When a friend’s son asked her for a pink floral bike helmet, she lied and told him they didn’t have the floral ones in his size. He went home with a plain blue one instead.
“I hate myself for doing it,” she tells me. “But I worry that he’ll get teased.”
No doubt she was also trying to avoid invasive queries. She’s regularly subjected to lectures from friends and strangers about the perils of “indulging” her son by painting his nails and buying him the doll he requested for Christmas. According to these parenting experts, she’s going to “turn him gay”.
By contrast, when I encourage my daughter to transgress her gender role and take part in stereotypically male activities, like going to soccer lessons or playing a doctor rather than a nurse in her imagination games, I get nods of approval.
In fact, it’s now cool to get your daughter to play with trucks and balls rather than, say, a Dream Barbie® Rainbow-Shitting Pony. (Okay, so I made that bit up; everybody knows that Barbie’s pony poos pink diamantes.)
In some cases there is an active push away from letting girls be “girly”, but at other times it happens by default when we praise traditional male behaviours more than female ones.
But when it comes to breaking down gender stereotypes, we’re on a strictly one-way street because, by contrast, feminine behaviour in boys is mostly discouraged. At best, it is tolerated.