Last night, my youngest son and I painted our toenails.
To be completely transparent, my wife painted hers too. And yet I don’t think anyone would blink an eye if that were to come out on the evening news.
But this is different. Because he’s a boy. And so am I. And people have gotten pretty uptight about this before.
But I think it’s important. I think it’s important to buck the trend of culturally imposed gender roles.
Because I want him to know that it’s ok if he wants to paint his toenails. I want him to know that it’s ok if he wants to have stuffed animals or dolls (the former he’s all over; the latter, not so much). It’s ok if his favorite color is pink or gold. It’s ok if he wants to be a secretary or a nurse or a teacher. It’s ok if he wants to learn to cook or to sew or to dance.
In the same way, it’s ok if my friend’s daughter wants to play football or dig for worms. It’s ok if she wants to have Hot Wheels cars and action figures. It’s ok if her favorite color is black or navy blue. It’s ok if she wants to be a doctor or a CEO or a politician or a litigating attorney. It’s ok if she wants to learn about construction or weightlifting or MMA.
And to be clear, not all kids want to venture outside the traditional gender stereotypes. I know someone who raised two kids – a boy and a girl – and as gifts they received a doll and a dump truck. The catch was that the doll was for the boy and the truck for the girl. And what did they do? Before too long, they switched. And here’s the thing: they got to make the choice for themselves. Just like my older son who won’t hear of having his toenails painted.
And even though our culture tells us about these gender roles, I also think our culture reminds us that we can hope to break free of cultural expectations. The Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling remind children that “It is not our abilities that show what we truly are. It is our choices.” The 1862 classic Les Misérables showed that a thief and convict could transform a community and save lives.
And sacred Christian texts share the same insistence. Jesus tells a woman at a well that she can be free of the social perceptions that cause her to venture out in the heat of mid-day. He tells a group of children that they are worthy and welcome in spite of the protests. He affirms two sisters who are in the unlikely position of being property owners in first-century Bethany. He tells a story of a Samaritan that surely empowered any of this underprivileged community who may have heard it.
Yesterday my youngest son and I painted our toenails. And that’s ok.