Convincing my five-year-old daughter that boys can like pink

Guest post by Lyn

By: RedTeaCC BY 2.0
We’re friends with a family with a somewhat gender-variant son, Q, who likes pink and wears his hair long. He identifies as a boy — you can read his family’s smart thoughts at Labels Are For Jars. Our five-year-old daughter, Leigh, has played with Q a few times, and thinks he’s fabulous, and specifically asks if we can play with him again after we see them.

She also insists that he is a girl.

I tried a few different approaches along the lines of “Well, boys can like pink too” or “How would you feel if someone told you you were a boy even though you know you’re a girl?” or “Your brother wears pink sometimes. Do you think he’s a girl?” (answer: “Of course not,” while looking at me like I’ve completely lost my mind). And after all of this she says “OK. Q is still a girl.”

I asked one of Q’s moms about how we might help Leigh understand, and she asked Q for his thoughts as well. They suggested explaining to her that some kids are “stereotype breakers.” So yesterday, I tried it out.

I asked Leigh if she still thought Q was a girl (she did) and asked if she knew what a “stereotype” was (she didn’t). So we talked about how a stereotype is when almost everyone does things one way, like most girls her age really like pink, and most boys don’t, so that’s a stereotype (that might not be exactly right, but close enough). Then we explained that some people break stereotypes — they are “stereotype breakers.” Like Q for example. He doesn’t fit the stereotype of a boy because he really likes pink and has long hair. She mulled it over. We talked about how our family breaks stereotypes because we have two moms and not a mom and a dad like most families. She definitely got that one and looked pretty proud of herself. I told her when I was a kid, I was a “stereotype breaker” because I didn’t like dresses or pink (“You already told me that Mama.” — which I did, when she was three, and her response was utter shock and a proclamation of “You really shouldn’t have done that Mama.” I guess I made an impression if she still remembers over two years later).

She thought and thought on this for a while, and I was worried maybe I’d just yammered on way too long in a boring parental way. Then she looks up at me brightly and says, “You know Grandpa? He has a ponytail. He’s a st…st… what was it again?” “A stereotype breaker” “Yeah. A stereotype breaker.”

So she gets it. I finally made some sense.

I’m really grateful to Q and his mom for passing on this idea, and when I thought about it in this way, I realized I just must have sounded a bit out of touch to her before. If she looks around, all the girls wear pink and virtually none of the boys do. When I say something like “boys can like pink, too,” it is completely foreign to her preschool landscape. It was like I was ignoring a basic truth that was plain as day. But in talking about “stereotype breakers” I could acknowledge what to her is plainly fact, and then open up some room for Q, and for her as a kid in a queer family, and then for Grandpa’s ponytail. However, I sense she may have some lingering disapproval of my childhood wardrobe choices.

Comments on Convincing my five-year-old daughter that boys can like pink

  1. Agh! I love this! My 5 year old also has some very specific ideas about pink, and how buys don’t like it, and how I must be the craziest girl ever to hate it. I must be out of touch too, if not having the right answer means such! lol Thanks for this! Now, I have a plan the next time the conversation comes up for the 3rd time this week..and you know what?? Her dad has a ponytail..good starting point! 😉

  2. Kids this age are so much about categorizing and labeling as a means of understanding the world, and most of the time, it works pretty well. It used to drive me crazy when my students would demand to know whether any ambiguous character in a book was a girl or a boy. I had half a mind to tell them they were all transgender. Instead we made lists of everyone’s ideas about what makes a boy and what makes a girl. Then, I took counterpoints. If someone could prove that the opposite gender could also have this trait. By the end, nearly everything was crossed off of both lists. Then we’d talk about why it mattered, anyway, which was always fascinating. “So you know who to be friends with” “So you know which toys/clothes to buy” It could go on and on, breaking these myths down.

    • I like this Offbeat essay and found my way over to Lyn’s blog and poked around a while (one of my favorite parts of Offbeat Mama stories is finding cool new blogs) — and I also just read the Bitch essay suggested by WeeHermione. It’s great — and seems worthy of a Offbeat Mama link, too, sometime!

  3. My 3yo loves pink and princesses, and as he calls them “girls and hot ladies”. He says that he can’t wait to get a princess girlfriend. So he loves pink because girls love pink and he loves girls. Makes sense to me, but hard to get it through to other people when he wants to buy all the princess dolls at the thrift store. BTW my 6yo hates pink and all things princess, she is all about camouflage and guns. I don’t know where they get it, I am neither of those things.

  4. As a preschool teacher, I get “Boys can’t like pink” all the time. Until I told them my husband LOVES pink. He even loves purple (and wore it on our wedding day). A boy who loves pink and purple. No way…
    Since I’ve told them this, I have a little boy in my room who LOVES pink now. Every time we do a craft or project, he wants to use pink. I’m proud I could make this happen!

  5. This is an awesome! My four-year old daughter is very similar in her line of thinking (since labeling is developmentally appropriate at this age), and I have been searching for a way to explain more clearly that it’s ok to buck the norms. thanks!

  6. We struggle with this type of thing constantly. A while ago, my 4-year-old son asked me if I like princesses. I was like, “sure”. Then he asked if I like princesses in beautiful castles. I paused, trying to figure out what to say, then I said, “I like strong princesses who are in charge of their own destiny.” “Oh” he said. 🙂

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