My 2 year old, Little D, is a bit of a tomboy (WARNING: UNDERSTATEMENT OF THE CENTURY). She is a fearless climber, runs roughshod over her older brother and loves any sport that you can ever imagine. She does not enjoy tea parties or dress up and even though she seems to like pink (if it's a pink monster) and is very snuggly and sweet I often find her sneaking into her older brother's room to try on his clothes, especially if they feature a picture of a basketball. Little D's tomboyish ways are perceived by the general public to be charming, winsome and cute. Memorable statements include "Look at how she zips up the shelves in your pantry! She's as tough as nails! And what a throwing arm! She's bleeding from the mouth and not even crying! Wow!" There's something about a tough little girl that enchants people. Fine.
Yet my 6 year old, Big A, although traditionally "boyish" in his interests...(Minecraft, American Ninja Warrior, anything that explodes) also enjoys musical theater. I mean, HE REALLY enjoys musical theater. He sat like a delighted statue during 3 hours of Mary Poppins, (including intermission) when he was just 4. He is not at all particular when it comes to enjoying any kind of live performance though. Broadway shows to the local college productions to the town's middle school variety show all enthrall him equally.
When the flyer came home to announce his school's talent show he begged to enter. He marched around the house practicing for a week singing "She's A Grand Old Flag!" and since he couldn't quite grasp the line about the "emblem of", he just belted out twice in a row "THE LAND I LOVE! THE LAND I LOVE!" as he waved mini flags and did spastic-looking karate kicks here and there. Finally, I broke the news to him that he wouldn't be able to enter until he was in second grade. He was crestfallen but just said he would have more time to practice.
When I got ready to take him our local middle school's talent show, my husband came out of his end-of-the-week fog long enough to ponder uncertainly "Do we have any kids in that school?"
"No," I responded as I helped August write a "Break a Leg" note to an older friend who was performing.
"Why are you going then?" he questioned.
"Because I want to go," Big A piped up. "Mommy and I are supporting the arts."
Big A had a ball watching all of the performers and their songs, dances and joke-telling. He did standing ovations, screamed his approval and occasionally danced in the aisles. He enjoyed the concession stand. In short, he had a ball. He was singing at the top of his lungs in the car as I dropped off my niece (who, as an amazing competitive dancer had been deemed a worthy escort in Big A's supporting of the arts). A passing neighbor I'm acquainted with saw my son belting out show tunes worthy of Ethel Merman and busted out laughing. "OH MY GOD!" he cracked up. "You need to get him into baseball. Like now." I know that this guy was only joking but it's not the first time a boy's penchant for something traditionally considered feminine has come under fire.
I just don't get it. When Little D mimics traditionally masculine features of athleticism, fearlessness and toughness she is praised. But somehow, if a boy likes music or is sensitive then that's somehow demeaning?
It brings to mind my nephew's nursery school Spring Show a few years back. One of his classmates was doing a dance about flowers growing that involved a big purple pompom that was supposed to be a crocus. He tossed it up, caught it behind is back and grinned cutely as he shook it high and low. The kids father shifted in his chair uncomfortably while his mother was heard saying in a nervous stage whisper to a friend "He IS REALLY into his hockey league, actually!"
What are we so afraid of here? There are enough little boys out there who turn everything into a gun (ahem, my son is currently going through this stage), who despise girls and look down on anything female-related and who relentlessly hit, push, bully or otherwise take on the worst traditionally "male" characteristics in existence. Shouldn't we be supportive, not discouraging of any little boy who expresses his emotions easily or wants to enjoy an artistic pursuit? Are those characteristics somehow lesser because they are traditionally female? Why discourage or even close those doors to him? What are we really saying here?
As we sat in the theater watching the previews for Malificent (which just so happens to be a movie with a strong, courageous female lead in addition to kickass special effects) a trailer for the new Annie starring Jamie Foxx and Rose Byrne came on. As "Hard Knock Life" blared in the background my niece whispered "I want to see that!"
"Me too!" Big A said.
"You do?" I couldn't help but ask dubiously. (Last year Big A deemed Max & Ruby as "a girl show" and stopped watching it, cold turkey. Now he wants to see Annie?)
"It looks hilarious" he said as the trailer revealed that Jamie Foxx's character was wearing fake hair and is actually as bald as Daddy Warbucks.
"And they sing. Can we see it after we see Planes: Fire & Rescue?" he asked hopefully.
I could have told him what an odd choice that movie is for him. I could have told him Annie is geared towards girls and none of his friends would probably want to come with us (which may have also been completely off the mark...who knows?) I could have said any of that, reaffirming male stereotypes and pointing him towards a more "appropriate" movie. But what's the harm? I kind of want to see Annie myself.
But instead I told him that yes, we can definitely see Annie. And I got to tell him the story about how when I was in fourth grade I got to be a one of 8 little girls chosen as a chorus orphan in a regional production of the show.
"Were there any little boys in the show?" he asked.
"Nope," I said.
"Can boys act in plays though?" he said with a furrowed brow.
"Yes," I said, "Little boys can do anything they want to do. And so can little girls. Remember that."
He seemed to give this a great deal of thought, in what I assumed was an attempt to make sense of it all.
And then he asked "Remember the time I threw up right in Daddy's face?"