My six-year-old son was at an end-of-year party for a club he’s in, and he got to choose a little prize for winning a game. He ignored the toy cars in the prize bag and went straight for a mini Barbie doll with long, glossy, blonde hair. He clutched it happily, his eyes shining.
The club leader looked at him doubtfully.
“A boy who likes Barbie dolls?” she asked. “I don’t know what that’s all about.”
I glared at her, ready to jump in if she said one more thing.
“Don’t you dare,” I wanted to say. “Don’t you dare make my son feel bad for liking Barbie dolls.”
Just a couple of weeks earlier, my son had ordered a showbag at his school. Out of all the choices on the list, he had gone for the fairy princess-themed one. The teacher handling the orders waved the form at him.
“I think you made a mistake,” she said. “Look, you ticked the fairy princess one.”
"Yes," I said loudly. "My son loves fairies and princesses. He wants that one."
My son has always liked pretty things, kittens and books about fairies. Pink is his favourite colour. I've bought him jewellery that he's asked for. I've put his hair in pigtails when he's requested it. I've let him wear a dress to a party.
I thought he would change when he started school earlier this year. I thought peer pressure would make him turn away from pink and fairies. In fact, I was terrified he would be teased by the other kids, and tried to gently steer him towards more gender-neutral choices when it came to things like schoolbags and dress-up days.
But peer pressure doesn't seem to have affected him at all.
Recently he's been getting into Barbie. I bought him a Barbie doll, and he's also been collecting the Barbie figurines that come in Kinder Surprise eggs. He has Barbie the actress, and Barbie the rock star, and now is hoping to find Barbie the builder. (Oh yes. He wants to be a builder when he grows up.)
I love that he is his own person.
We've been pretty fortunate, really. I've had friends who've run into a lot more prejudice and judgement when their sons have experimented with traditional "girl" things.
One friend's family made their disapproval very clear when she let her son play dress-ups. Apparently, a boy should never wear female clothes, even when he's three and in the living room of his own home.
Another friend was in a shop and was letting her toddler son play with her lipstick. A random stranger said, "We pray our son will never become one of those."
Here's a recent groundbreaking ad for Barbie featuring a boy. Post continues after video...
Okay, so there are probably still a few nutters out there who think that letting boys play with dolls and dresses and makeup will turn them gay. But (a) it won't and (b) I don't care if my son is gay and (c) the sooner he knows I love him for who he is the better.
Nutters aside, what bothers me more is that there are adults who work with children who react with shock when a boy likes dolls or fairies. Get over it. Let kids be kids. Let them play with whatever they want to play with. Forget the stereotypical ideas of boys' toys and girls' toys. Be encouraging if they make different choices, not discouraging.
You don't have to buy your own son a doll. You do what you want in the privacy of your own home. But don't you dare make my son feel bad for loving Barbie.
Do your kids like to play with toys that aren't the stereotypical boy or girl choices?