossed my husband’s face as he said, “What?  That show is for girls.”

My Little Pony makes my son intensely happy.  Who wouldn’t  love it – it’s got ponies that are all different colors, they sing songs, one of them always saves the day, and they freaking fly.

I quickly chimed in, “It’s not just for girls.  It’s a TV show.  They made it for anyone with a TV.”

My husband, desperate not to loose his open-minded badge, nodded quickly and said, “Yup.  That’s right.  You’re right.”

If I had a daughter and she were playing monster trucks it would be celebrated.  If my son brings his stuffed baby to class for show and tell, we’re worried he may be laughed at.

It saddens me a little that sometimes he now asks me before picking up a toy, “Is this for girls or boys?”  He has also asked me more than once while watching My Little Pony where the boy ponies are.

Children are dreamers.  Children think without limits.  It is as it should be.

This celebration of girls breaking stereotypes is a natural backlash from a gender that’s spent too long oppressed – it is the time we live in.  “Girl power” sounds liberating.  “Boy power” still sounds a little bit dangerous…

Can’t we just call it a day and call it “kid power”?  There are few things more powerful than the boundless joy of a child, and the belief that anything is possible.  I see no need to taint the things he likes to do with embarrassment at such an early age.  He will have enough limits placed on him as he grows into an adult… and he’ll need his limitless thinking to overcome them.

My son is a sensitive, empathetic child, as well as a nurturing big brother.  I don’t think I went out of my way to instill these virtues in him.  Part of it may be from him spending most of his life by my side, and modeling that behavior.  Part of it is in his nature.

He also likes trucks.

So now…

I have sons that I breathe fire into.

I make sure they know that being born male is not a limitation…

That they are worthy of respect…

and the feminist in me is happy…

because someday they will each meet a woman who knows she can be anything she wants to be,

and they won’t feel threatened…

because they were allowed the same.





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38 responses to “I never thought he would feel that being born a boy was a limitation.”

  1. Your husband must not know about Bronies. . .

    But, yeah, as a mama to two girls and then one boy, it’s interesting how much of a double-standard there is. When my daughter had super short hair or only wore jeans/sneakers, I never heard a peep. When my son wore nail polish (he has two sisters who LOVE to do their nails), a dad in the neighborhood told him, “don’t let your dad see that!” and he got lots of comments for his shaggy longer hair. It’s pretty pathetic that it’s okay for a girl to be “boyish” but the flip is considered somewhat wrong. But, yay for our sensitive boys!

  2. Is it sad that the first thing I thought was “Bronies!”?

    I get your point for sure. And I don’t care what my kids play with, and having a daughter, you can be sure my little guy has played with Barbies.

    OTOH, boys still have so much more opportunity than girls as they grow – and THAT is still a bigger issue to me.

    • Jenni Chiu says:

      You’re right about the opportunities for boys… still a big societal issue. It’s not balanced, for sure… I just don’t want the boys growing up now to pay the price for an imbalance they didn’t create.

  3. Debbi says:

    Unfortunately, in the pursuit of equality, it appears to be human nature to shove down the one who was always on top in order for the one who was always on the bottom to climb up and see above the treetops. It isn’t necessary and it certainly isn’t right but it’s a knee-jerk reaction to the anger and frustration of having once been oppressed and needing to assert that it will not be allowed to happen ever again. There’s a pic in my Facebook pics, an old advertisement from Legos, I believe of a little red-headed girl wearing jeans and a t-shirt, surrounded by a pile of Legos, looking all the part of a tomboy with the widest smile on her face. Quite possibly my favorite photo ever. It doesn’t say I’ve come to take your Legos away or Hey it’s my turn now you stupid, smelly boys. It just says it’s time to play. She’s there to join the boys, belly up to a table on her terms (looking a lot like them) and Play. It’s really simple. If you want to play, play. If you don’t, don’t. If you want to play something else, play something else. I just wish it actually was that simple :/ Good luck giving your boys the opportunity to be the children they want to be, you and they deserve it!

  4. Alison says:

    I love everything about this post.

    Mother of two boys

  5. Samantha Millus says:

    I love this! I had a boy after 3 girls and he loves to do his make-up and nails with his sisters, then go crash his trucks. It’s such a fine line with all kids to allow them to be WHO THEY ARE, instead of what society thinks they should be! I hope to raise loving, respectful, strong hearted people, and the rest is just fodder!

