Boys will be Boys. Even With Painted Nails.

There’s a column I read on that’s called Dear Prudence. Granted, it’s an advice column, and Emily Yoffe gets it wrong more than half the time (in my opinion). But often the letters are comical, and the real fun lies in reading the comments from readers arguing whether Emily Yoffe got it wrong and why they are better informed or more right or morally outraged or whatever it happens to be.

The most recent column includes a letter from the parents of a five-year-old boy who asked (repeatedly and from Santa as well) for a skirt for Christmas. Now, the parents of said child make it clear this is not an issue for them, but wonder at what point they need to quell his desire to dress up as girl in order to make him more socially conforming for venues such as school, etc…

There’s been a lot about gender expression in the media lately, most recently a large uproar over a blog about a little boy dressing up as Daphne from Scooby Doo for Halloween .

This whole issue strikes a chord for me because, well, I have both a son and a daughter and they are both growing up in this world that still thinks that it’s ok for little girls to be tomboys but not for little boys to enjoy traditionally “girl” things. Look at the word that gets used for them – “sissy”. It’s pejorative. “Tomboy” is often said about little girls with pride – about little girls who don’t mind getting dirty or playing sports or who don’t spend hours with Barbie dolls. A “sissy” is weak. Because “girls” are weak. A boy who acts like or enjoys “girl” activities is going to be gay (like that’s a bad thing). Boys who play dress up are going to grow up and want sex change operations.


I have a four-year-old son. He plays t-ball, basketball, and is itching to be six so he can play football. The kid can throw a ball like nobody’s business. He asked Santa for a marshmallow shooter gun and a remote control car for Christmas.

And that kid loves to wear nail polish.

So. The. Eff. What.

He’ll also play princess dress up with his sister, wear a pink headband with his Buzz Lightyear pajamas, and scream at the top of his lungs at the tv when H’s Colt’s get a touchdown.

Boys get the short end of the stick in a lot of ways in our society. Girls get all the sparkly pretty fun, and Moms and Dads and whoever else “oohs” and “aahs” over them and well, who wouldn’t want to participate in all of that? So a little boy wants a skirt, or wants to wear tights, or paint his nails. Guess what? Chances are he’ll grow out of it. Chances are, he’ll grow up to be a healthy, happy, productive member of society. And that won’t change just because you buy him a skirt.

The danger here is that when you start telling little boys that they can’t have a skirt because that’s for girls, you tell him that there’s a part of him, a part of who he is and what he wants to learn about, that isn’t ok. You send a message that he’s different in a way that isn’t ok to you – the person (or people) in his life who are supposed to love him unconditionally.

The other side of this coin is what if your little boy doesn’t grow out of it? To which my answer is, “And? What if he doesn’t?” As someone with friends who are transgender and friends with people whose children are transgender, I believe that the best thing a parent can do for a child exploring his or her gender identity is to have an open dialogue with the child and always make it clear that you love that child unconditionally.

Does non-traditional gender expression open a child up to teasing? Absolutely. Do we want to protect our child from the stares and taunts of other children (and more disheartening, other parents)? Clearly. Ultimately, though, forcing a child to believe that his or her expressions of gender in terms of halloween costumes and painted nails and hair length will make you love him or her any less is just as damaging if not more so. Bullying is a serious issue in this country, and children are bullied for a lot less than gender identity issues. But a child’s first bully shouldn’t be his parents. And by suppressing or quashing a child’s choice of attire or adornment because of it being traditionally for the opposite gender puts that parent in that role. Making a child feel less than because of his painted nails or her short hair makes a parent no better than a schoolyard bully. Sure, the intentions are different, but made worse because now the child feels unsafe in the one place that should always be safe – home.

My son loves nail polish. He loves to show it off. He likes colors like blue, and black, and yellow, and green. He likes it on his toenails. He likes it on his fingernails. And he throws a mean spiral with those painted nails. One of these days he’ll likely stop wearing it. And I’ll miss the way he’d run up to me to show me what new color the nanny painted them or how sweet his little toes looked all decked out in purple polish because he knows it’s mommy’s favorite color.

Love them. Let them be who they are. Not who you want them to be.


10 thoughts on “Boys will be Boys. Even With Painted Nails.

  1. “A child’s first bully shouldn’t be his parents.” So true, K. Why aren’t you writing for a publication that would allow more people to read what you have to say? I say rock those hot shades of polish, little N!

  2. I agree with everyone above about that statement. AND, I REALLY agree with Lady about ‘why arent you writing for a publication….???” You’d be great at it and I’m sure everyone would look forward to hearing what you have to say 🙂 Oh, and N looks great in the blue 🙂

  3. Just out of curiosity… What will you do if when J’s ears get pierced if N asks for his ears to be pierced? We had this discussion recently with piercing Little Miss’s ears and the boys wanting the same. It was tough to explain! For me, painted nails are fine for my boys, but I couldn’t do earrings for them.

  4. @Carey – that will depend on age. I won’t pierce J’s ears until double digits – so at least 10. By then N will be old enough for a more informed decision. But we will likely have a discussion about permanence. Yes, earring holes can close up, but I think the line for me for that is something that can’t be “undone”. That’s a decision he can make when he is old enough to understand what forever is. And my guess is that with as athletic as he is, the sheer inconvenience of having to be constantly removing them for sports will be a deterrent.

    • Not until double digits? That so surprises me!! 🙂 I agree about the sports thing, that was always a pain for me. We told our boys that earrings were something girls usually wear (and some boys wear them too) and thankfully, they both thought that sounded good to them and said they didn’t want them. They are constantly telling Little Miss how beautiful hers are… Funny kids!

  5. I went to elementary school with a little girl who got her ear damaged by the earring getting pulled on the playground. I wasn’t allowed to have them until 6th grade. My thing has always been – when she can take care of them herself, then she can have them. That may end up being earlier than double digits but I doubt it. She hasn’t asked for them yet, but I imagine when she goes to school we may start hearing about her wanting them.

    That’s so sweet about the boys telling her how pretty they are!!

  6. Lady P is right. You take a subject everyone knows and make it new again.

    I have been following this little guy as well. It stirs me up. I feel very protective over him and in many ways his mother too. Hurting me doesn’t have a fraction of the pain of hurting my child. I worry about her. It is my thing.

    Great comment responses by you too. I think you should write a parenting book for us.

    Your kids are lucky to have you. And because you are on your end disagreeing or in the very least, challenging my response, it proves my point even more.

  7. Pingback: On Girls and Princesses « Where Love and Chaos Reign

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