Around the time my son O turned two, I noticed a shift happening in the way people spoke to him. Prior to that point, people tended to compliment hisAround the time my son O turned two, I noticed a shift happening in the way people spoke to him. Prior to that point, people tended to compliment his impossibly blue eyes with their long eyelashes, his sweet smile or his all-around adorableness, which, as his mother, I can objectively tell you with zero bias was off the charts. It was exactly what you'd expect someone to say about any baby, really, since a baby's entire appearance is craftily formed to appeal to adults so you don't throw them out of windows when they wake up 600 times a night and you're barely scrapping by on the bottom dregs of your humanity. Like I often said when he was tiny, it's a good thing babies are cute.
O was cute - is cute, actually - but sometime after he turned two, the compliments focused less and less on his appearance and more on his abilities: Wow, look at you go! You're one fast little runner! What a big boy you are! Aw, you're helping Mommy carry the grocery bag? You must be so strong! Did you climb up there all by yourself?? You're so brave! - and so on. That's all great - he IS strong and capable, and he's learned to use his body in so many ways, from climbing to running to balancing to sliding to jumping... - but I started to notice that his little girl friends rarely got the same treatment. Their compliments sounded more like this: I LOVE your pretty little dress! Is that Princess Elsa from Frozen on it? I bet you want to be a princess when you grow up, too! Wow, those are fancy shoes! I like how they're so pink and sparkly! What a pretty little girl you are - you must have so many little boyfriends at school!
Even at age two, boys are strong and brave, and girls are pink princesses to be admired. Some people argue this is harmless, but it's not. Examples are EVERYWHERE.
Case in point: I was flipping through a Pottery Barn Kids catalogue the other day and learned that they sell a vanity...what message are you telling a little girl when you buy her a piece of furniture that, by its very name, exists so you can obsess over your appearance all day long? Here, girls, make yourselves beautiful. How else are you going to ever find a husband to take care of you!?!? Second case in point: I went on Amazon to search for a play doctor kit for O last Christmas. Apparently, there are girl doctor kits and boy doctor kits. I mean, what do you expect - that a little girl use something other than a pink stethoscope? How dare you...she's a FEMALE! Third case in point: I see little girls all. the. time. wearing shirts that say barfy things like "Princess-in-Training," "Sassy Little Diva," "Pretty Like Mommy" and - ugh, the worst - "Spoiled Brat," like that's something to be proud of. People are deliberately dressing their children from birth in clothes that teach a girl that self-absorption is both normal and desirable.
I've read a lot about this topic, and while I wouldn't say this is a must-read, it'd be a great book for parents who are first starting to notice this sort of behavior to check out. Parents of boys (such as myself) shouldn't ignore it just because they don't have girls - their boys, who will someday turn into men, are the ones who will learn to view girls, who will someday turn into women, as equals....more