Imagining a Less Constrictive, More Feminine—and Maybe Better—Boyhood

One mother's look at raising boys who don't feel bound by traditional gender norms.

(Getty Images)
Getty Images

For a new piece in The Atlantic, author Sarah Rice talks about her son, and his penchant for wearing dresses. The first day that he decided to wear one to school, Rice’s son casually told her that he knows some friends are going to say dresses aren’t for boys. He told his mom that he was comfortable with himself. One little kid at school later defended Rice’s son, saying “Boys can like beautiful things too!” But not everyone, including many adults, shares the same open-minded approach to childhood. She writes that while feminism has worked to rebalance the power and privilege for girls, boys have often been left out of this equation. So, while society increasingly accepts young women who adopt masculine qualities, a strong stigma remains for boys who explore and foster traditionally feminine traits.

For example, when the Boy Scouts of America announced they would begin admitting girls, there was no mention in the press of the idea that boys might not find Boy Scouts to be a good fit either, or that they might want to join the Girl Scouts. What does it say about America’s culture that friendship, care-taking and community are seen as traditionally feminine arenas? What does it say to young boys who think Girl Scout sounds fun? Rice writes that while America is working towards giving girls broader access to life’s possibilities, society is not presenting young boys with a full continuum of how they can be in the world. As it is currently imagined, boyhood is narrow and confining. To even push against these boundaries is to “end up in a different identity all together,” Rice writes.

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