My six-year-old son does. Unfortunately, that seems to put him in a minority, at least as far as his male classmates are concerned.
He’s never been the most boyish boy. By nature, he’s sweet, sensitive and a bit of a worrier. Yes, he can be loud and silly, but he’s happier playing house with his baby sister’s Happyland people than wielding a light sabre or talking football. He loves trains, cars and computers, but is equally besotted with his collection of soft toys.
The Boy has always been in touch with his feminine side. As a toddler, his favourite colour was pink, and he was often found dressing up in princess outfits at pre-school. On one memorable occasion, he came home with red felt-tip all over his face, having attempted to put on his ‘make-up.’
During his nursery year, The Boy gravitated towards the girls, and they loved him; he was one of the few who would join in a game of mummies and daddies with relish. But once he started Reception, he seemed to align himself more with the boys than the girls. Suddenly, all his games revolved around Batman, baddies and putting people in jail. I can’t say I liked it much. They say that boys will be boys, but I much preferred the gentle games he and his girlfriends would play, sitting in the den at the top of his slide for hours.
Now The Boy is in Year 1, and over the past term, he has drifted back towards the girls – particularly L, to whom he has been betrothed since Nursery. The two of them seem inseparable again, and now, when we go to the park after school, he’s much more likely to get stuck into a game with his girlfriends than brandish sticks at the boys playing Superheroes.
The problem is, though, that gender stereotypes are so fixed – even at such a young age. Yesterday, The Boy came home saying he’d been playing Rainbow Fairies – that expansive (and appallingly written) range of fiction aimed at KS1 girls – with L and some of her friends. When I mentioned that I’d seen a couple of the books in the local charity shop that morning, he begged me to go and buy them.
Herein lies the difference between DH and I. Because whereas he would have refused point-blank, I trudged up there in the pouring rain and duly bought Ruby the Red Fairy, Amber the Orange Fairy and Lucy the Diamond Fairy for a grand total of 50p.
This was at 4.30pm, and The Boy had read the first book cover to cover by 6pm.
This morning, The Boy implored me to let him take the next book to school with him. I was quite touched by the sight of him sitting on a log in the playground, utterly engrossed, while the other boys raced around him. I was even more touched when he told me that at lunchtime, he’d been reading it aloud to some of the other children in his class.
But sadly – and inevitably – not everyone was as appreciative. And a little bit of my heart broke when, after school, he told me that a good number of the boys had been teasing him for liking fairies, saying that they were rubbish and silly and boys shouldn’t like them.
I know it was to be expected. I know that’s exactly why DH wouldn’t have bought the books in the first place. I know I probably should have told The Boy to leave his book at home. I don’t even feel angry towards the boys who were teasing him, as I know that for a six-year-old boy, liking fairies is definitely Not Normal. Goodness knows, my own husband would have been one of those boys during his own schooldays.
But here’s the thing; I don’t want to make The Boy conform. I don’t want to tell him that he can’t like X, Y or Z because it’s for girls. I don’t want to tell him that he can read about fairies as long as he only does it at home. Why on earth should I? Who decreed that boys can’t like fairies, anyway?
Instead, I want to teach The Boy that it’s okay – no, more than okay, brilliant – to have your own opinions, your own personality. I want him to shrug off the taunts and stand by what he likes. I want him to walk away with his head held high, and to know that those comments mean nothing. I want him to cherish the friends who *don’t* tease him, but on the contrary, love him for what he believes in. I want him to believe in fairies for as long as he flippin’ well likes.
Tomorrow, he wants to take the next Rainbow Magic instalment to school, and that’s fine by me. Because in this day and age, who’s to say what is ‘for boys’ and what is ‘for girls’? Not me, not DH, certainly not The Boy’s classmates. And if anyone teases him, I’ll be telling him to remind them of the blinding save he made in after-school football club this evening.