  6. Arnebya says:

    My girls are 12 and 9 and the boy is 3. At first, the girls were “concerned” that he enjoyed playing with their dolls so much or watching the “girly” shows they watch. He liked pushing dolls in the strollers or feeding them or holding them. He liked dressing (and more now, undressing), Barbie. My younger daughter actually asked, “Is it ok that he does that?” Um, HELL YES. “Do you think we should get him more boy toys?” Um, HELL NO. Look at all this shit; I’m not buying more toys. He plays with what you play with. He plays how he sees you play. He likes what he’s exposed to even though he’s given ample showings of trucks and dirt and super heroes. I found it more bothersome that she, at 8 or so, considered it a bad thing that he liked “girl” things. Has she been shown already that this is to be considered wrong? Now, the boy still plays with Barbie but she’s usually in a car with some random action figure guy. I see no need to push one or remove the other.

  7. Jennifer says:

    I love this so much I wish I could hug it. I had my daughter first and joined the “girl power” army. Because I do look around and see all of the many, many ways that society/culture/the collective “them” try to hold girls back. Then I had a boy. And I see him want his nails painted or want to play with his sister’s dolls or want to be in dance class, which he is. But right now he is four, five in a few months, and I know that as he gets older those same people that try to tell my daughter that she can’t be whatever she wants, will also try to tell my son what he must be, and I don’t like that either.

  8. Brook says:

    YES, YES, YES!!! I find it interesting that they gear self esteem talks, bullying, and individuality to girls and leave the boys behind. My boys need that too, and it ticks me off that they get left out. However, thank to moms like you, me and the others that have commented here, I have faith that our boys won’t get left behind. This is a wonderful post.

  9. Anna says:

    I have two little boys and this post speaks to the heart of what I feel for them every day. I want them to fight gender stereotypes as long as they can, though I can already see my 3-year-old bring home things that he learns from his peers. He said to me recently that “purple is for girls” and I corrected him, telling him that purple is for royalty and both kings and queens wear purple. But it is getting harder and I ache for how they will be told over and over by society what they “can’t” do because they are boys. I can only hope that I will be able to instill self-confidence in them that they can play with/wear/do/be whatever they want and be empowered by their choices in the same way that girls are encouraged to be empowered by theirs. Gender is a social construction: society tells us what is “boy” and what is “girl.” We can fight to change that construction – for all kids.

    • anon says:

      You can pass on to your son that my 6 ft 4 190 lb 16 year old son loves purple clothes and that purple is for anyone, and as to the commenter below, have they time traveled from 1950?

  10. anon says:

    little boys and girls wouldn’t be confused and need to be “breathed fire into” if people would just stick to gender roles! this is why our society is falling apart. men should be men and women should be women! our society is weak because we are raising weak men and strong women that lets face it dont have as much pull as the weak men. Teach your daughters to protect themselves, teach them to know how to do things but teach them to be women. my generation is more focused on pushing its indipendant agenda on our children then raising children that will be good and productive members of society.

    • Jenni Chiu says:

      I’d have to disagree – my son didn’t seem confused at all until people started telling him he couldn’t watch/play/do certain things because he was a boy. It would be much less confusing if a truck was just a truck and a color just a color. I’m not talking about pushing an agenda… I’m talking about having a LACK OF agenda, and just letting our kids discover, play, and feel good about discovering who they are.

      • Nita says:

        My opinion is we dont have to raise girls to be women or boys to be men, we just have to raise children to be happy, support them and their dreams, and be proud of them-thus making them proud of themselves.

  11. […] we’ve forgotten the need to guide our boys too. A fellow blogger touched on this in her post, “I never thought he would feel that being a boy was a limitation.” Her children are young, so her concern focuses on erasing gender lines with the toys her kids play […]

  12. Shell says:

    As a mom of three little boys, I totally get this. It does seem like there’s more tolerance for girls trying to do whatever they want but boys should do boy things. And girl power scares the hell out of me- I wrote a little while ago if there was too much girl power.

  13. Debi says:

    I love this post and it is all the reasons that I love reading your blog. As you know, I have two of the girliest girls you will ever meet. Neither wanted to wear pants until after they turned four before that it was dresses and skirts and oodles and oodles of tulle and not until the went to PreK and the other little girls wore pants did they ever even allow me to put them in jeans. That being said they are very feminine BUT they will play cars with their boy cousins just like one of the boys. They like to roughhouse and watch Power Rangers but they also like lip gloss and tutus. I don’t put limitations on my girls or restrictions. I want them to be whoever they are meant to be. I only want them to know that they are not limited to what they can do because of what lies between their legs.
    You are doing a great job with your boys. They are going to be amazing men.The previous commenter is an asshole just trying to stir the pot. They need to go back to their cave. XO

  14. Jen says:

    I love this post because I can totally relate to it. My oldest son, when he was about 4, wanted to be a Barbie. He wanted to wear dresses, have ponytails in his hair and get earrings.

