Relationship experts, Internet proverbs, and magazines at the dentist’s all tell us the same thing. Men are from Mars, women are from Venus. Men are from Mars, women are from Venus. Men are from Mars, and women… well, you get the gist. Two planets apart, millions of miles away — now repeat it till you believe it.
But that’s the thing, it’s a myth. Men don’t necessarily need to come from Mars – they can come from Venus, Saturn, Neptune or even Ganymede (that’s Jupiter’s biggest moon for the astronomically unaware). In fact, they can come from anywhere they want, just like they can be whoever they want to be.
We might have been conditioned to believe that men need to be (or behave) a certain way, but the dictionary has never told anyone to be a classic d***hebag who smokes like a chimney and eats like a pig. Like I discussed last time, men aren’t a result of their toys, tempers and tastes, they are a result of their manners and their mottos.
Years of conditioning aside, it all usually starts as soon as you come kicking and screaming into the world. See, as a child you don’t understand the ramifications of what you say or the fact that one day, you’ll be embarrassed by what you’ve done – it’s like an Archiesversion of being sh*t-faced drunk and uninhibited – and no one has taught you that you have to behave a certain way just because, so you usually screw that up. You say the wrong things. You act the wrong way. You ask for the wrong toy.
As a child, I’d never had a kitchen set of my own – I had a lot of clowns, cars, books and GI Joes – and any time that I found these miniature cooking utensils freely available was a revelation. I would usually snatch an hour or two with them at my cousin’s, or play house with them with the girl next door.
It was pure, unadulterated joy, and I used all of it to bake make-believe macarons. It was big joke in my extended family, but I didn’t really care (also I really didn’t know). So finally, on my seventh birthday when my parents asked me what I wanted, I thought I’d jump at the idea – the only sort of jumping I would ever do.
I remember being really nervous about not getting anything at all, but I was also nervous that I’d be laughed at, so I checked and double-checked to see whether I really could ask for anything I wanted.
“Yes, please,” they said.
So I asked for a kitchen set. I don’t really remember the exact reaction, but it was politely explained to me that I couldn’t have one because kitchen sets were for girls.
I was crushed. So I asked for books. Video games. Toy cars. Spaceship models. The complete He-Man collection (side note: I got greedy).
For me, playing house wasn’t just about clanking those tiny utensils together; I wanted to act out all the ideas in my head – scripts I’d never be able to live but knew by heart. My crazy imagination was dying to see all the stories I scrawled in my little notebooks come to life.
And then Lego came along, and changed everything.
Conventionally, there was nothing wrong with a boy playing with his Lego set – I could build houses, and cafes and parks, without being disturbed. But the attempt to ‘Masc’ things up wasn’t far away – I got the fire station starter pack one birthday, but I ended up making a fancy condo (albeit with poles) with that as well.
The boys toys stopped coming my way though, and my bedroom filled up with books (and even more Lego sets), but it was a distraction from the seemingly endless amazement that I wasn’t macho enough – not playing sports or climbing trees. As long as I had my nose deep in a book, no one asked me why it wasn’t looking up football strategies online.
Eventually, my fascination with building homes and stories helped; I went on to become an architect, and then a writer, so I could say it all worked out for me – but my childhood remained the same.
There’s been some progress, at least in moving away from the ‘pinkification’ of girl’s toys and allowing them the freedom to play with what would traditionally be called boy’s toys – their cars, dinosaurs, cowboys and all that.
It’s an important fight and we need it, but when it comes to the other side of the coin – little boys just dying to pick up a play doll or a play house – it’s a harder sell. Not to mention that in 2018, gender is not just about ‘boys and girls’. Everyone is finding their own way. Boys can play with girl’s toys and girls can play with boy’s toys. Heck, there’s no such thing as boy’s toys and girl’s toys anymore, just like there’s no such thing as a man’s job and a woman’s job.
How can I be so sure?
A few weeks ago, as I played house with my nephew, I asked him what he wanted to be when he grows up. He wanted to be a superhero, his grandmother, a policeman and a race car driver, in that order (He also said he wanted to be ‘happy’, but he’s always been a bright kid). He’s four years old.
His reasons for wanting to be his grandmother were simple. She made all the decisions at home. He wanted to do the same thing. We both high-fived and had tea with the underlying matriarchy in our makeshift hall.
My four-year-old nephew might be a doll (no pun intended), but the rest of us still have a long way to go. Countless dreams (and bones) get crushed every day because men are supposed to be breaking their heads (and their backs) at the workplace, or the gym. So here’s something for you to take away – do what interests you, not something that ticks all the boxes for becoming the quintessential man.
Am I gay because I played with dolls and kitchen sets, or despite the fact that I really couldn’t? Would it have really made any difference? With ‘traditionally masculine’ sports’ stars now coming out of the closet, there really is no fail-safe to stop your child from becoming ‘less macho’ (not even a good ol’ football can save him. Sorry about that.)
If you’d rather your child grow up sad and ashamed, the toy really isn’t the problem here. If they grow up to come out as gay or bi or trans or seem “less of a man”, it’s not because you bought them a Barbie doll when they were seven (it’s probably because they are built in a different way then you are.)
And even if it turns out to be true, so what? Be proud of them and pat yourself on your back for being such a great influence!
Just buy that kitchen set. You’d only thank yourself later when your son (or brother) gets you Eggs Benedict in bed.
You are welcome.
PS: My parents are, and have always been, great and very accepting and shielded me from a lot of bullsh*t (homophobic or otherwise) in life. They eventually did get me that kitchen set, only they pretended it was for my sister.