Boys will be boys – No more

“It was as if liking girl characters made me a joke” says Damian Alexander in the Boredpanda article called ‘Guy Illustrates How Boys Develop Sexism From Seemingly Small Interactions With Adults’.

As I read the article and browsed Damian’s comics, I found myself reflecting on a family experience that occurred not that long ago. My 4-year-old grandson (Mr 4) became obsessed with dressing like a princess. He has an older sister who also loves to do so. The family gathered together and agreed that our Mr 4 should be able to dress as he pleases. So we sat back and watched him come alive in his favourite princess dresses. I watched as each family member experienced his or her own reactions.

His father struggled with his own masculinity and wanted to change Mr 4’s preference. His aunty, who is a strong feminist, thought he had dirtied his clothes and had nothing else to wear. Me (the proud teacher of these beliefs) struggled with how I had been conditioned growing up, and his mother, another strong feminist woman and teacher, was happy for him to wear what he wanted if it made him happy. Each family member struggled to come to terms with the situation for their own reasons, except his sister who happily went along with it with no qualms.

The day came when Mr 4 wished to wear his princess dress out in public. “But what’s everyone going to say?” said his father concerned. He wasn’t the only one to feel this way. We were happy to advocate for other people to be different but when it’s your own family member… you start to feel the pressure to sway Mr 4 to change his princess dress for overalls.

The family gathered their courage and Mr 4 went out into the world in his unconventional princess dress. Then the remarks came. “Dad that boy is wearing a dress”, said one little boy. One of Miss 5’s school’s friends commented “Your brother is wearing a dress”. And one of Mr 4’s mother’s students asked, “Why is he wearing nail polish?”.

I wanted to ‘save’ Mr 4 from these comments. But I couldn’t.

Mr 4 no longer wears princess dresses in public but continues to wear them at home. If l were very honest, most of us were relieved. However, we’re also sad that he can’t wear what he wants out in public.

Damian’s comics highlight that sexist remarks made by people in everyday life is so entrenched and automatic, yet so impacting on the children who hear them. Damian reflects on his own experiences as a young boy, when he was persuaded by his schoolteacher to choose a male character instead of a female, for a school assignment. He questions what happened to him and has turned this questioning into a comic that is easy to read yet expresses the impact of these kinds of remarks on boy’s perception of women.

‘Boys will be boys’ is a saying we have all heard yet Damian highlights that the term justifies certain actions as gender traits rather than what they are: learned behaviour. He suggests we “just let kids like what they like” without adults placing their own biases on the behaviour or as Damian puts it “planting the little seeds of misogyny in their kid’s heads”. This behaviour CAN change with awareness.

But adults will need to learn to be brave because these attitudes have been embedded in society for so long and there will be great resistance. I have witnessed a family challenge themselves to allow their son/grandson/nephew dress in princess dresses and all I can say is “thank goodness great grandad wasn’t there to see it!” It’s not easy. But as a society, we need to be challenged and act to change the attitudes that currently exist – so that women can be respected and treated as equals.

‘Boys will be Boys’ is no longer a good enough excuse for unacceptable behaviour.

Written by Sandra. To see more of Damian’s images go here.

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