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Sugar, Spice and Snails

by Avital Norman Nathman

What are little boys made of?

What are little boys made of?

Frogs and snails and puppy-dogs' tails,

That's what little boys are made of.

What are little girls made of?

What are little girls made of?

Sugar and spice And everything nice,

That's what little girls are made of.

- "What Are Little Boys Made Of?" c. 1820

Traditional nursery rhymes aside, I prefer to think that my son has a little sugar and spice included in his mixture of frogs, snails and puppy-dogs' tails. Sure, he can get down and dirty with the best of them. Our house is littered with action figures, sports equipment, trucks, and enough building blocks of various kinds to build ourselves a guest house. However, it is also filled with a wooden play kitchen, baby dolls, toy strollers and enough princess accessories to make Cinderella jealous. While most people wouldn't bat an eye at the first set of toys, for some it is a bit much to swallow when a young boy is interested in traditionally "girly" toys like dolls or princess paraphernalia. 

The call to celebrate diversity is a loud one, but there is still an undercurrent of attachment to traditional gender roles, especially in regards to children. Toy companies make it a specific goal to market towards particular genders, and one would be hard pressed to find a doll commercial with a young boy, despite the fact that many young boys enjoy playing with them. 

For many, however, blurring those antiquated gender lines produces a fear that these children will somehow grow up confused. In fact, in recent months, much media attention has been raised over a seemingly harmless and adorable J. Crew ad that featured a young boy with his toe nails painted a bright pink. Those opposed to the ad suggested that allowing a little boy to wear nail polish would not only confuse him sexually, but would somehow contribute to the disintegration of the nuclear family as we know it. Some also feared that in allowing young boys to express themselves this way would be detrimental to their masculinity. I would argue that it only proves that they are comfortable and secure in their own masculinity that they see no problem with painting their nails pink or cuddling a cherished doll. In fact, I would go as far as suggesting that perceived masculinity does not even register on the the radars of most young boys, the way it does for so many adults.

In a time where people are persecuted and bullied for being different, we should celebrate and support our children when they find things that make them happy, whether or not it might seem to go outside the box. While others may fear the consequences, I am not too worried that my son will actually turn into a princess because he dresses up like one, just as I'm quite certain that he will not turn into a dinosaur no many how many times he growls and acts like one. 

Childhood is a special time when anything seems possible. A child can look at a stack of blocks and see beyond the shaped wood to imagine a city, car, or robot. They can take a silk play scarf and turn it into a cape, skirt, eye patch and more. Expressing fear and concern based on antiquated gender roles only limits the ability for children's imagination and exploration. 

Just as the make up of the traditional family has grown and changed over time, perhaps as a society we can change our own perspective regarding little kids and the imaginative choices that they make. When I look at my son cradling his doll while his nails are painted every color of the rainbow, I do not see an identity crisis in process. I see a young boy who is confident and secure in who he is, one that has a full spirit, joyful creativity and one who is building the roots to becoming a nurturing adult. 

A former teacher and lifetime learner, Avital Norman Nathman is a play-at-home mama, freelance writer, wife and feminist (and not necessarily in that order). When not gardening, cooking or dancing around the house, you can catch her musing about motherhood and feminism at


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