People, even people who don't know you or your child particularly well or at all, often feel empowered to tell your son or daughter how they should behave based on their perception of that child's gender. My son is turning five in a few days and in that half-a-decade a lot of attention has been paid to his love of nail polish, his doll Gwendolyn, and his overall sensitivity in laughable to offensive ways. While my in-the-moment response is often lacking, largely because I'm so taken aback, I've made it a point to think of how to respond to the things people say about sons.
A lot of attention, fortunately, has been paid to the damaging ways we talk to girls and women. While there's no denying that our society still have a long way to go in that arena (a long, long, long way to go it feels like at times), we're at the very least discussing the issue more broadly than we have in the past. Because the way we talk to boys is often less overtly negative, the concept of toxic masculinity, and the ways that gender stereotyping hurts everyone and the specific ways it hurts men and boys.
So what do we do in the face of myopic, backward, but deeply entrenched dictation of gender norms? We school some folks or, you know, at the very least we snark and we snark hard. Here are some retorts anyone can keep in their back pocket for future use.
Examples: "Come on, don't be a wuss. You've gotta be tough! Time to man up!"
Your son's response: An angry scowl.
Your response: Also an angry scowl. Then some choice words about toxic masculinity and how offensive and inaccurate it is to imply that women are weaker than men.
"You're The Man Of The House"
Examples: "Oh, it's just you and mommy, huh? So you're the man of the house!" Or "Daddy's away on a business trip? How does it feel to be the man of the house?"
Your son's response: "Um, OK?" (Seriously, kids have no idea what to make of this statement because it's so weird.)
Your response: "Well, he'll be a powerful a mighty ruler one day, but not until he reaches a particular age. Until then, I'm the queen regent and this is my kingdom."
"Protect Your Sister/Younger Sibling/Mommy"
Examples: "You're a boy, so it's your job to make sure nobody hurts your sister and mommy."
Your son's response: "OK?"
Your response: "Dude, he's 35 pounds and 4 years old. Let's hope the day never comes when I need to be saved by a 35 pound child. Until then, let's stop putting all this gendered, psychological pressure on him."
Presumption Of Sports Interest
Example: "Are you doing soccer this season? Football?" Or "So, who do you root for?"
Your son's response: Answer honestly. It's really not offensive so much as it's telling about gender expectations.
Your answer: "Football? Soccer? Are you kidding? He's a Seeker for his school's Quidditch team! They're playing Hogwarts next weekend!"
"That's For Girls"
Example: "Why are you wearing a tutu? Those are for girls!" Or "You don't want a doll! Dolls are for girls."
Your son's response: "Boys can like tutus and dolls. This is my tutu and my doll and they're awesome."
Your response: Just go all hype-man after your son drops his answer. Like "Ooooooooooooooooooooh!" and get in the other person's face and jump around and stuff.
Homophobic Slurs (Either Directed Toward Your Child Or Someone Else)
Example: "I ain't no queer!" Or "He's wearing a pink shirt? That's gay."
Your son's response: Hopefully confusion that someone could be such an idiot, because it's about as mind boggling as it is anything else.
Your response: "And that's bigoted, and I do not want homophobic, narrow-minded crap spewed in front of my child, or me, for that matter."
Judgmental Commentary On The Length Of His Hair
Example: "Your hair's getting pretty long. Time to get a haircut. You don't want people to think you're a girl, do you?"
Your son's response: "I like my hair like this."
Your response: "Yeah, we're trying to see if we can re-create scenes from Rapunzel. I think we're getting there!"
"...Like A Girl"
Example: Anytime "like a girl" is used as an insult. Looking, throwing, running, dancing, or anything else "like a girl."
Your son's response: "I [do whatever action] like me."
Your response: Be a hype-man again. Perhaps pantomime your son dropping the mic.
"Boys Will Be Boys"
Example: "He hit a kid on the playground. Oh well. Boys will be boys."
Your son's response: "Huh?"
Your response: "Boys will be boys? How boring. I want my boy to be a sea monster!" (And, really, "sea monster" is just as constructed a concept as "boy" anyway, at least in this kind of social context.)
Example: "I know you're sad, but don't cry" Or "Don't cry, it doesn't hurt that much" or "You're a boy, and boys don't cry."
Your son's response: Cry harder.
Your response: "Can I cry over how stupid your concepts of gender appropriate behavior are? Because I kind of am already."