Her 'Boy' Bike
"Do you want pink?"
"Um...how about yellow? Or red?"
"No...I want blue!"
"Blue! And orange!"
"Oh...kay...hmmm...well there's a blue and red one...is that what you really want?"
"Yes!! Blue and red!!"
"Well, that's a boy bike, honey..."
"I want a boy bike!"
A few weeks ago this conversation took place over the phone between my daughter and her great grandmother. Her great grandmother and great grandfather had decided to get her a bike for her birthday this year. So, they went into town to the bike shop and perused the many splendid colors of bikes, assured she'd want one of the darling pink ones with streamers, and a little basket. However, upon calling to ask her which she preferred, she surprised them (not us, her parents) by insisting she have a blue "boy" bike.
About a year ago Abbi started saying offhandedly that she was a boy when she'd want to play a "boy" game, or do "boy" things. We explained that girls have vaginas and boys have something called a penis and that's the only difference between them, but she did in fact have a vagina so technically she was a girl.
All she ever sees on TV and at stores and in books is that boys get to do all the fun things she too wanted to do. Boys can be superheroes, motorcycle daredevils, fearless explorers, and lion tamers. Girls get to do....what? Wear dresses? Have pet kittens? Bake cookies? Abbi isn't interested in any of that. She's recently coming into a girly phase, but even still she loves running, jumping, and climbing trees. And we love that she loves it.
So, when she got to choose between a Spiderman lunchbox and a Hello Kity lunchbox and she chose Spiderman, we highfived her on her choice (Spiderman is awesome!) and got it for her. And when she wanted the "boy" bike we stood behind her choice.
But we also let her know that just because she's a girl it doesn't mean she can't love Spiderman and ride a boy bike. We encourage her to play as rough as she wants to and be as loud and "boyish" as she desires. Because she needs to understand that yes, she's a girl, but that doesn't mean she can't like what she likes or do what she wants to do *just* because our society has labeled it as a "boy" thing.
It isn't about sexuality, although many make it about that when they see us buying her a Spiderman lunchbox and her riding her "boy" bike. Too few people understand that gender branding has created very little opportunity for children to become who they want to become, based solely on what's between their legs.
My daughter is four. She doesn't understand sex. She doesn't understand that there is any real difference between her and the little boy next door. And that's because we want her to know that they really aren't that different. And "letting" her play with "boy" things isn't a sort of precursor to any of her decisions about her sexuality and lifestyle.
But we still force our boys into sports, our girls into aprons, and we keep our battle lines drawn just in case someone might cross them or us. Parents these days focus so much on whether their kid might or might not be gay that they rob their children of a real childhood. And if they do this, whether their kids are gay or not, they will lose that relationship with them.
Abbi is, and will be, whomever she is, and will be. Forcing her to pick the Hello Kitty lunchbox and pink "girl" bike isn't going to change that. But it might change the dynamics of our relationship. It might make her feel that I don't understand or accept her and love her. There are no amounts of rolled eyes, and cold stares, and gossipy murmurings from fellow parents who DO try to control their kid's interests that will ever convince me to forsake my greatest treasure.
Sorry, Society, but we choose the boy bike.
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