Baby Changing Stations in the Men’s Bathroom: Gender Stereotypes and The Sister-Brother Relationship

posted in: Acceptance, Family Ties, Kids | 32

Snips and snails and puppy dog tails, that what little boys are made of. Sugar and spice and everything nice, that’s what little girls are made of. 

Nowadays, we do not find it very enlightened to pigeonhole boys and girls in such a manner. Yet despite society’s ever-increasing openness to gender bending, many children still come to embody gender stereotypes, even in the absence of labels or coaching. I see it on a daily basis as the mother of one girl and one boy. My daughter and son also clearly notice the disconnects that sometimes occur because of their differing genders.

The other day, my daughter Grace was reading one of her chapter books to my son Michael. He was annoyed that it didn’t have any pictures. She told him he simply had to see the pictures in his head, and then went on to read an excerpt where one character gives another some rocks as a gift.  Like the little natural-born teacher and nurturer she is, Grace stopped and asked Michael,  “Are you imagining what’s going on right now?” Michael confidently nodded, and she said, “Tell me what pictures you are imagining in your head.” Without skipping a beat, Michael answered, “Monster trucks pooping rocks and skulls out of their butts.”

By many respects, and by no direct intention of my own, I am raising two very gender stereotypical children. My daughter is all about fashion, nail painting, secret password journals, stuffed animals with disturbingly large eyes, earrings, mothering her brother, pretending to be a pop star, telling me I’m so embarrassing, and having body image dilemmas. My son lives and breathes superheroes, Legos, destroying things, peeing anywhere but the toilet, making guttural noises that barely pass as speech, wrestling, wearing only his underwear, burping, farting, and then laughing at burping and farting. I’m fine with all of this. Well, maybe not the things that make our bathroom smell like a latrine at summer camp. But their stereotypical behaviors? It is who they are, and it makes our life together as a family what it is.

I do, however, sometimes lament that Grace does not know what it is like to have a sister, and Michael does not know life with a brother. I have always considered myself lucky to have one of each, and my relationships with each of my siblings are unique. Grace has never experienced the bond that can only materialize from putting your Barbies through endless wardrobe changes with your sister every Saturday morning. And Michael can not begin to imagine what it would be like to actually have a sibling who would take a karate kick as an invitation to play, instead of an excuse to exercise overly dramatic fake crying and tattle-telling skills. They rarely want to play the same things, and neither is typically gracious in “sucking it up” to indulge the other for the sake of playing together.

Still, there are times when you would never know that he is usually from Mars, and she is usually from Venus. For moments here and there, they compliment and complete each other. They act in ways that prove they really did grow in the same womb…

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switch-a-roo

…Then Michael pipes up about something pooping out something else. And the moment quickly dissipates.

The relationships between sister and sister or brother and brother are celebrated in greeting cards, inspirational sayings, and other Hallmark-worthy moments. Yet I have loved watching the web that is continuously being spun between my children…a lone sister and brother. The silks create a pattern that is complicated and comical, natural and forced, beautiful and awkward. Some strands occasionally break, only to be re-spun with greater strength. At times the web is a neglected nuisance in a dark corner. Other times it glistens like a divine creation in the brightness of day.

Sure, they both have other allies…and enemies…aside from each other. But when the rest of life inevitably falls away, when friends are not around and my husband and I are firmly on the other side of the parent-child divide, they only have each other. Michael may not understand why Grace feels injustice in not being allowed to wear makeup. And Grace likely can not comprehend the anger and frustration Michael feels if his carefully positioned action figures are disturbed on his dresser. But hopefully, by not having any other choice, they will both learn to appreciate some things about the opposite sex through their relationship.

I hope having a brother teaches Grace that boys do cry. I hope she recognizes this not as a sign of weakness, but as proof that pain, grief and sadness are common denominators among us. And boys are allowed to feel these feelings as deeply as girls.22462_473633595531_2854226_n

I hope having a sister teaches Michael that holding the door for a girl is good manners, but thinking she is not strong enough to open it herself is poor judgement.elephant rocks

I hope having a brother teaches Grace that certain odorous and noisy bodily functions are natural, and letting one slip in front of a boy is not the end of the world. In fact, it may just endear her to him. The same goes for getting her hands dirty.dscf16531

I hope having a sister teaches Michael that getting a hand-me-down girl’s bike is more a lesson in thriftiness than in humility, because real men do not think twice about sporting a little pink. Besides, it ain’t nothing a little Batman duct tape can’t fix.

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Yes. My son currently rides this bike. With absolutely zero qualms.

I hope having a brother will one day help Grace understand that even though we now teach our boys that girls are just as good/strong/capable/smart/athletic as them, they have thousands and thousands of years of evolutionary sexist attitudes still creeping in and coloring their view. So losing out to a girl might sting a little. The kind thing for her to do would be to be the bigger (wo)man and not rub it in. At least not every time.548322_10151902323210532_1102193869_n

I hope having a sister will one day help Michael understand why seeing a baby changing station in the men’s bathroom, instead of the women’s, is not simply a victory for lone or gay fathers, but also a moment of empowerment for mothers everywhere.

baby changing station men's bathroom
It does exist. I saw it with my own eyes. Thank you Missouri State Capitol Building for this sweet victory.

Most importantly, since my daughter and my son only have each other, I hope they come to realize that the opposite sex is not an enigma. Apart from our anatomies, girls and boys are not so different from each other. Both equally experience the human condition: the emotions, the triumphs, the failures, the struggles, the breezes, the blows. Yet it might just be that boys and girls simply imagine different pictures in their heads along the way.

And the boys’ pictures are usually more disgusting.

