Would you let your son wear pink and play with dolls?
Do you think it's ok for boys to cry, wear pink or play with dolls? Or would you prefer to raise your son to become a traditional "macho man"?
From an early age, many children may already pick up gender stereotypes and around the age of two years, they will begin to notice the physical differences between boys and girls.
By the time they turn three years old, most children will be able to label themselves as either a boy or a girl and will also learn gender role behavior, such as doing “things that boys do” or “things that girls do”.
Although traditionally, girls were encouraged to do “feminine” activities such as play with dolls, cook, sew, and just be passive, boys on the other hand are taught to be tough, aggressive and show “masculine behaviours“.
But have times changed and are parents a bit more open now to their sons displaying behaviour which was once deemed as “girly”?
We explore the different areas boys may given some negative criticism and why such activities may be deemed as feminine.
Pink is just for girls?
Due to cultural norms, pink is considered the appropriate colour for girls and blue for boys, so babies are usually dressed in their assigned colours and most kids will grow up surrounded by such colours and eventually gravitate to either pink or blue according to their own sex due to this conditioning.
But what if a boy were to be dressed in pink? Would that detract from his masculinity?
Max Ling, Program Manager at The Polliwogs, and father of one son, feels that although pink is a colour commonly associated with girls, he doesn’t see it specifically as a “female colour”.
When asked if he would let his son wear pink, he replied, “To me it’s a gentle colour, a quality you can find in males as well. It’s the overall design (of the clothes) that matters – whether it is girlish or boyish – not so much the actual colour.”
The history of the colour pink
But when gender-specific colours such as blue and pink were introduced to babies’ clothes in the mid-19th century, pink was not originally meant for girls!
According to a June 1918 article by the trade publication Earnshaw’s Infants’ Department, “The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.”
Isabelle A., a Stay At Home Mum (SAHM) and mother of two boys and one girl, says, “For me, pink is just a colour. Boys are free to wear pink or any other colour as much as girls are free to wear blue or any other colour too”.
Even Singapore’s Prime Minister, Mr Lee Hsien Loong, is known to wear his signature pink shirts after following the advice of his TV producer.
If boys play with dolls, will they really grow up to be ‘sissies’? Go to the next page to find out more.
Don’t be a sissy
Is it true that only girls like to play with plush toys or babydolls and boys generally prefer trucks or dinosaurs?
A few studies have shown that boys appear to naturally have a strong preferences for “boy toys”, whereas girls don’t really show any strong preferences for “girl toys” at all.
This might be due to the fact that boys tend to receive more criticism than girls for crossing the “toy gender line“.
Isabelle K. feels that society might believe if boys played with babydolls it may influence or confuse their sexual orientation.
“Personally, I think it takes more than mere babydolls for that to happen. I do not mind (if boys played with dolls) and the same goes for my daughter who can play with toy guns and soldiers”, she says.
Appreciate the innocence
If you are still worried about your son showing an interest in dolls, Dr Alan Greene, M.D., from Stanford University School of Medicine says, “A boy playing with Barbies or a girl playing with toy guns doesn’t concern me any more than a girl playing with Barbies or a boy playing with toy guns.”
He also urges parents to just relax and appreciate the innocent play of your son, who is exploring the world around him without any concern.
When children play with dolls, it helps to develop their social-emotional skills and helps them to be nurturing and caring.
So if boys were to play with dolls and pretend to feed, rock it to sleep and carry it, this might even encourage them to be loving fathers to their own children when they grow up – which is wonderful quality to have.
Keep reading to find out why are boys taught not to cry
Big boys don’t cry
When boys cry, some parents will be quick to jump in and tell them to ‘stop being a wuss’ or even make fun of them for being so gu niang (effeminate).
Christia S. Brown, PhD, Associate Professor of Developmental Psychologist at the University of Kentucky and author of Parenting Beyond Pink and Blue: Raising Kids Free of Gender Stereotypes, explains that parents often teach boys that sad emotions are something only girls are allowed to express.
This will shape their ideas about what emotions feel like, how they should be labeled, and how they should be expressed.
“We aren’t born with these schemas, we are taught them. For boys, they are taught that sadness is not okay, and expressing sadness is definitely not okay”, she shares.
Boys can feel sad too
According to John S. Ogrodniczuk, PhD and John L. Oliffe, PhD, explain that such values which are blatantly promoted by some parents and other caretakers, will have a profound impact on boys’ and men’s gender identities, roles, and relations, and may even lead to depression.
“Boys can learn to dissociate from aspects of emotional experience, especially any visible feelings of sadness. Anger, shame, and control-oriented defences often arise as a means of self-protection”, they say.
So how do today’s parents feel about their sons crying?
Max Ling feels that it’s fine for boys to cry and says, “We all have our moments of vulnerability. However, I don’t think it’s ok for boys to cry at the drop of a hat over every little thing – this goes the same for girls too! It’s actually good to cry once in a blue moon. That just shows he’s human.”
Isabelle K. also agrees and shares that, “Crying is just how we express ourselves when feeling sad or hurt, but kids should not go to the extent of being cry-babies, which is quite annoying to me regardless of gender.”
Be a man!
In our exclusive interview with Nabilah Husna A. Rahman, who is the Campaign Coordinator of We Can! — which is a campaign that aims to build a gender-equal society — she explains that boys are taught from a very early age to refrain from expressing sadness, to not cry, to avoid ‘acting like a little girl’.
“When they grow up thinking that being a girl is one of the worst things they can be, what are we teaching boys about girls themselves? These beliefs are inculcated at a very young age, and subconsciously affect their attitudes towards what they would consider “feminine” behaviour, understanding it as weaker, more powerless, having less agency and importance than masculinity”, she says.
Her advice to parents is, “If we start to teach boys that these stereotypes and gender norms are simplistic, we can build future generations where boys and men are free to express themselves in healthy, constructive ways”.
Isabelle K.’s parting words are, “As a mother, I want my children to live in a world of equal opportunities and be true to themselves. I’d also like for my daughter and both my sons not to be oppressed or conform to the rules of society.”
So although little boys are thought to be made of slugs and snails and puppy dog tails, parents should not be afraid to raise your sons with a pinch of sugar and spice and everything nice too.
Do you think it’s acceptable for boys to wear pink, play with babydolls or cry every once in a while? Would you prefer to raise your son to be a traditionally “macho man” or are you ok with him being gentle and sensitive? Share your thoughts with us below.