“I don’t want a haircut, mummy!”

Until I became a mother, I never realised how intrinsically linked a child's hair is to their gender identity. I had no idea that a boy wouldn't know he was a boy if he had long hair. It never occurred to me that not forcing a regular haircut on a boy could be somehow fundamentally damaging to him/cause him to grow up to be gay.

In case you were wondering, I'm being sarcastic.

Back story:

I have two children. They are both boys. They both like to get dirty, play with cars, beat seven shades of shit out of each other and watch superhero cartoons. They are both free to choose their own clothing (they usually choose dinosaurs and other such "boy" things) and pick out their own shoes. There is only one proviso to this arrangement: They must be happy and comfortable wearing whatever they choose.

The big one, O, likes to keep his hair short. He asks for a haircut about every six weeks or so. The little one, F, will not entertain the idea of having his hair cut and, as a result, it is quite long. Long enough to tie back.

And that seems to be a massive problem for some people.

We go to the park and something like this happens:

Stranger: "Oh, what a beautiful little girl! What's her name?"
Me: "He's a boy and his name is Finnegan."
Stranger: (to F) "When is your mummy going to get your hair cut?"
F: "No! I don't want a hair cut!"
Me: "He doesn't want to have his hair cut right now. I'm waiting until he tells me he's ready."
Stranger: "Oh… But… But…"
Me: *walks away*

Okay, so I come across as kinda rude here, but just imagine if this happened to you multiple times every week. Imagine how fed up you'd get with having the same conversation and standing under the same cloud of judgement. Can you imagine that? Yeah. You'd probably be pretty rude too.

With the way some strangers have reacted to my son's hair, you'd think they were accusing me of negligence or abuse. But it is not child abuse. I could argue that something pretty close to child abuse might be forcing your child into something they don't want and haven't consented to, to which there is no benefit outside of the cosmetic. But then most parents have this romanticised vision of their child's first haircut and I certainly wouldn't want to accuse them of abusing their children. At worst, they conform to a patented parenting script which many others have read before them, and that's fine. There is no malicious intent to be found in that and I have never suggested otherwise. I've just taken a different approach with my children and I feel like that should be okay too.

There's an alternative version of this conversation, of course, which happens far less frequently:

Stranger: "Oh, what a beautiful little girl! What's her name?"
Me: "He's a boy and his name is Finnegan."
Stranger: (to F) "Oh, I'm so sorry! He has such a pretty face, and I love his little ponytail!"
Me: "Thank you. So does he!"

I like these people. Not because they agree with the way I've chosen to raise my children; because they respect my son's right to make his own decisions.

Of course, I can't bring this up without giving a special mention to the hypocrisy of it all. You see, as boys grow up, they are encouraged to view the likes of footballers as role models (although I can't for the life of me imagine why when you consider how often some of them end up in the news for unpleasant reasons). Have you watched football lately? Have you noticed the growing trend that is the Man Bun? A trend which nobody under the age of 60 sees as being remotely odd in any way. It's just the fashion right now and it looks kinda cool, right?

So, hold on a second… a grown man can shave half his hair off, stick the rest up in a topknot and give it a special little name like "man bun" and that's totally fine, yet my son can't wear his hair in a ponytail without my entire approach to parenting being called into question?

Can somebody please explain this to me? Because I just don't get it.

I shouldn't have to defend my parenting while I stand up for my son and his god given right to have autonomy over what happens to his body. Amidst all this feminist ranting we are surrounded by on social media, it's interesting to me that very few people have looked at the other side of this. I'm not going to argue that there isn't still some gender inequality going on – hello, BBC wage gap -, but what's interesting to me is that a little girl can wear her hair however she chooses. She can have it long or short, braided or loose and nobody gives a shit. But when a little boy walks into the park with his hair tied up in a ponytail, the pointing and the whispering starts up. And it's not the kids; it's the parents. The kids couldn't care less. It doesn't even occur to them that they should see anything odd in a little boy wearing his hair in a ponytail.

