Is the “Pink Boy” the Tomboy’s Reflection?

Sexuality, it seems, is a fickle thing these days. Whether it be in the guise of Lady Gaga or “My Son is Gay,” the piece from Nerdy Apple Bottom about the preschool boy who dressed up as Daphene from Scooby Doo for Halloween (which went viral last year), the line between what is “female” and what is “male” has definitely been blurred.

The tomboy emerged as a fixture in popular culture in the nineteenth century, turning classic female stereotypes on their head. Not surprisingly, her arrival coincided closely with the first wave of the feminist movement (18th-early 20th Century).  So is it any surprise that we’re seeing her reflection arise?

In “My Son, the Pink Boy,” a piece published by Salon, Sarah Hoffman* talks about her son, whom she dubs “a pink boy.” He loves all things feminine–the color pink, lip gloss, feather boas–and wore dresses to school from age 4 to age 6. Like the tomboy, who was originally singled out for her “boy” clothes and her desire to do “boy” things, his behavior is … well.. frowned upon. Hoffman shares a common conversation at the playground:

“A random mom on the playground, looking serious and a little bit concerned, asks me, ‘Do you think your son might grow up to be gay?’ It’s never crossed my mind. Really. Not since that last Random Mom asked me five minutes ago.”

Women have made huge strides in their rights to all things once seen as male–from pants to the corner office. Men, however, may be only just beginning to defy their own gender stereotypes.

In the US we have recently seen a rise in media coverage of stay-at-home-dads, and work like The Good Men Project, which defines it’s mission on it’s website as ” trying to redefine what a men’s magazine can be… unlike so many other men’s magazines, we don’t patronize or caricaturize our audience. We try to bring out the best in men, and we do that by producing content that challenges men to think deeply—and to talk about the things they don’t usually talk about.”

For years now, while women have been breaking out of the roles predetermined for them, men have remained locked inside societal expectations. Perhaps caused by the rise in the number of women making more than their husbands, by the way the recession seemed to help women get ahead or by women themselves, as a dashing example, men are beginning to redefine what it means to be a man.

Those like Hoffman’s son, Sam, dare to be different by being themselves. Or, in Sam’s words:
“Sure, boys and girls are important, when you get older, for making babies. But for kids, who cares? […] The world would be a better place if there were only kids and not divided into “boy” or “girl.” Mom, can you underline that? The world would be a better place if there were only kids and not divided into boy or girl. And there were just kids.”

Indeed, what if we just were?

*Please note, Sarah Hoffman is a pen name, used to protect her sons anonymity. For the same reason, she doesn’t use his real name.
Article written by Melissa Breau for Moxy Magazine, February 2011. Image courtesy of Normanack on Flickr.

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About Melissa Breau

Publisher of Moxy Magazine, Melissa is a cheesy romantic, who likes long walks on the beach and arguing about comma placement. She is also the editor for a B2B magazine and a freelance writer. For more about her, check out her professional website, or follow her on twitter:

15 Responses to “Is the “Pink Boy” the Tomboy’s Reflection?”

  1. Kim says:

    Great piece! I honestly never thought about the reverse of being a tomboy (funny since I definitely went through a big tomboy phase).
    There’s a great episode of According to Jim where his son wants to be Cinderella for Halloween and Jim gets all weird about it, even buying him a decidedly more manly dinosaur costume, but winds up letting him go as Cinderella and even dresses in drag himself. I think it’s great when ideas like this hit the mainstream and get people talking.

    • Thanks Kim – I’m glad you enjoyed the piece.
      I might have to look that episode up…

      It feels like there is a major movement that’s the inverse of the feminist movement right now; it’s all about men’s right to be as involved in their families as women are, and it fascinates me.

  2. Great piece, Melissa. I give so much credit to the parents who stand behind their sons and daughters and the choices they make. Kids should be allowed to explore who they are, rather than have societal expectations forced on them, but it’s so rare to find parents who are not afraid of letting their kids be free in self-exploration. There is something so incredibly honest about children, the way they tell it like it is and, up to a point, behave exactly how they want to. It’s a shame that it changes and those kids grow into people who are aware of the world’s eyes on them, aware that they’re doing something “wrong” if they do something not of their gender. I wonder what the world would be like if no one cared about what’s “right” for a boy to do or for a girl to do, if people worried about their own life and left other people and their decisions alone.

    I think it’s human nature to judge, but who made these rules, anyway? This is why so many adults have trouble figuring out who they are. It gets stifled and replaced by who they SHOULD be.

    • You write:
      “There is something so incredibly honest about children, the way they tell it like it is and, up to a point, behave exactly how they want to.”
      I couldn’t agree more. Further more, those rules change regularly. It wasn’t that long ago that “pink” was a boy color and “blue” was associated with baby girls.

    • Elizabeth says:

      So well put Kristin.

      Women are expected and pushed to enter a ‘man’s world,’ and typically applauded for it. Yet, the reverse isn’t respected in the same way. Are we on the other end of the double standard… finally.

    • Kristen, well said. I think we’ll see more and more kids being allowed to express themselves in whatever ways they deem appropriate as time goes on because we, ourselves, are more open-minded and “anti-should” with each subsequent generation. Or, at least, I hope so!

