May 28, 2011

The Issue with Pink, and Other Girly Things

Last night I painted Julian's fingernails pink. I had painted Melody's, and he asked if I would paint his as well. I couldn't think of a good reason not to. I ran numerous excuses through my head, because I truthfully did not want to paint his nails. But none of the excuses seemed rational. I didn't want to just tell him no, when he saw Melody enjoying it so much, and she and I having this special bonding moment. If I said no, I had to be sure it would make sense to him, and not hurt his feelings or convey the message that girls get to do a bunch of fun things that boys don't.

"Boys don't paint their nails." Why? Why do girls? Because it looks nice? What if a boy wants his hands to look nice, too? Society says that I can trim his nails, maybe even file them and trim his cuticles. But I shouldn't put polish on a boy. I couldn't put "no" in a way that I felt he would understand, so I went ahead and painted them. In the back of my mind I was thinking about upcoming public outings, and knew that he was done with school and that we didn't have any plans until church on Sunday. I would have some time to figure out how to explain to him why we would take it off before church. I considered offering to paint his toes instead, but knew he would just ask why I didn't want to paint his fingers and I'd still need to answer the same question.

I thought about offering him a different color, like blue. But I realized that I'd be telling him essentially that certain colors are appropriate for girls and not for boys, which is a stereotype I've been trying to break since he was taught it recently (from kids at school, I assume). I don't want to raise a kid that's rude to other people, judging their appearances based on trivial things. I don't want him to ever be ashamed of playing with a baby doll or loving music, art or dancing more than sports. I want him to be confident in himself and not worried about liking the wrong color or activity, because all of those stereotypes lead to the same place, in my opinion.

BUT we live in a society that will make fun of and judge him for anything that can be viewed as feminine. If he chooses to pursue more feminine interests, the teasing could have a really negative impact on his life. So I gave him a little disclaimer before I applied the first coat, and said "Boys don't normally wear nail polish. You've never seen daddy wear nail polish have you?". I didn't say it condescending, but simply wanted to inform him of society's norm. He didn't respond, so I painted.

I had forgotten that he had a soccer game this morning, and on our way he said "Oh no! My nails are still painted! I need to get it off!" My mind went in two directions at once - concerned that he was worried about being made fun of, but glad that he understood that he might be. I don't want to raise children that aren't aware of society's expectations. I won't raise my kids to believe that they must adhere to them, but I don't want them to be naive about the world. However, I quickly chose the stance of "Don't worry what other people think about you. If you like your nails pink, don't let someone else make you feel bad because they are". He then said "I can say they're like Pink Panther." (Julian has recently become obsessed with the classic TV show). I said "That's a great idea!" But inwardly I cringed.

He's making excuses to justify to others why he's done something for himself.

I am really torn on the subject. In many ways I am conservative, and I know Dominic shares my desire that our boys don't wear nail polish. But what does that desire stem from, and is it more important than teaching our kids to love and respect themselves as individuals? That is a skill that I haven't yet learned for myself, but I know that it would have improved my life in so many ways if I had! To live without worrying about what other people think of you - I can't even imagine the freedom! I would LOVE for my children to be confident in the fact that God made them perfect and with unique skills and interests, and that other people are generally jerks that shouldn't even be worried about. My only question should really be "Does God have a problem with my son wearing nail polish?". If anyone has the answer to that, please let me know. But for now, I'm leaning towards "no".

I realized that painted nails don't make him girly. They don't make him a possible transgendered person. They don't make him gay. Yes, these are lifestyles that, to be perfectly honest, as a Christian mother, I hope he doesn't choose later in life. But pink nails don't mean any of those things. They mean that right now, a five year old boy wanted to share in a fun activity with his mom and little sister. I can't see how telling him that he's not allowed to wear nail polish could have had any positive effects.