I have a friend who happens to be dad to a six-year-old boy. While this little boy and I were on a field trip to Walmart, he passed the yarn section, grabbed a ball of orange yarn, brought it to me, and said, "You can make something with this!"
"Yes I could!" I said.
"Could I make something with it?" he asked me, curious.
"Sure," I said. "Would you like me to teach you how to knit?"
He got all excited, nodding his head, and he put the yarn back because he wanted to try out something more "disco" (I guess...the yarn he chose is silver with this awesome rainbow metallic thread running through it). I told him he could pick out one ball of yarn, and we would get the right size needles to go with it.
Now, understand that six years old is right around the age people in general can start to learn how to knit. I explained to him...as did his dad...that it may take several tries before he gets it right, and that there was no pressure to learn. He asked me to teach him. We sat down for our first lesson, when I cast on for him, and I taught him the four steps to the knit stitch in the best way possible for a boy that likes superheroes and wrestling:
"Stab it! Choke it! Pull its guts out! Throw it off a cliff!" (This mnemonic is courtesy of a lesson I took at Vogue Knitting LIVE, by the way).
The next day, he sent me a message, asking if he could come to my work and learn how to knit again when I was finished with my job for the day. I told them both (he and his dad) that it would be fine. I am told the boy's grandmother told the father, "You know...all you are doing is setting him up to be made fun of at school."
This brought to mind two things about gender that I never was required to adhere to while growing up. The first one is this meme, which is probably the greatest contribution the internet has made, ever:
I got the impression from that statement that the grandmother thinks that knitting is for girls, and that kids will either make fun of him for it because he would be a boy doing a girl thing, or because it meant he was sissy, gay, or whatever other in-the-moment word is currently used for that sort of thing. It doesn't seem to ever go the other way, though, does it? The people who worry about things like that will complain about boys doing the things that girls like, but very rarely does one bat an eyelash when a little girl is wearing Superman Underoos, or she has a toy bulldozer, or other stereotypically boy interests.
When I was nine, I had this awesome clock radio cube that had a just-long-enough cord to pull into my bed, so I could listen to the Chicago Cubs when they were on the west coast and I did not want to go to sleep (sorry, Mom). I had a Barbie dream house, sure, but I also had a navy, orange, and yellow Big Wheel and I played little league baseball. I don't recall anyone thinking that was particularly weird, and I don't think anyone was ever worried about me turning into a lesbian because of it. I just had two older brothers, so I wanted to be them. End of story. I was never discouraged from doing something because it was a "boy" thing instead of a "girl" thing.
Little girls who like hockey are much more accepted, I feel, than little boys who like figure skating, if all you do is listen to the chatter around you. Chatter may not be an accurate representation of life, but it stems from something. It is okay for girls to be boys, but much less okay for boys to be girls. Thankfully, nobody in my circle of life seemed to care while I was growing up...as long as I didn't come home both pregnant and strung out on heroin at the same time while in high school, I was free to make my own choices in terms of which "me" I wanted to be.
The other itch this statement causes to crawl onto my surface is that even if my first ponderance is misguided, kids will be made fun of for everything in the world. Let me take this kid, for example: his name is not spelled in the traditional, character-in-the-bible way. He is small for his age. He likes the White Sox while the whole city is currently Cubs crazy. He likes tea.
None of these traits are particularly weird, but kids make fun of other kids. It is what it is. And in a world where we are trying to take a stand against bullying, something got lost in translation over the past two generations. Kids will be kids. Instead of trying to turn kids into non-kids...people who know better before they learn to know better...how about we teach our kids to be proud of who they are, and let them explore their interests, and tell the bullies, "I knit! Would you like me to teach you? No? Then stand back, because my sticks double as weapons if I need them..." (you know what I mean)
We can't just blame the parents of the bullies for having bullying kids. Parents who teach their kids that victimization is the only option if they are different are just as much to blame as the others. There is a vast middle ground here, with a very broad spectrum of "acceptable" behavior. This means that no parent is 100% right or 100% wrong...it's how we learn from each other.
Incidentally, I would think any caretaker of a six-year-old boy would be thrilled that he is learning something that will keep his hands and brain busy, and is much quieter than playing explosive video games. But that's just me. Lesson number three...if he is still interested...will be next week sometime.