"Is It OK For My Son To Like Girl Stuff?"

Today’s crowd-sourcing research topic is taken from a conversation I had with a couple of moms I know. It’s about sexual identity and our kids.

Even the most open-minded parents find themselves caught up in whether or not their boys should be playing with toys designed and marketed to little girls. And I do think this is more likely to come up for those who have sons. For whatever the reason may be, it’s OK for little girls to like army men, dump trucks, and action figures. But if our little boys are standing in the toy store, staring longingly at Barbie, a parent might try and nudge him closer to GI Joe. And even if it’s not as deliberate as that, I reckon the thought would enter most of our minds.

How would you react if your little boy suddenly preferred Barbie to GI Joe? Why? (Don’t take that question too literally. What I mean to ask is: what if your son started to identify with the more feminine societal symbols?)


  1. I think that many feel that it’s easier for a girl tomboy than it is for a feminine boy. We aren’t nice to effeminate boys. Society is better than we used to be, but it’s not perfect by a long shot. I think that parents worry for little boys who might be effeminate because of how they’ll be treated.


  2. Ya know it’s funny you post this question. My nephew for the longest time loved hello kitty and the color pink because it was bright and pretty (he said). Hello Kitty is pink and a cat so it made sense. Now that he’s older (7) he’s into things like logos and starwars. I personally have a daughter who’s 10 months, but I’m open minded enough although I do understand what you mean.

    I think right now at this age your son is at, it’s all about curiosity and as they get older they sort of fall into the gender rolls. Whether we want it to be that way or not… I think it just naturally happens that way for some when children become more a part of their social environment??


  3. I’ve been dealing with this dilemma with my son from day 1. I’ve always let him play with what he wants but have, at times when I feared greatest ridicule from peers, tried to encourage more masculine items. It never worked. He has always had baby dolls and barbie-type dolls.

    He is now 14 and has grown accustomed to kids at school mocking him for his tastes. He is often called “gay” for his more feminine interests and it is such a norm in his life that he has stopped telling me about it. It breaks my heart. He loves musicals and “girly” books. He couldn’t care less about sports or video games. It’s just not in his character. Seeing him get picked on for this keeps me up at night, but as each year ticks by I see him caring less and less. He just seems confident in who he is, and while my heart cries with every story of ridicule, it soars with pride to see him handle him well. It’s a tough call, and it doesn’t get easier with age. I wish my 14 years of struggle allowed me to impart some wisdom, but it doesnt.


  4. Oh, boy does this push buttons for me. I am dreading the need to navigate these waters already.

    Perhaps I’m dating myself, but do you recall “Free to be you and me”? Specifically, the song “Williams wants a doll”? Kind of a cheerful little ’70s-era approach to the question, as I recall (in a good way).


  5. I do not recall such a song, Brad. But now I want to recall it.

    Zoot: I am SO sorry your son has to deal with any amount of ridicule. Kids can be so cruel. So sorry.

    For the record, the title might be a bit misleading here. I wasn’t asking this in response to my son. (Although, we are buying him a really hot kitchen for his room today and I laughed because most all of the pictures shown on sites feature little girls playing at the toy kitchens.) This is for anyone. I added the quotes around the title as a way to let people know that it’s a question anyone might ask.

    Sorry for the confusion.

    “I love my alive gay son!” (To sorta quote a great movie.)


  6. My son is 18 months right now, so I don’t really mind if he runs for a doll that is pink and bright. It’s pretty and that’s all he sees. (BTW, we’re current;y saving to get him his own play kitchen for his birthday or Christmas. I got a little nagging from my mom about it, but I cook a lot and I’d like for him to be interested in that.) If I’m going to be dead honest here, I would have to say that as he gets older, I would start to get uncomfortable if he preferred Barbie. I wouldn’t stop him, but I would start worrying about how this will effect his social life.


  7. All of free to be me and you is great and can be found on Youtube. Mommies are people is great. On your question if my son were to prefer “girl” marketed things I think it would be concerning about the teasing aspect and at the same time I worry that I inadvertenly or unthinkingly push boy themed stuff and close off/not give opportunity to explore other things he might be interested in….including barbie


  8. I know that my husband would take issue if one of the boys wanted to play with the more ‘girly’ toys, but honestly, I would just sit and play with them. With having 2 boys, I don’t really have the chance to play with Barbie’s unless I admit they are for me ;).

    however, our youngest has always been partial to the kitchen and play food toys. He loves to bake and cook with me. But I think that has allot more to do with imagination and creativity. He’s my little artist. And cooking/baking has a creativity flair to it.