    I just went with it. He was happy so I was happy. Some kids made fun of him but that didn’t seem to phase him.

    He is now 8 and mostly grown out of this stage but My Little Pony’s is his favorite show and he wants a Barbie for his birthday. 🙂

  15. Victoria KP says:

    Stopping by your blog for the first time. As the mother of two sons (ages 8 & 10), I adore this post. The commenter above who feel like everything would be fine if we’d all just “stick to our gender roles” boggles my mind this day and age. Kids are artists and explorers. Playtime is when they start to learn about the world. Who would put restraints on someone’s learning by telling them “That isn’t what boys (or girls) do”?

  16. Kirsten says:

    I will leave leave a better comment when I get online tomorrow and not from my phone, but this is incredible. I have been writing something like this about Jacob and his love of costumes, Christmas and most things Broadway musical’y’.

    I loved every thought this provoked.

  17. Fadra says:

    As we’re here at Disney this week and my son has lots of grandparent money for his souvenir choices, it’s interesting to see what he picks out.

    Day 1: beaded bracelet (clearly for girls) that he loves. It has African colors in it. And a shark’s tooth necklace.

    Day 2: A golden dragon status from “China.” He stares longingly at the shiny gold, as if it’s real gold.

    He’s a boy alright. He loves fighting and weapons and light sabers… and shiny things. Maybe he’ll be a gemologist.

  18. Katie says:

    Jenni, this is on my heart a lot. I’ve bee meaning to write about it too. Eddie is in LOVE with princesses. He has a Disney princess baby that I brought home for him from BlogHer in 2011 while I was pregnant with Charlie. It was good for talking about what to do with babies, but it’s become more. He loves her. People think it’s weird, but he just loves princesses. We listen to Sofia the First soundtrack in the car because he thinks it’s wonderful. All his life (all almost 4 years) his daycare has been mostly girls. They have dressed him up in dresses and heels and he loves it! He loves “boy” toys too, but he loves “girl” ones equally.

    Someone asked me once if I thought he was gay. I said, “i don’t know. does it matter at 3.5? Does it matter at all?”

    It makes me sad that because he loves princesses, he’s “probably gay”, but if I had a girl who loved dinosaurs and trucks that would be “empowering.”

  19. karen says:

    WOW, great post babe. I thought I would be a good mom for a girl, I wanted to teach her to be powerful, independent and strong. As it turns out I had a boy. I then learned that I wanted to teach him to how to be strong and respectful. I model for him what a women who loves herself and her body looks like. I want him to be happy with himself and find a women who doesn’t need him to make her happy, but rather support each other.


  20. Man, oh man. This is such a tough topic. (Great piece by the way.) I for one, am on the opposite side of your argument – and I may receive some flack for that, but that’s okay. I come from an “old school” family who have always taken pride in raising “manly men”. The gender line, in my opinion, is becoming quite blurred in this current day and age.

    I’ve always liked my men MANLY. I don’t want my man taking longer to get ready than me, or TVo’ing Real Housewives. I like my men with rough hands, scruffy faces, and smelly feet… and I tend on raising my son to be just that way (Sans the smelly feet if I can help it. lol). Does that mean I tell him that he can’t touch his sister’s dolls? Of course not, but I don’t put him in his sister’s clothes if he asks, and I see no problem with telling him that nail polish is for girls when me and his sister are giving each other mani-pedis. I’m not sure how or when this mentality became wrong or “stifling”.

    Now if, as an adult, he chooses to explore his sexuality and veers over into that world. I’m all for it! Someone else to shop with. lol. But as his mother, I feel that it’s my role to try and raise a “man” to the best of my ability. This is just an opinion, and I applaud moms who allow their sons the freedom to wear pink shoes to school, or a tiara to the grocers. That’s just not for me and mine.

    • Jenni Chiu says:

      I understand where you’re coming from. Part of what I love about my husband is his rough hands, ability to swing a hammer, and strong arms to scoop me up in. I also feel he probably would’ve turned out the same way without being pushed in any direction – it’s in his nature.
      I just don’t feel the need to push or deny certain clothes, toys, colors, and activities based on gender. My son is only four, and I feel that kids have the capacity to discover what they like and don’t like. If he likes to build – he’ll discover that. If he likes to dance – he’ll discover that too. While he’s young, I’m trying to come from a place of offering instead of denying. Unfortunately, I think the smelly feet will be there no matter what I do.

