Yesterday I had a mini makeup shop fest because Shoppers Drug Mart had great sales on eyeshadow. While I was there, I picked up a few new bottles of nail polish and a new lipstick. I love to play with makeup, so as soon as I got home I did my nails. Mayhem loving to play right alongside me came running with his hands out to get his own nails done. “I can keep them on for a long time mommy,” he said. “I don’t have to worry about being laughed at because I am not going to school”. He then proceeded to sit down and choose what colour he wanted his nails painted.
When he saw the new tube of lipstick he asked me what it was. I told him it was lipstick and put it on for him to see. “Ooooh mommy it’s so pretty”, he said. He then looked at me with sad brown eyes and asked, “mommy is lipstick only for girls?” I felt my heart break a little with the question, because what he really wanted to know was if he could wear it without being laughed at, and I knew the answer to that was resoundingly no. I told him that, “nothing is strictly for boy or girls, but because there are mean silly people, who aren’t sure about themselves, they will pick on people who do certain things that make them happy.”
It saddens me to know that already at the tender age of five, my boy is worried about people policing his presentation of masculinity. For him, makeup is about play and enhancing what he deems his “natural good looks.” When summer started, Mayhem told me “Mommy, I need a new look for the summer,” as his way of pointing out that he had outgrown some of his shorts and wanted new clothing. The day after we took him shopping, he put on one of his new outfits and modeled it for my friends. When they confirmed how handsome he looked, he preened and smiled. He just loves to play, and whether it comes to clothing or makeup, Mayhem always wants to look nice. He is also always the first one to ask, “are you really going to go out wearing that?”
He looked resigned when I told him about lipstick, but I know that he does not understand why certain things are understood to be for boys and others for girls. In a lot of ways, he is smarter than many adults that I know. It breaks my heart to know that at the tender age of five, he is already not only aware of the discipline, but afraid of the penalties that come with just being himself. The unhusband and I have done our best to allow our children to experiment and follow their interests, but each time they do so, there is a consequence that they must face. It makes me think of the whole nurture/vs nature debate. I for one don’t even understand how this can be debated. It is so clear that we raise children to believe that many things are gender specific, because the moment a child does not conform, even if the parents are supportive, society is quick to shame and ridicule.
I intend to allow Mayhem to continuing playing in my makeup bag for as long as he wants. It makes him happy, and that is all that matters to the unhusband and I. In the end, though it is tough to watch him go through the doubts and shaming ritual, I am sure that this will help him to be positive and secure in his masculinity. Real men have no need to shame others or force conformity, and it is my hope that this is the lesson he will take away from all of this.