  9. I am 100% fine with my son liking girl toys if he so chooses too. I feel badly that boys are limited in what they are allowed to like or enjoy for fear of being too “girly”.


  10. My oldest’s favorite color was pink for many, many years. He begged for pink sandals, every summer. We found great tevas that had a hint of pink in them.

    He requested a barbie, we bought it for him.

    This was from the age of about 2-4.

    Now his favorite color is red. He’s all boy. He stuck the barbie in a stump in the back yard, and threw frisbees at it.


  11. Our 19-month old Jack is so in love with my beaded-hot-pink flip flops that my husband and I have begun talking about this very topic a great deal. It all started when at 13 months he loved to play dress up and always chose the showwhite gown from the available costumes. He was the only one that would keep his costume on. Just last week his teacher told me how adorable he was pretending to blow-dry his hair in the “salon” and every time we go over to a friend’s house he “bakes” cookies in their play kitchen. For Christmas, we got him a shopping cart that he adores – and I was bummed that the box had only images of girls on it. The division among gender starts all too early. Even with the available push toys designed to help a child learn to walk – choices can be limited – a baby-doll stroller or a lawnmower? We are determined to remain “gender-free” in most respects because I want him to feel free to develop whatever interests he has. Most children don’t truly display or take on any gender-specifc traits until they go to school and the labeling and classifications begin. It breaks my heart to think he will be teased about beaded-pink flip flops, so for the time being we enjoy being entertained by Mr. Snowhite’s flair for the dramatic.


  12. The funny thing about all the pink vs blue stuff is that back in the 20s, it was the opposite. It changed in the 40s to be what we know it as today. Pink used to be masculine.

    See this link: http://people.howstuffworks.com/gender-color1.htm


  13. There were some great stories on NPR last year about gender identity, and some little boys who identified themselves as girls and how their respective families dealt with it. But that is sort of the extreme end of this topic.

    My son went through a period when he was between 2 and 3 where he identified mostly with me. He wanted to “cook” so we bought him a play kitchen. He was fascinated by my make-up and applicators, so I gave him some old blush brushes, powder puffs, sponges, and empty make-up containers for him to play with. The phase passed. He is 14 now and “all boy”, whatever that means. He does like to cook for himself, but that is because he is ravenous all the time!

    My daughter, who is 10, has been pretty girly her whole life, but when they were younger she could hold her own in the light saber battles and laser tag.

    I think it is a lot easier for girls to go back and forth across gender lines. It’s more socially acceptable for a little girl to cut her hair short, wear shirts with trucks and dinosaurs on them than it is for little boys to look more feminine. Even as adults, women may wear pants and suits without anyone giving it a second thought, but if a man were to wear a dress or skirt or blouse to work, people would have something to say about it.

    Recently, I saw a blog post on jezebel.com about a high school girl who sued her school so she could wear a tuxedo to prom. She won the law suit, but the statement from the school only said that girls could wear formal wear of their choice. If I remember correctly, the statement didn’t say anything about boys being able to wear gowns if they wanted too.

    There is definitely a double standard at work here. I don’t know what the answer is.


  14. I had a cabbage patch premie that I loved as well as lots of GI Joes, Transformers, Hot Wheels, etc.


  15. http://www.amazon.com/Free-Be-You-Marlo-Thomas/dp/B000F2CC0E/ref=pd_bxgy_d_img_b

    I recommend this with unalloyed joy. I don’t think of it often, but when I do I tend to suspect it had a huge influence on my development/perspective. Rosy Grier singing “It’s All Right To Cry” — ’nuff said. Unless my memory serves me poorly, this would be one instance in which the best intentions planted in the late ’60s & early ’70s bore delicious and nutritious fruit. Plus which, as kids’ songs go, these kick bootie. Only Schoolhouse Rock can touch it.

    I’m gonna order it for Luca as soon as he starts speaking something other than Martian.

    (PS — There’s a DVD, too, apparently from a TV special. If I saw this, I don’t remember it. My brother & I had the record and we wore it out with repeat playings.)


