Tuesday, March 18, 2014

It's Not OK.

I have been following several stories online about kids being brutally bullied for liking characters and shows considered "not appropriate" for their age and gender. Currently, many of them are about boys who like My Little Pony. They are beaten, teased, and told not to wear their favorite shirts or bring their bookbags to school because, heaven forbid, they like a show that has female ponies as main characters, and was designed to be marketed to girls. Occasionally we hear of a girl being teased about wearing a shirt or bookbag that has a male character or superhero on it, but we are quick to hop to her rescue. Heaven forbid boys like a show about strong-minded females who practice good social skills and are supportive of each other. Right?

Kids like what they like. I like Disney movies. I could sit here and watch Cinderella or Snow White over and over until my poor husband turned into a blob of sputtering goo. (And I have him as witness to this fact). I'm 42 years old. If you don't like it, I can show you the door, because I'm allowed to like what I like.

I can defend myself. Not everyone can. Especially kids.

If you are teaching your kid that it isn't OK to like something, you are teaching them to give someone else a hard time- to bully them- if they like it. That is NOT OK. So when you teach your kid that they can't like Elmo anymore because they are a teenage boy, what do you think he will think when he sees another person who likes Elmo? That they are being baby-ish, silly, inappropriate? And how will he handle that feeling? What will stop him from walking up to that person and saying, "Elmo is so babyish! You shouldn't like that anymore, you're not a baby!"

My boys like a lot of things, and many of them are not "typical." The whole idea of "age-appropriate" is arbitrary. When I went to see the last midnight show of the South Park Movie, there were 6-year-olds roaring it up in the theater. That isn't "age-appropriate", either, but obviously that didn't bother their parents. And those kids weren't likely to be bullied about liking South Park, either.

Why would that be?

Why can't my sons like butterflies, rainbows, kittens, unicorns, or any other thing they like? If my son wants to wear pink, why is that a problem? After all, they both look great in it. My grandfather wore pink all the time, and he looked good in it, too.

When I was a kid in school, I was the weird one. I liked black turtlenecks, reading books, writing stories, and running around in the woods. I like bright colored shoes and big earrings. No, I didn't have a lot of friends. I was never invited to a single party (unless the whole of a group was invited- never for me, myself). But I knew I was me, and I could defend myself if anyone dared to actually be brazen enough to comment to my face. I only got beaten up once. I remember it very well, and still remember the older girl- the only other girl in my neighborhood- coming to my rescue, and letting that kid have it. I just could not be anyone else, I couldn't just "fly under the radar" and get into the things other girls were into, and "fit in." I also had an awesome Mom who let me be who I was, and offered many things so I could discover what I liked and what I didn't.

There are plenty of kids out there who cannot defend themselves, or who face bullies who aren't afraid to attack viciously, and even physically. They need our support. Like Twightlight Sparkle, they need true friends to stand with them when they are vulnerable, even physically shield them if necessary, so they can learn who they are and gain the strength they need to be themselves.

I doesn't hurt any boy to emulate Rainbow Dash. Or AppleJack. Or Twightlight Sparkle. Or Rarity, Fluttershy, or even Pinkie Pie. There should be nothing wrong with having strong female characters as your heroes, no matter your gender.

Bullying should never be considered OK.

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