There are hashtags such as #letclothesbeclothes and #lettoysbetoys which seek to remove the boy/girl divide when it comes to clothing and toys. Brilliant idea. But it has to go both ways. I see a lot of tweets using these hashtags which point out how uncool it is that apparently girls aren't supposed to like dinosaurs or want to be astronauts, and they are absolutely correct. Totally uncool. However, I see far less bemoaning the fact that none of the T-shirts in the "boy" section have unicorns on them or that all of the princess colouring books are with the "girly" stuff.

It just seems to lack… balance.

I'm not saying that all boys should dress up in unicorns and glitter and aspire to be princesses. I'm just saying that it should be perfectly fine if they do. It's not going to damage them or "make them gay" (just DON'T).

And as for long hair? If it bothers you so much that a little boy wants to grow his hair long, well… maybe that says more about you than it does about him or his parents.

While you think about that, I'll be over here playing cars and dollies with my boys.

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4 comments

  1. Clare · August 17

    Hell yeah mama!!! You are soooo right with all of the above. As a mum of a 2yr old boy with long blonde curls, I’m totally with you! I’ve even been told that I am “making my son gay” because he has a dolly. The hair comments come from everyone-most of all my mother-in-law. What is with people’s stereotypical ideologies of gender?!?! Last time I checked, biology requires a man to produce a baby so why can’t my son nurture his doll? And also, just because you have a penis it doesn’t mean automatically your hair is short!!!

    Yes mate! Wish I could high 5 you!!!

    (Oh and don’t even get me started on piercing baby girls ears!)

    Xx

    Liked by 1 person

    • Motherhood IRL · August 17

      Yes! All of this! Thank you so much for making me feel sane today!

      And the ear piercing thing… I can’t even.

      X

      Like

  2. Jen Keane (@zenbuffy) · August 18

    I applaud your commitment to letting your son maintain his bodily autonomy. It’s incredibly important, and it’s great that he has your support!

    Just wanted to point out two quick things though:

    1) The Let Toys Be Toys campaign isn’t just directed at girly toys, it’s unilateral and always has been. I’m sure there are other people using the hashtag, but I just want to call out the work they have done to push retailers to remove gendered labelling all over the place in shops 🙂

    2) Unfortunately, little girls can’t just wear their hair however they like, because they too are judged based on what is considered proper hair for their gender: https://www.the-pool.com/news-views/latest-news/2017/24/a-girls-football-team-have-cut-off-their-hair-in-support-of-their-teammate
    https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/early-lead/wp/2017/08/08/what-happens-with-three-girls-soccer-players-cut-their-hair-short-theyre-accused-of-being-boys/

    It’s silly nonsense for anyone to be judging people based on their hair, and I wish it would stop. I hope your little one rocks whatever hair he chooses no matter what.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Motherhood IRL · August 18

      I absolutely agree with you regarding your point about the hashtag and certainly don’t seek to diminish its importance; I realise it is aimed at removing all gendered labelling. I just don’t see a lot of people using it to call out retailers on pigeonholing boys so much. It’s understandable that that is the case because a lot of retailers aim words like “strong” and “brave” at boys and “pretty” and cute” at girls, reducing their characteristics to their gender based on archaic perceptions of males and females. I think this irks mums of girls because they damned well do have strong and grave little girls! But, by the same logic, boys can also be pretty and cute and there’s nothing wrong with that either.

      As far as girls and hair goes, I feel like it’s more socially acceptable for girls to have autonomy over that particular facet of their appearance, although I’m not suggesting that mothers who have little girls who have a preference for short hair don’t face the same difficulties that I do with my little boy.

      Thanks so much for taking the time to comment and open up the debate; these are topics that must be discussed and debated if we are to ever have any hope of removing the gender labelling and stigma 😁

      Like

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