    • Great reply Kristen. Most human beings are sadly vicious toward that which they do not understand. I was chased around the schoolyard by other boys and called “faggot” when I had no understanding of what that even meant.

      I know that the course of my life would have been much different, and my choices would have been much different without the negative peer pressure I experienced due to my variant gender expression. I would not have held in my creativity. I also know I’d have needed a lot less therapy, and been happier in myself a lot younger than my late 30’s.

  3. “Mom, can you underline that?”

    That just pulled on my heartstrings quite a bit. I wish more adults would be as wise as kids are. I wish we could trace our experiences back, and pinpoint the exact time when we start letting fear and society’s “expectations” get in the way of that wisdom. I’m so glad you’re exploring this here, and that there are parents and people out there open-minded enough to try and find a way back to that innocence.

    • Thanks Natalia – I agree. The parents of these kids are so brave; society tells them their child is “abnormal” and instead of responding with fear, they stand up and defend their children. Sam’s words on Sarah’s site were both adorable and sad–sad because he is so young to need to understand these truths about our world.

  4. Dan D says:

    I am completely unconcerned as to whether my children will be gay or not. We actually had some inkling that my middle schooler might be gay and what we were really concerned about was how to let him know that it is perfectly ok with us and how to help him with his struggles. It turns out that possibly, at least for now, our thoughts were wrong.

    However, what would concern me the most about allowing my male children to wear dresses and such is that, while it is perfectly ok for a girl to wear pants and a t-shirt, you can pretty much guarantee in most places, if you sent your son to school in a dress, you would have child services called on you.

    • I give you a lot of credit for wanting your son to know you support him, whatever his preferences. I understand what you’re saying about child services… and it makes me wonder if Sarah has run into any issues with that.

      • Dan D says:

        Yeah, there is totally a double standard when it comes to boys (and men). Let’s say that the child has a single parent. A woman. At worst, she would be accused of child abuse. however, same situation with a male single parent and he is on his way to jail for sexual assault.

  5. I love pink boys! Gender roles are thrust upon all of us, in fact, they never stop bombarding us. As scary as it may be for some parents, allowing kids to play with those roles – boys wearing feather boas and girls playing with trucks – is the best way for them to discover who they are.

    My mom used to say, ‘it doesn’t matter what you are as long as you become WHO you truly are.’ Thus, my life has been a liberating journey of self-discovery and joy. I have her to thank!

  6. While not all “pink boys” will want to continue wearing dresses and express themselves outwardly in such “feminine” ways as they get older, I believe that a far greater end could be served by allowing them that freedom when they are younger. Perhaps allowing pink boys to explore “feminine” expressions will lead to more well rounded an emotionally sensitive and considerate men in the future.

  7. As one of those “pink boys” who is now nearing 40, I can tell you from observation we tend to be more attracted to women, rather than “turning gay” as we grow out of childhood. The affinity for the feminine includes sexual and romantic attraction, though perhaps not in the same traditional roles.

    I have gorgeous long hair most women at the salon envy, along with a smooth lithe figure to make a supermodel jealous. I like to be appreciated by both women and men, and like the way I look. I’ve always felt most comfortable in more metropolitan and European cities like Montreal, San Francisco, London and Paris. I’m a pretty guy who likes motorcycles and leather as much as silk and cashmere. Maybe I should have been French.

    Newsflash to you modern ladies, WE are those sensitive guys women are always complaining don’t exist, or are all gay. We’re not all gay, though some of us are bi. We are romantic, thoughtful, considerate, hygienic, fashion-aware, domestically skilled, progressively-minded, intellectual, feminist-friendly, and very good cuddlers. You have to approach us to find out, though. We’re not the type to approach you with a pick-up line. If you like what you see, come talk to us, we like confident, independent-minded women. We’re in the bookstores, not the bars. 😉

    We bring a needed perspective for seeing patriarchal society’s gender inequities. At the heart of all this is one basic thing really. Why is femininity, and why are females devalued almost reflexively by the male half of the species? Why when men speak amongst themselves describing something feminine or womanly, is it always with a tone of derision? It is a travesty to me that “manly men” feel such disdain for women and femininity, when it is their daughters, mothers, sisters, wives and lovers they denigrate. Why is it wrong, anathema even, for a male to express female traits like compassion, sensitivity, a concern for others’ feelings, or wanting to feel beautiful?

    As Ty says above, I strongly feel that allowing pink boys (and other gender variant children) to express themselves naturally will indeed lead to a society in which emotionally sensitive and considerate men help evolve a harshly homophobic paradigm that has long taught boys they must be insensitive, callous jocks to be attractive to women.

    I feel a deep kinship with this youngest generation, who are rejecting traditional gender roles and modes of expression and dress. Perhaps they will call for peace in the gender war, the war of the sexes. The new terms I hear that strike a chord are “genderqueer” and “gender fluid”.

    I think that in the long run as we evolve as a species, we will transcend gender and simply be attracted to the light within, rather than the packaging without. Hopefully very soon children can develop unfettered by the gender terrorism I grew up with. Maybe someday we’ll have a “free market” in gender expression.