Free to Be

It’s bothered me and my husband for years now that Ruth seems disappointed in Cricket’s stereotypically male interests and delighted by his stereotypically female interests; recently she posted on Facebook about how thrilled she is that he wants nail polish and sparkley headbands. This bugs me probably more than it should—she has been discouraged and eye-rolly about the fact that he loves trucks, but brags on Facebook about the fact that he loves his pink rain boots. I don’t think I’m a gender traditionalist: Joey has trucks and dolls; sometimes he likes to dress up and be fancy, and I think that’s adorable; we’re getting him a play kitchen for his birthday. But I also think it’s great that he loves smashing block towers, and that he loves to paint, and that he thinks his toy dump truck is amazing. If he wants a dress at some point, we’ll get him a dress. Of course there are things he likes that I’m not thrilled about, but these are interests like kicking the walls and screaming at his sleeping brother. It bothers me that Ruth has an investment either way. When Joey cuddles his baby doll, I don’t feel more accomplished as a parent and a liberal. I probably will feel a little discouraged the first time he pretends to be using a gun, but I know that that kind of play is pretty common; Ruth told me at the visit in April that Cricket is interested in guns, and that she blames us, because she certainly hasn’t done anything to end up with a boy who likes guns.

I want whoever the kids are to be okay with the people raising them. If Cricket winds up, I don’t know, working as an auto mechanic, I don’t want Ruth to be more unhappy than she would be if he were a florist. At the same time, I worry that I’m speaking out of hetero privilege here—that I sound like the smug married-to-a-man lady explaining that my kids can be anything they want to be. Says A: Feminism is about allowing people to make choices and respecting the choices that they make. Says B: But their choices are constrained. Being happy as a clam as an auto mechanic may mean that Cricket happens to make choices that please the patriarchy, but those choices aren’t made in a vacuum. Maybe florist is more likely to be a free choice, seeing as he is so pushed by the world in the other direction. Ah, argues A: but if his mother is shoving him toward florist, is that better than The Man pushing him at mechanic?

I don’t know. Maybe. But I don’t like it.