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32 Responses

  1. Love it! I had a great visual during the spider web paragraph—nice! I really enjoyed this and I’m jealous you got a new one up. Also? I know this child: Without skipping a beat, Michael answered, “Monster trucks pooping rocks and skulls out of their butts.” Ohhh, I “know” him. :)

  2. With each other, and the lessons of their mother, I bet they’ll do ok.

    Plus Grace can learn the joy of poop jokes!
    Hehehe – I said “poop” 😉

  3. Anne Nestor Blind

    Beautiful Kelly! Enough Said…!

  4. I have two girls, but I was the little sister of a big brother. They can get irritating, but they’re nice to have, especially when you get older and don’t have to live together. :)

  5. Wonderful musings, Kel! As a girl who grew up with only a brother, and now a mom of a son and a daughter, I know how great the brother-sister relationship can be. We were each other’s best friends and worst enemies. Well, usually enemies while growing up, but if there was any outside force to be reckoned with (including parents!) we were a team. And we were both exposed to different kinds of toys (for my kids, I say “there are no ‘boy toys’ and ‘girl toys,’ there are only ‘kid toys.'”) and differences in temperment, which I think benefited us both immensely. And we have a great relationship now as adults.

    I LOVE the pic of the kiddos in each other’s jammies — that is beyond fabulous!!! :-)

    • I love that…”kid toys”. And I totally agree with that. I always loved playing with my brother’s toys growing up, and I think it is a great basis for a lesson in enjoying whatever brings fun. And I love hearing what a great relationship you have with your brother. I try to imagine how Grace and Michael will be with each other as they get older!

  6. This rocks!!!!

  7. Umm…I’m fairly certain ALL men think a tad on wearing pink! :)

  8. Such wise words! There is nothing like a sibling bond and I’m spoiled because I have a brother AND a sister. It’s the best of both worlds.

    I’m sure when you have a boy and a girl there are blessings as well as bummer parts as well, just like in having only girls or only boys. Makes me so excited/curious to see how my family dynamic ends up! No rush though, haha. And PS Love the changing table in a men’s bathroom!

    • I was giddy when I saw that changing table in the men’s bathroom. I have complained numerous times that most places only put changing table in women’s bathrooms. And aside from it being annoying as a mother (who would love to every once in a while hand off the dirty deed to dad out in public), I would be frustrated if I was a man. Dads take their kids places too, and they shouldn’t have to go searching for a convenient place to change a diaper if need be. So considering I found that sign in the state capitol, I can mark that as ONE thing the government got right :)

  9. […] you get through the week. Here’s some of what I saw… Are You Finished Yet talked about Gender Stereotypes. The Preschool Mentor discussed Children’s Dreams vs Their Parents, and Cayman Thorn […]

  10. I love this, Kelly. While gender stereotypes are stereotypes for a reason, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t look past them to see the humanity in each other. Sure, we may picture things differently, but on the inside we all want the same things. Mostly.

    PS. Sorry I’m just getting to this. The web filter at work flagged this as porn and I couldn’t get to it. Sigh…

    • Oh my gosh…that just made my day. Porn? Hilarious. And I am the last one to throw stones about not getting around to posts, because I have been a terrible offender in that respect.

      And I totally agree with your sentiments. First and foremost, we are all humans. Mostly :)

  11. You put my hopes for my kids into words perfectly! For April Fools day, my son and daughter dressed in each others clothes. My son slipped on his sister’s plastic princess heels and said, “Wow. These sure are uncomfortable.” I like to think that all their relationships will benefit from their unique bond. Beautiful post!

    • Thank you! I love that he immediately commented on how uncomfortable the shoes were. Not to be “stereotypical” but that is such a boy thing to say! My husband is constantly asking me why I wear shoes that don’t feel good, and he just doesn’t understand that style trumps comfort. Well, not ALL the time, but sometimes you just have to rock some princess heels.

  12. I loved this post. Every sentence was a reminder of my childhood with my older brother. Made me think back on how grateful I was to have him there

  13. Woefully behind on reading my favorite blogs this week! As always, your writing is endearing and funny and leaves me with goose bumps and teary eyes! As my two have grown older, they’ve become closer. They still drive each other nuts but then they have their little inside jokes and conversations that I can’t keep up with. The times when they’ve both been in trouble and my husband and I drop the hammer on them, I think those times create the most bonding. When they have a common enemy they come together so easily! I told my husband whenever they go for any length of time not getting along, we just need to pull our our “mean parent” and facilitate a little brotherly/sisterly love.

    By the way, your pictures are adorable! And in my house, it’s my daughter with the “dirty” mind. She’s more likely to laugh if someone says “Poop” and dear lord, don’t ever say “balls” around her. I never realized how often the word “balls” comes up in conversation… I’ve started referring to any type of ball as the “sphere” or “that round thing” just to avoid her raised eyebrows and giggling…

    • Ha!!! That’s hilarious. And I love that you orchestrate your “mean” in order to bring them together. I will have to remember that :)

      Your comments always make me smile, Gretchen. Thanks!

  14. Just saw this is a featured member post over at BlogHer. Grats!

    • Thanks! And congrats to you! I just saw on Twitter that you were FP’ed! And I actually had that post pulled up in my browser the other day, ready to read,…then I got pulled away from the computer and never got to it. But it is STILL an open tab, just waiting to be read. So I’m going to go finally read it!!!

  15. Aww, I’m late, but I loved this. As a sister to 3 glorious, and gloriously-disgusting brothers…. and 2 wondrous, and wondrously-stubbon, sisters… I applaud the message of love. 😀

    • Thanks, Rara. And can you really ever be late to a blog post? I don’t think so :) But if you can, I’ve been late to your blog for over a month now.

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