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Tomgirl or tomcat?

Until I had boys of my own, I'd never given much thought to how difficult it can be for boys who don't conform to traditional male roles in our society. Some might call them tomgirls. Others might label them gay, regardless of their sexual orientation.

Maybe I didn't think about it because I grew up with a dad who's a nurse (see yesterday's post). Maybe I was just too focused on my own attempts to buck the traditional female roles. Whatever the reason, I started thinking about it a lot when my boys began expressing their own interests.

Even though women are still not paid equally, or always treated equally within society, in many ways they have more freedom than men. We applaud women for breaking barriers (and rightfully so).

On the other hand, acceptable roles for men are much more limited. A man who chooses a career outside the norm (nurse, elementary school teacher, receptionist) faces ridicule, snickers behind his back, and epithets remarking on his sexuality. Possibly, even as we applaud him publicly.

As MaryC so eloquently stated in a comment on yesterday's post, “I think the main qualification for any job should be a passion and talent for doing it.” Exactly, but when will we get there? Probably not in my lifetime.

As a writer, I often worry about perpetuating the male sterotypes. Do I have a responsibility to push back against our society's definition of a “real man”? Will I be proud to show my own boys my work (when they're finally old enough to read it)? If I try to write something different, will anyone buy it?

In my experience (yes, myself included), most readers expect the hero of the story to be a strong, masculine character, worthy of our respect and adoration, and the heroine's love.

He's the typical alpha male, leader of the pack, oozing testosterone, sex appeal, and honor. He likes guns, beer, meat, sports, and sex. He can easily carry a woman over his shoulder while running a five-minute mile, shooting at bad guys, and bleeding from a bullet wound. Even better if he wears a uniform and is willing to martyr himself to save her. Hoo-yah!

If human strength isn't enough, there are always vampires, werewolves, shape-shifters, and gods. Talk about alpha male. Eegads. What's a little boy who doesn't like toy trucks, guns, and plastic soldiers to do?

In an ideal world, everyone could like whatever they like without shame. My boys experienced such a world for a short few years while in an excellent Montessori school. It was like a little Utopia where respect for others was demanded of all students, and the children were free to be themselves without ridicule (well not out loud anyway).

But eventually, my boys had to face public school, because the rest of the world is not so understanding. I didn't want them to be sheltered from society forever, because they have to live in it. If they choose to buck it, it'll be with a full understanding of the consequences, fair or not.

I hope my own boys won't be afraid to be true to themselves.

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  1. Rich


    I relate a lot to this post. As a stay at home dad, my dad doesn’t even understand me, nor does he try. Also, I get a lot of eyes from other unapproving moms as in I’m an outsider, even at a public park. Also have both kids in a AMA Montessori school, love it but I do want them to branch out one day, this Montessori goes to 8th grade! Can you image no tests till you were in high school? Anyway, great post as always. Hope you guys are settling in nicely in Virginia.

    • Reply

      Rich, I should have thought of you right away. We’re so quick to let one aspect of a person (job or role) define him.

      I hope that even though your dad doesn’t understand you, he at least respects that your choice is the best one for you and accepts it. If not, I’m sorry.

      We loved Montessori on so many levels, largely the academic freedom to advance when ready and learn a subject until mastery without an emphasis on grades. But the supportive environment was also a great place for my kids to become confident in themselves and learn who they were before the real world intervened.

      Unfortunately, the number of kids dwindled drastically after about 2nd grade, even though the school went to 8th. Mine went through 2nd and 4th there and I’d do it again, but probably not past 4th due to lack of age-mates.

      Thanks for commenting. I’m proud of you for following your own path.

  2. Reply

    Great post Gwen! you raise so many interesting questions here.
    I loved the discussion between you and Rich. Must be very challenging for Rich also to raise his kids.
    I have no kids so I have no real opinion…. but I did enjoy the post and I think there is nothing more charming than a man with a very developed feminine side.
    Cannot wait to meet your little men tomorrow:)

    • Reply

      Thanks, Mirella. Really, I think it affects people at any age. Men and women feel pressure from society to look and act within certain parameters, even if it’s subtle. It affects everyone.