  16. Ha! We bought trucks and cars for our daughters — they ignored them for dolls and dresses, while our son (who wore surplus pink baby clothes and the odd Disney princess dress) was rolling the girls’ toys back and forth on the floor with engine roaring noises before he could crawl. I have no idea …


  17. At various times, my 2 1/2 year old son has preferred dolls and traditionally “feminine” toys to others. It makes my husband nervous, for some reason. I have a male cousin with whom I grew up, and he was also into dolls, clothes, stuffed animals, my little ponies etc. He came out to his family in his early 20’s, and I have a feeling my husband fears our son might also be gay if he plays with dolls.

    I really could care less! I always view children who take care of their stuffed animals and dolls well as people who will make good parents int he future.

    My son also loves to cook and bake and barbeque in his toy kitchen. But, my husband does most of the cooking and baking in our house, so I wouldn’t consider that a girly thing at all.

    Lately, it’s all about the tools, and fixing things, the dolls got tossed away, and the kitchen is gathering dust in the basement!


  18. Toys are toys. Gage plays with whatever he feels like, whether it is a truck or a doll or a box of tampons. I have no issues with his choices as long as there is no risk of him getting electrocuted, burned or maimed. I have always wondered why people get so bent out of shape about “gender specific” toys. If you believe that people are genetically programmed to be who they are going to be, the choice of toy is irrelevant to the entire equation.


  19. And for parents, try the books “Real Boys” and “Raising Cain” about boy development.

    Basically, they emphasize that as parents, it’s not our job to steer our boys interests away from the stuff that will get them made fun of – it’s our job to make sure that they understand societal pressures and if they want to pursue those interests, that they are strong enough emotionally to handle any ridicule that comes. A boy who is confident in himself will let teasing roll right off his back (with some commiseration from mom and dad if needed).


  20. I hear you, Jess. I do. And we plan (are doing) just that. But you have to admit, it’s an ideal that many parents don’t live up to.

    And we can teach them and tell them to be confident in hopes of letting all the taunting they may come in contact with roll off their back, but that’s easier said than put to practice.

    Kids can be so unbelievably cruel, even kids who are taught to be open minded and kind succumb to the group mentality at times.

    Do what we can, I suppose and hope that they get out without too many emotional scars.


  21. That’s what’s nice about the “teach them to understand societal pressures” part – it’s not a bad thing if they realize that liking x/y/z will cause taunting and then decide not to pursue x/y/z. It’s part of the compartmentalization of our lives that we all do consciously and subconsciously.

    So maybe you teach your son that playing with (trying to think of a hyper-feminized toy here)… Disney princesses is just fine, but if he brings one to school, some of the other kids might not understand why he likes it, and they may make fun of him. So he might decide that particular toy is an only-at-home toy.

    Maybe that decision comes after bringing one to school and having a negative peer reaction, but it’s still a valid decision and you can talk to him about how it’s ok to like princesses, but he can choose to make it easier on himself and that’s not a cop-out. You just don’t want to get into the realm of “it’s shameful so you should hide it”. Definitely a balancing act, and one of the challenges of being a parent.


  22. Not to put another feminist slant on one of your posts, but you wrote:

    “For whatever the reason may be, it’s OK for little girls to like army men, dump trucks, and action figures. But if our little boys are standing in the toy store, staring longingly at Barbie, a parent might try and nudge him closer to GI Joe.”

    And I would argue that that’s because in general society views men (or maleness or masculinity) as the norm – the better thing to be, so it’s okay (to a certain extent, surely) if girls want to ‘pretend’ to be boys because who wouldn’t! Boy stuff is obviously awesome!

    But flip that around and that’s NOT okay, because women (or feminity or whatever) are NOT the norm and feminity is seen as weak, sissy-like, ‘gay’ (which is just as bad as feminity) and is the less desirable option in general.

    Just my two cents. And obviousy I’m not saying I agree or it’s right, but I do think it’s basically (it is more complicated than I just stated it) the root of the problem.


  23. Such an interesting thing to think about – I have a girl and agree its less of an issue – she has a tonka truck and never had a 2nd thought about it. Her favorite is baby dolls, but she shares that with many of her ‘boy’ friends at school – not alone there. I think if I have a boy, I’d like to think I just let him play with what he wants – having a girl first, there will probably be more girl stuff around so I will guess he will play with it too. I’d like to think I’ll be open about it, and just guide him through his questions/thoughts/growing as needed. But I just don’t know.
    One of her ‘boy’ friends favorite toy is a vacuum – granted in our house that is the husband duty so it works for me. I think you just go with it as much as you can, especially at this age.


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