Boys Will Be Pink Boys: Unconventional Gender Identity

As it has been pointed out to me numerous times, I like to write about gender issues on this blog. Some assume I do it because it is provocative and progressive, or that maybe I struggle with such issues myself, but my commitment to the issue is rooted in more of an inherent and general fascination with the topic of gender. And thankfully the issue of gender identity, particularly in relation to children (often times young children) is becoming more and more of a hot topic.

What used to be a subject that was largely ignored and/or sublimated, is now the subject of books, newspaper stories, and morning chat shows. But this struggle is hardly new and was impressively dealt with grace and sensitivity in the 1970s with the release of the enduring Free to Be You and Me song “William Wants a Doll” (see video below):

Most recently The New York Times ran a piece titled “Boys Will Be Boys? Not in These Families?” in the Style section of the magazine (are we to assume that gender confusion and gender neutrality are becoming stylish?). In the piece writer Jan Hoffman delves into the subject of how modern, forward-thinking parents are helping their own children navigate the world of unconventional gender roles. These are parents that, rather than looking the other way, are desperately trying to understand and support their children’s unconventional gender behavior, and ultimately prepare for what they fear could be a life filled with social challenges.

Many of the children outlined in this article (most of which are boys, but this should not imply that mainly boys go through this sort of unconventional gender behavior – on the contrary) are well beyond just wanting to play with dolls and having a preference for pink, these are boys who like to dress as princesses and near-assume the identity of little girls.

Next: Gender Orientation vs. Sexual Orientation

This sort of thing tends to confuse the public and parents alike, and has been known to elicit a sort of gay panic among parents who assume this behavior is the harbinger of some serious outing to come. But as mentioned in the same article, researchers say, the behavior of very young children may not be a strong predictor of their adult sexual orientation. “Even when the child has extremely gender variant behavior at 4, it doesn’t necessarily mean the child will be gender variant at 10 or 15,” said Dr. Edgardo J. Menvielle, who directs the Gender and Sexuality Psychosocial Programs at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C. “It’s possible they will remain who they are and they may also change in a variety of ways.”

So the message to parents is to relax if you can, and display a certain amount of confidence, resolve and fortitude for the benefit of your child and the wider community. This might be best represented by author James Braly’s monologue about his son Oliver’s desire for a pink bicycle (listen here). We have much to learn from our children’s innocence and curiosity, and trying to shield them from ridicule and move them swiftly toward conformity might not be the best path. What has your experience been with this issue of unconventional gender behavior? Do you have a gut reaction to it? How can our society realistically become more accepting of such exploration?

5 Myths about Gender Differences
A Boy Named Sue: Gender Shaming and Stereotypes with Boys


Joan S.
Joan S4 years ago

Pink is just a color. During Victorian times it was a Man's color. This changed in the late 1900's as Marketing people developed clothing for children.

Little kids try out everything moving from stage to stage. As long as the child feels accepted and loved they will flourish. The problem arises when the kid goes to school and is teased about the color and hopefully parents will keep tuned in if that happens.

The gender thing is an old sore for me. My best friend was Donnie and we played all day everyday for a year. Then we went to kindergarten and he dumped me for the boys and they wouldn't play with me because I was a girl. I was hurt and resentful.

I wonder why it always seems more important to deal with the boys and color thing than with girls being tom boys.

Anne H.
Anne H4 years ago

I'd never seen that video before. I did not appreciate the "your a girl" limiting remarks growing up & it crept into everything. Perhaps adult insecurities are drawing boundaries at young ages. I think it unneeded and unrelated. A higher concern should be bullies and raising responsible citizens.

I want to tell you what I see where I live now (Hong Kong). Both little girls/boys push mini strollers w/ toys in them. There doesn't seem to be the color issue. Adult men care for children, I witness active parenting even when the mother is present. I often see fathers out with children including doing homework or doctor visit. Men will carry a woman's purse, usually his partners. The color boundary isn't an issue with adults. Are we sure it hasn't become a marketing scheme?

Val M.
Val M4 years ago


Vicky H.
Past Member 5 years ago


Jan Lampaert
Past Member 5 years ago

Makes interesting reading.

Shanti S.
S S5 years ago

Thank you.

J.L. A.
JL A5 years ago

wish parents could be more accepting and supportive of their children's individuality

Teresa Wlosowicz
Teresa W5 years ago

All gender stereotypes are related to culture and upbringing, not to nature. For example, a few years ago there was a large-scale study on girls and boys' mathematical abilities. It showed that in countries where there was equal education for girls and boys (in Western Europe, especially in Scandinavia) the results were equal or even girls were better, whereas girls were poorer at maths in Muslim countries, just because no one cares about their education there.

Danuta Watola
Danuta W5 years ago

Thanks for all the information.

Marie W.
Marie W5 years ago

All this ridiculous emphasis on gender junk! Androgyny.