      A lot of women say they want a fully evolved man, but wouldn’t know what to do with him if they had him. I think you could totally handle it! 😉

  3. Reply

    Great post indeed. My son loved playing with dolls and asked Santa for a kitchen when he was four and another when he was seven. He is now grown has had a stint in the army and is now a wonderful, sensitive father (Who likes to cook real food now).

    Sadly, its not only kids that are cruel. But if they are confident in themselves, and know they have the love and support of their families, they can deal with anything.

    • Reply

      Thanks, Linda. Sometimes it’s harder for the parents than the children. You’re right that adults can be cruel, both to the child and the parents, and I agree that love and support of the family is everything. Sounds like you are a great mom!

  4. Reply

    Thanks for the post. I’d never heard of Montessori schools, but I’ll be looking into them now (not that I have kids quite yet). I think men also have more problems with traditionally “girly” hobbies, such as english horseback riding and knitting (both of which I do). I know a number of men who do both, but people always seem to look down on them.

    One of my favorite romance novels is Nerd in Shining Armor exactly because he was a “normal” guy. He emergency landed the stalling plane because he played flight simulator video games, and he burned his feet by having them too near the fire, etc. He wasn’t the ultra suave macho man, he was a sweet charming man who was much more like the sort of guy I would actually WANT to be with.

    I’d love to see more books like that.

    • Reply

      Topspinyarn, thanks for stopping by. Montessori schools are great because they focus on teaching the child at his own pace, and not moving to the next level until he’s ready. He can also advance more quickly, if ready. Plus they teach peace and acceptance. It was a great place for my kids to start out.

      For more info:

      I’ll have to look for Nerd in Shining Armor–it sounds fun. I’d like to try to write that kind of hero eventually. I think it takes a more talented person than I am at this point in my journey, but it’d be fun to try.

  5. Christine


    Great post! Glad the boys have you to raise them into fully evolved human beings. Long ago I read a book by Barbara Coloroso called KIDS ARE WORTH IT: Giving your Child the Gift of Inner Discipline. It’s been my guiding principle book for raising my darling daughter. I have bucked the system and gone against the tide in many ways as I’ve raised her (along with Darling Hubby). My biggest hurdle to combat? Being a mom of an only–amazing what people will say or what they assume about my child based on that one data point. Most of it is wrong.

    Thanks for sharing. Keep writing your fabulous stories. 🙂

    • Reply

      Thanks, Christine. I read a book called REAL BOYS once that helped a lot in understanding them and dealing with the pressures they face.

      Your DD is lucky to have such a great mom.

      I know what you mean about having an only. I was an only child and people assumed that means I was spoiled, etc. I had a good childhood, but I was far from spoiled in the way that people expected. That’s a good thing in my opinion.

      • Christine


        Hey–meeting another only all grown up — that is so cool! I have so many adult friends who are only children–I sometimes wonder if it is the Universe’s way of showing me that what I believe is true: every person is a unique individual and I have yet to meet two onlies who are alike based on that one fact of their existence. Human beings are snowflakes — 🙂

  6. Reply

    I agree with everyone here that commented before me…Now Get Me My Dinner Woman!!! hahaha, I know that would fly…probably right up-side my head.

    Anyway, Yeah I envy the Gator, being able to do what he loves to do, and is good at…Well, I mean, the stand up thing. And the diaper changing. I did get to do some of the latter when my daughter was little.

    Oh, and going to Myrtle Beach this coming weekend to spend the 4th with Family, including my daughter and Aidan, my 18 month old Grandson. Gee, I might get to change another diaper in this life time after-all.

    I think I would prefer the stand up gig better though. And, Gwen, great post again, and I feel ya girl, but, I have to say, that I truly hope that I don’t get down there and find Aidan dressed in pink, or playing with a baby doll.

    Unless maybe it’s a Barbie…no, strike that, he’s still my baby boy, regardless of his personal likes and dislikes.

    Keep up the wonderful words of intrigue, and inspirations that cause me to ponder.

    God Bless

    • Reply

      Thanks, Paul. I’m not looking to change the world, just get people to think. If you pondered, then my work is done. 😉 Thanks for checking in!

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