Raising Boys + Rejecting Today’s Toxic Masculinity 

I’ve always despised gender stereotypes, first as a girl mom who taught my daughter from birth that she was capable of conquering the world. When I learned that there were less girls in STEM, for instance, I immediately enrolled her in a STEM based summer camp. She attended many science classes with me in college, and biotechnology and medical jargon became part of her early vocabulary. Now at 13, she embraces the challenge of being a girl in today’s world and seeks to smash glass ceilings and define her own life. 

Fast forward. I’m now a mom of two boys, ages 4 and 2. When your mom is against gender norms, this typically means that you’ll be gifted all of your big sister’s toys, games, and movies. My four-year-old son, Colin, has naturally gravitated towards more feminine items from a young age. He’s never been the boy who pretends to be a superhero or fill his dump truck with sand. He instead asks to play with unicorns, dolls, and Shopkins, typically choosing all things pink and sparkly whenever possible. When dentists and doctors hand him “boy” toys and stickers from the treasure chest after his appointment, he politely declines and asks for the “girl” items instead.

Colin also has an ADHD diagnosis and receives play therapy and occupational therapy on a regular basis. We have started instilling a rewards system at home where he can earn prizes for good behavior at school and with his teachers. A few months ago, he asked if he could earn a skirt from Target. What began as a trip for paper towels turned into the purchase of an orange tulle skirt, adorned with small heart designs. Colin was ecstatic.

At first, he only wore the skirt at home.

We second guessed allowing him to leave the house with it on, not because we were embarrassed or ashamed, but because it hurt my mama heart to think of anyone else teasing him or viewing him as less than. We gently encouraged him to save his growing collection of skirts and dresses for home.

Then one day, we said “forget it.” He had begged to wear his new unicorn dress out to dinner and was not understanding our hesitation. My husband and I glanced at each other, forming the same conclusion. Why not? So, we said yes to letting our boy brave the world in his unicorn dress, and do you know what happened? Absolutely nothing. We went about our business as usual, and no harsh words were exchanged. Sure, some children stared…but Colin didn’t seem to notice or mind, and to us, that’s all that mattered.

Admittedly, some of our family members are a bit put off by this. They gossip about his femininity and make inappropriate comments about his future sexual orientation or what it would mean for him to be a feminine boy. We shrug it off, knowing that Colin was hand picked just for us.

He was born into a family who loves and encourages him to be unapologetically himself.

We raise our kids to be kind and respectful, embracing whoever it is that they become. 

Partly in thanks to social media for giving everyone a voice, we seem to be raising awareness and making definitive progress towards empowering our girls and teaching them how capable they are. They are encouraged to be, see, and do everything and anything they set their minds to; to be well-rounded and get their hands dirty, when traditionally they were taught to “sit still and smile.” I’m still waiting, though, for our boys to also be encouraged to be well-rounded. When will it become acceptable for boys to gravitate towards traditionally feminine objects and endeavors, and for them to be able to freely express their emotions and feel without the attached shame and stigma?

Just imagine what a great world we’d live in if little boys were validated and told that yes, you can love all things pink and sparkly.

Yes, it’s ok to cry.

Yes, it’s ok not to feel scared, hurt, and angry. 

Yes, it’s ok to talk about all of those emotions that are also swirling through your body, because your feelings are valid. They matter. 

Colin wears skirts and dresses over his clothes on a regular basis now. His nails are usually painted pink, and he recently asked to trade in his tropical banana backpack for a sparkly pink Shopkins bag. He wants to be Princess Peach for Halloween and asks me to put lipstick on him each afternoon after his nap. He also loves Mario, airplanes, museums, zoos, and living his very best life on his own terms.

Here’s to my fierce four year old for paving the way to a better world. 

Jessica is a Boston girl turned Austinite as of 2016. She is a wife to Kyle and mama to Hayley, Colin, and Graham. Though she misses many things about the East Coast, she absolutely cannot complain about the active, taco-infused lifestyle of Texas. She is a former OB/GYN Nurse Educator turned digital media agency owner and lifestyle photographer. When she's not busy behind the lens, you can catch her caffeinating, desperately trying to find a cheer carpool, and obsessing over microfashion. Follow her over at www.jessicarockowitz.com

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