1. “He’s a real ladies’ man.” I queried some mom’s groups about what they hate hearing—either from friends, acquaintances, or family members—about their boys, and this was the number-one complaint. We’ve all heard it: A few toddlers are happily digging in the sandbox, and if it’s one boy and two or more girls, there’s inevitably a joke about the boy being a lady-killer. Or “he’s such a flirt,” or any other thing that ascribes romantic intent to babies. “I hate it when girls and boys are playing together, and people make weird comments about boyfriends and girlfriends,” says Anne. “It’s creepy, and it can get in the way of the kids’ friendships.”
2. “Boys are less complicated than girls.” This is actually a comment on the moodiness or inscrutability of girls—meaning that girls are impossible to understand and that boys are always sunny, frank, and open. Ha! But also: “I’ve heard that one about the boys’ relationship with their mothers,” says Becca—implying that mothers and daughters will turn on each other in the teenage years. “Divisiveness among women is assumed and encouraged at a very young age,” says a mother of a toddler girl and an infant boy. “Boys are less complicated than girls” is actually a crack about girls and women.
3. “What sport will he play?” “I think the thing that annoys me the most (what I hear from family), is the automatic assumption that my nephew Leo will play sports. And it is specifically the sports that they like—baseball and football. There is no question that he will play. Even my husband was bummed when we had our second daughter because it was an automatic assumption that they wouldn’t play sports and he wouldn’t get to spend time with them out on a field somewhere. Being a mom who played basketball all through middle and high school, it annoys me that no one has considered that some of our girls would play sports. Or that Leo will even want to play sports? Maybe he’ll want to play chess or be in theater,” says Kristen, a mom to girls and aunt to boys.
4. “Be a man.” Some years ago a friend of mine was watching Saving Private Ryan in a movie theater, and there was a father and a six- or seven-year-old boy a few seats ahead. (That alone is cause for concern.) As the boy shrank from the violence, the father yelled at him to “be a man!” Natasha, mom to a sensitive boy, says, “I dislike the comments, especially from men, that my son needs to be some little tough guy. Like being sensitive is unacceptable. I thought we were past all that.” Expressing distress at violence is normal. We shouldn’t be teaching boys to squelch their natural reactions to horrifying things.
5. “Boys don’t wear nail polish.” Anything about what boys are “supposed” to wear or do is just perpetuating gender stereotypes. Says Natasha, “My son’s gym teacher said to him, ‘Boys don’t wear nail polish. Why did you let your mom paint your nails?’ I could tell he was embarrassed. He was only four.”
6. “That’s a girly thing to do (or wear, or say).” Calling boys “girly” came up frequently as something that drives parents bonkers. “People would sometimes think my sons were girls because they weren’t in military gear (?!) and even wore pink. But when they ‘found out’ that the child was a boy they would get super embarrassed, like they’d insulted him,” said Carrie. A lot of parents pointed out that being mistaken for a girl is somehow considered an insult, and that being “girly” is wrong—even for girls. One mom reports, “In some cases, my active and rambunctious nieces are proudly labeled as ‘playing like boys.’” Both boys and girls get the message that anything having to do with girls is to be avoided.
7. “He’s a mama’s boy.” Being called a “mama’s boy” is negative, while “daddy’s little girl” isn’t. Boys can be close to their mothers without it indicating some kind of character flaw. “Also, people make weird comments about boys being close to their moms until the boys get girlfriends who come between the boy and the mom. That seems like a lot of very strange projection!” says Meghan. (See the comment about divisiveness among women, above.)
8. “He’s so calm.” This is the flip side of “boys will be boys.” Parents of boys with calm temperaments say they get comments all the time on their kid’s chill-ness. And yeah, it’s great to have a non-hysterical kid, but it’s weird that people think girls are naturally models of good behavior and boys are hellions. Says Rachel, “It’s like we should somehow expect bad behavior, or that boys aren’t capable of being well-behaved, respectful people simply because they are boys.” Variations: “He’s all boy!” “He’s such a boy!” especially with regard to exploring or roughhousing. “Roughhousing is not a ‘boy’ thing,” says Netta, and neither is exploring or being adventurous. It’s just their personalities.
9. “Boys love trucks.” “People will say things like ‘boys love trucks,'” says Anne, “but when he’s playing with a doll, they never say ‘boys love dolls!’ All kinds of kids like all kinds of toys, but people have these preconceived notions of what boys like and what girls like, and say them in front of the kids, so they become self-fulfilling prophecies.”
Comments have been lightly edited and some names have been changed. Every mom my age is named Emily, anyway.