They say if you scratch the surface of a cynic, you will find a disappointed idealist: I can tell you from my own experience that this can absolutely be true. Despite my grumbly fist shaking and jaded, icy heart, I still believe that deep down people are good, or at the very least, not so bad. I believe that, given resources and opportunity, most people will at least try to leave the world better than they found it. And yet I also believe that people — all people — can be mind-bogglingly stupid and say correspondingly moronic things. People will disappoint you. Case and point: the garbage people say to and about my kids.
As soon as I had my son four and a half years ago, people began to say weird things. So when I became pregnant a second time, I figured I'd heard all there was to hear and that I'd be used to other people foisting their issues on the tiny proto-human that was my baby. Then I had a girl, and I learned there is an even lower ring of hell that I would get to experience as a parent.
A lot of the dumb things I'd heard after I had my son were repeated when I had a girl; the general stupid things people say to new parents, but there have been (and continue to be) things people say in regard to my toddler girl that my boy never heard...
"You're So Pretty"
Being called pretty is just not something we say to boys. And why not? There are plenty of pretty boys out there. But for some reason calling a boy "pretty" is considered feminizing and therefore insulting (yeah, think about that one for a while). Girls are called pretty often and frequently, which really drives home what we collectively think is an important trait in a girl.
"What A Pretty Outfit"
People have been telling my daughter her outfits are pretty since before she knew she had toes. Why the hell would my daughter care if her outfit is pretty; she'd just as soon be naked. But no one ever tells my son his outfits are pretty. People rarely remark on his clothing at all (unless he goes to the grocery store in a dinosaur costume, in which case all bets are off). If they do make note of his outfits, they do so to me. But my daughter is constantly being told, directly, what a snazzy dresser she is, and she is definitely internalizing that fashion is important, despite not yet being 2 years old.
"Don't Get Dirty"
OK, I will admit, all kids get this to a degree, and some kids get it more than others regardless of gender depending on parents. But based on my anecdotal data of four years of going to playgrounds, little girls are far more frequently encouraged to keep their clothes clean than their brothers.
"Be A Lady"
All children are told they should behave, but young men are not given the gender-specific code of behavior many young girls are. To be a "lady" isn't just to be well-mannered. It's to be well-mannered in a specifically feminine way: submissive, charming, and demure.
"Don't You Want The Pink One?"
Why are girls automatically supposed to like pink. My toddler thinks all colors are yellow or blue. She doesn't know what the hell is going on with any of the colors and she certainly doesn't have a favorite. Stop trying to pinkify her existence.
"He's Mean Because He Likes You"
Why are we setting up young girls to believe that this is the nature of male/female interactions? Can we not? Pretty please. It's so gross, awful, and dangerous.
"We're Sending Her To A Convent"
Seriously, if anyone can tell me of a boy whose parents said they were going to lock him away to protect his sexual purity (or greet his future dates with shotguns on the porch), I will give you a dollar. I will give you five dollars. But I don't think I will have to part with any of my money because, whereas I have heard people literally say this of their unborn infant girls, outside of Pink Floyd's The Wall (in lyrics that are universally recognized as tremendously creepy and damaging) I've never in my entire life heard someone saying anything of this nature about a boy.
"You Can Be Anything"
And the flip side of this...
Girls are often told, despite massive societal pressure and obstacles, that if they can dream it, they can be it, which is great (even if there are a million unacknowledged barriers to many of their goals based on little more than their gender that speak louder than this encouragement). But the unspoken and loudly proclaimed barriers that result in fewer boys in certain industries and activities (dance, nursing, teaching) is rarely if effort denounced so clearly for boys and young men.