  21. Brandee says:

    This is something that I have been thinking about a lot too. My son, who is 4, also loves princesses and fairies. He has long hair by his own choice and loves to watch Cinderella. He also has a billion lightsabers, loves Star Wars and is one of the most rough and tumble kids you will ever meet. He is sensitive and caring and has a lot of empathy for others. Sadly, he is also starting to look at things as “boy toys” and “girl toys”.

    I am trying to encourage him to play with whatever he wants right now, but I have to admit, we are also worried that he will be made fun of if he brings his Tinkerbell for show-and-tell to preschool.

    I wish so much that we, as a society, didn’t feel the need to try and make everyone conform to certain things and expectations, and just allowed everyone, kids and adults alike, to just be who they are. I don’t want this to come at the expense of anyone else, but we shoud be at a time now where we truly celebrate differences and where anyone, regardless of gender, and be who, or what, they want to be. Maybe, if we are aware of the effect that this might be having on our boys, we can all work together to change that. I just wish I knew how. Really, really great post.

  22. Kiki Phukan says:

    As a mother of two teenage sons, I agree wholeheartedly with this article. I can only hope that my sons will find well-rounded girls since they are determined never to go out with a princess!

  23. Geoff Rice says:

    I was totally inspired by your fresh take on this. Bravo. But the very last sentiment not only surprised but alarmed me. How can someone so forward thinking, smart, and progressive assume that both her boys will grow up to be straight? Am I misunderstanding? I admittedly didn’t read every comment and response so perhaps you addressed it there. But if not, you perhaps are in danger of losing YOUR open-minded badge.

    • Jenni Chiu says:

      I like that you pointed that out because I noticed it as I wrote that last part. I thought about changing it… but decided not to. The truth is that I do assume they will be straight – the majority of people are born heterosexual. If they aren’t, I will love them the same… but part of the point i was trying to make is that enjoying playing with things are stereotyped as “just for girls” doesn’t mean or won’t make them gay.
      I do not feel my open-minded badge is in danger. 😉

  24. I love this post. You nailed it. We celebrate a girl who played with trucks and dinosaurs, but we don’t celebrate a boy who loves ponies and princesses.
    It’s like we’ve spent so much time compensating for the limited roles girls/women in the past, that we’ve forgotten that little boys need to be empowered, too, especially if we want them to have open minds about gender roles.

    Stopping by from the Sharefest, and so glad I did!

  25. Gretta says:

    Jesus Christ, I have three sons and I don’t even know HOW I stumbled here but YES YES YES to everything you have written.

    My BOYS can be ANYTHING they want to be! If only the world wouldn’t laugh at them.

  26. I love you and I love this post! You echoed so many of my own thoughts, feelings and actions – I so appreciate. Thank you!

  27. Jessica says:

    This is an excellent post Jenni, I’m so glad I read it. My boys love girl things and this is the first year, with one in preschool, that we are dealing with the stereotypes of what is “girl stuff” and what is “boy stuff.” Ultimately, like you, I just want them to do what they want to do and be happy with who they are. I was polishing my daughter’s nails the other day and I could see my son really struggling because he wanted his done too but thought it was a “girl activity.” Truly I wish there was no such thing.

  28. Kat says:

    I think part of it is that it’s fine for girls to want to be like boys because boys are somehow “better” So it goes if boys are “better” then they shouldn’t be like “girls” (eewwww girl germs!!) This also comes out amongst adults too, it seems much more acceptable for a woman to be more masculine than for a man to be more feminine. Heavens forbid a man want to wear a skirt or some makeup.

    Kids are kids. Society puts so much importance on gender roles that are so completely irrelevant when they’re adolescents but they are constantly bombarded with them.

    I have a little 3 yr old boy who LOVES accessorising, he loves his bags and his bracelets and necklaces. He also absolutely loves cars, trains, buses, planes, trams etc. I also have a daughter who was told by the other girls at pre-school that because she was a girl her favorite color HAD to be pink. Alas 6 years later and it still is her favourite colour, on the other hand, her favourite “toy” is her computer and she wants to be a marine scientist, YAY SCIENCE!!

    • Jenni Chiu says:

      I agree – there is totally a negative connotation on the feminine qualities. “You throw like a girl” “Don’t cry like a girl”
      My son also loved putting on my necklaces a couple years ago… something that just kind of disappeared as he moved on to a new phase of play. Your daughter sounds awesome. She sounds smart… like a girl.

  29. I love this! I’ve tried so hard to be gender-neutral in my choice of toys, as well as in choosing books. It’s amazing to me how many children’s books have stereotypes about who drives trucks, the gender of a train, what mommies do, what daddies do, etc. It’s a tough battle to think about. It also helps when your child goes to a preschool setting that supports these choices.

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