An Apology From a Mother to Son Crushing Gender Stereotypes

A Letter From A Mother To Her Child That Crushes Sexual Discrimination

Shireen Chaya-Mahdi Society ,,,,,,,,

To my beautiful son Eyan,

On the eve of your fourth birthday, your father and I went from one store to the next looking for the Frozen themed toy you asked for, but came back empty-handed. When you woke up in the morning and jumped into bed asking for your gift, we said we couldn’t find any. Your father and I looked into your sweet brown eyes and lied. Stores were filled to the brim with every Frozen toy you could imagine. Tea sets, wands, outfits, microphones with the “Let it Go” tune, Elsa and Anna wigs, and cute blue colored cameras. But that was the problem; they were all for girls. We would pick them up take a few steps to the cashier and stop. Eventually we just gave up. We had an unspoken agreement that lying to you would be easier than potentially exposing you to a society unforgiving of anyone who tries to break the chains around our, and soon enough, your neck.

You see my angel, after sixteen weeks of carrying you in my womb I put the first link of the chain around your neck. When the words  “you’re having a boy” were spoken, I rushed to buy you your first onesie in a perfect blue that said “mommy’s little man” with a matching jacket that said “Daddy’s superhero” on the back. As your turned one, I smiled watching your father pretend to wrestle with you before bedtime. As you grew older, I saw the way you swayed to music, how you would close your eyes to the sound of opera, and how you loved to cook with me in the kitchen. And yet your father looked for “football for toddler” classes and I secretly bought you a cooking set. “At least it’s not pink” was my defence, when grandma pointed out its inappropriateness for a boy. When you asked for a dab of nail polish, I let grandpa say “you’re not a girl. Nail polish is for girls”, like it was a fact written in stone. Now that your sister is older, I see the jealousy, perhaps even sadness, in your eyes when your aunts invite her into their room and paint her face and nails with the same colors you were forbidden to want. Though there is nothing that brings us as much joy as hearing you sing at the top of your lungs “Let it go let it go” we tried a million and one ways to persuade you to buy a Spiderman toy instead of the Frozen toys you really wanted.

My sense of relief at having you stands in contrast to the worry I felt every time I changed your little sisters’ diaper. I thought of all the suffering that awaited her in a world that saw in the part of her body hidden in that diaper, every reason to tell her she is incomplete. I thought of all the times I would have to tell her what she could and couldn’t say or wear, where she would go, with whom, and till what time. And when she would protest you having freedom that she was denied I, like my mother before me, would have to look into her eyes and say “because he is a boy”.

But in the midst of all this worry, I forgot about you. I focused so much on raising a strong, independent girl with a voice of her own I assumed that you did not need the same lessons. I assumed that your “maleness” made you immune to weakness and that your place in the world is secure. I was happy that you would never have to choose whether you wanted to pursue a career or stay at home. That you would never feel guilt over your choice and that you would not drown your guilt in cupcakes (because all girls love cupcakes right?) or grow up to loathe your body. You are a boy; a man in the making. The world was designed for you.

But you see my love, I never gave you a chance. We never gave you a chance. We failed you and every generation  to come by giving you only half the story. We separated you from one half of humanity and in the process robbed you from ever being whole. The burden of being “strong” was thrust upon you even before you opened your eyes to this world.  “You are a big boy and big boys don’t cry” we are quick to say. “Boys don’t play with dolls” we said worriedly, as we rushed to buy guns and arrows. We leave you to wonder why so many things are forbidden to you; to deny your natural human tendency to want to love and be afraid of the dark or sad to the point of tears. And when you become a man, and the seeds of your resentment flourish, we will call you a misogynist, forgetting the eyes of the little boy you are today, incapable of seeing race or gender. Forgetting that you wouldn’t grow into anything but love if we hadn’t chipped away at your innocence one action figure at a time.

Hence, I apologise. For every time, I asked you to be strong when I should have hugged and let you cry uninterrupted. For every time, I told you to be a big boy when you wanted to be held like a baby. For every time, I willingly put lip gloss on your sister but denied you the same. For every time, I thought empowering your sister would be meaningful without upholding your right to freedom from the burden of “manhood”. For every time, I forgot that the key to an equal future lay in letting you both experience life with one another away from an iron wall of blue vs. pink; you both deserve a life in full color.

And I am sorry for being utterly surprised at your answer to my question of why you liked Frozen so much: “because Elsa is strong mommy. She wasn’t afraid to go up the ice mountain alone”. I’m sorry for encouraging you to idolize a masked man who takes on the world with brute force, over a woman who chose to fight a world that tried to punish her for being powerful.

But this will stop here. I will be the Elsa in your life every single day. I, too, will climb the ice mountain alone, if I have to. And as for the world and its chains of right and wrongdoing, I say:

“Here I stand in the light of day. Let the storm rage on”. I choose to let it go.



Writer Shireen with her son Eyan blowing out the candles.
Writer Shireen with her son Eyan blowing out the candles.