Gender Norms are Messing with Our Moves

Fifth Position

“Sometimes I want to be a girl,” Levi said in passing. Twice now on different occasions. I, being the open-minded, supportive mother that I am, wanted to ask questions, explore, process, get to the bottom of this statement. Did he feel like a girl trapped in a boy’s body? Did he feel shut out from a world he associated with girls? Would he rather sit on the bowl but does not feel empowered to do so? Did he want to change his name to Laverne?

“What could you do if you were a girl that you can’t do as a boy?”

“I don’t know.”

“Do you feel like you don’t want to be a boy?”

“No, I like being a boy.”

“You do realize that there’s nothing a girl can do that a boy can’t do,” I said prepared to speak to the baby issue with all the words about the many ways to make a family, but it was unnecessary.

“Yeah. I know.”

I didn’t dig any further. There was something he wasn’t telling me, but he clearly was not prepared to share. I had my suspicions, though. Unlike his brother who definitely marches to the beat of his own drum, Levi has been hyper aware of social norms from an early age, eager to fit in. He is constantly observing fashion trends, cool hairstyles as well as opting in to the always crowd-pleasing use of bathroom words and bodily functions. His older brother is in awe of Levi’s ability to belch on command. Levi is also acutely aware of gender norms. Girls have long hair. Boys have short hair. Girls wear pink. Boys NEVER wear pink. Boys watch “Frozen,” but only girls sing along. Girls take dance lessons. Boys do NOT.

MovesLevi is a dancer. He cannot stop himself from moving when there is music. Even in the car, he’ll dance to any music playing – seatbelts be damned! It’s amazing how he can twist his body into so many different shapes from a seated position. And when he’s standing, his 5th position reveals his crazy turn-out. He’s a natural. And naturally, he doesn’t want to take dance lessons. In part, he is shy about his dancing because he doesn’t want anyone to make fun of him once he gets going, once he allows the music to take hold of his body. But mostly, I fear that he has convinced himself that dance lessons are exclusively for girls.
We’re on a mission, Gabriella and I, to chip away at these assumptions he’s made during his years as a keen student of our societal norms. We’ve shown him videos of amazing dance crew competitions and So You Think You Can Dance as well as a little bit of Justin Timberlake. The other day, we took the boys to see Newsies, one of the dancingest musicals on Broadway with only one woman in an otherwise all-male cast. We wanted him to see men dancing and we wanted him to hear the audience applaud and roar with approval. He loved it. And yet. To date, we cannot convince him to even check out a dance lesson let alone participate. His moves are his own, he says.


Is it the dancing that has him thinking about his alter ego, Laverne? I’m not completely sure, but my mother gut says that’s what it is. And my mother gut tells me not to Let it Go. Cue that frikkin’ Frozen song because we can’t escape its power. In the meantime, we keep the tunes playing in the car and in the kitchen, and we dance in the privacy of our own home and let the music take hold of our bodies, boys and girls alike.


  1. Scott   •  

    My experience, the more you push, the more he’ll resist. If you figure out how to get inside a kid’s head, write the book immediately, it will be like printing money.

    • Deborah   •     Author

      I find bribery works well, too. Is that considered pushing??

  2. Robert Shaffron   •  

    This is really interesting, and I think you’re handling it with the perfect low-key responses. But…how come you’ve never danced for me??

    • Deborah   •     Author

      Thank you, Robert!

      And when you take me out dancing, I’ll dance for you.

  3. Christopher   •  

    I think you are handling it perfectly! Showing him that it is okay,and giving him a safe space to express himself. He will dance in the world when he is ready!

    • Deborah   •     Author

      I really hope so, Christopher! Thank you!!

    • Deborah   •     Author

      He really can’t help himself.

  4. Jen   •  

    Okay, I’m jealous of the turnout. As a former dancer, I still stand in first position naturally. I wish you lived by us. Our dance studio is super supportive of all kids who want to dance. I have had many, many talks with my girls that everyone can be a dancer. Thank goodness for the Tonys on TV where I could show them the male and female ballet dancers.

    • Deborah   •     Author

      We do live in an area that absolutely embraces all dancers, too. At least I know that if he ever does embrace his dancing self, his community will welcome him. Still, it feels good to be wanted. Thanks, Jen!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>