Shaming Boys for Doing “Feminine” Things Hurts Women, Too

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In case you missed it, not long ago, Good Morning America ran a segment talking about the probable future King of England, Prince George’s, upcoming class schedule. Among discussion of what subjects the young prince was studying, his love for his ballet lessons came up. GMA host Lara Spencer laughed. When I watched the segment, I initially wanted to give her the benefit of the doubt. Sometimes people get the giggles at awkward moments. But then she added I have news for you Prince William, we’ll see how long that lasts.” There was a backlash from the dance community, rightfully so, and Spencer ended up apologizing for her comments. However, the entire debacle brought to light something many of us take for granted – even in 2019, boys and men are still shamed for doing “feminine” things. This doesn’t hurt just them – shaming boys hurts girls and women, too.

How it Hurts Boys and Men

There’s the obvious question of what makes a particular activity “feminine” in the first place. Some of the greatest dancers who ever existed have been men. Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, Mikhail Baryshnikov. Not that a male dancer’s sexuality matters, but all those men I just named have been romantically-involved with women. But even for male ballerinas who happen to be gay, does that automatically mean that they’re less masculine? Have you ever looked at the insane amount of muscles that dancers of all genders have? These people are athletes, pure and simple. Meanwhile, your cousin who lives in his mom’s basement and blogs about how “ballet makes dudes gay, bro” hasn’t exercised since the first Bush presidency.

Of course muscles also don’t automatically make someone masculine any more than being graceful makes a person feminine. If that’s the case, I’ll hand in my woman-card now, probably tripping over my feet while I do it. But this derision of ballet, a 600-year-old art form, only serves to chase away male dancers, who are less likely to pursue it anyway. (I’ll get to how this idea hurts women, too, in a moment.) Actor Hugh Jackman tells the story of how his older brother discouraged him from taking dance lessons as a boy, calling it “sissy”. Several years later, the brother apologized to Jackman for his comments, saying “You belong on the stage”. Jackman took his first dance lesson the next day, at the age of eighteen. We might never have had “The Greatest Showman”, who, by the way, also played the hyper-masculine superhero, Wolverine. When boys are free to pursue their passions, they are better able to become who they were meant to be.

How it Hurts Girls and Women

As concerning as this all is for boys and men, there is another side to this problem. Mocking ballet as “feminine” is harmful to girls and women, too, in multiple ways. Part of the #metoo movement revealed a dark side to the ballet world – that women were being abused by fellow male dancers. Women in other industries often report of a “boys club” that has long-protected men from sexual assault allegations. It looks like the ballet world is no different. I theorize that since men are less likely to pursue ballet, when one does, he has more ability to get away with any kind of bad behavior, because there aren’t as many dancers available to replace him.

Now, let’s go back to the mentality that a given activity is inherently feminine. To mock boys for pursing something that is supposedly feminine doesn’t only hurt boys. It further pushes the idea that feminine activities are less-than. Women are often praised for doing things that seem “masculine”, like fixing cars or working in manual labor. The same is often not said for men. I used to work at a high-end toy store and remember a coworker’s story about a father returning a toy grocery cart, purchased by his wife for his son, because it was “a girl’s toy”. My coworker and I were baffled at the implication that GROCERY SHOPPING was considered a woman’s responsibility. I don’t even want to know how that particular father would have reacted if his son had expressed an interest in ballet.

Boys will be…free to be themselves

Here is hoping that this entire matter can serve as a teachable moment. GMA Host Lara Spencer didn’t just issue some half-hearted social media apology. She interviewed three male dancers about their experiences and seemed sincere when expressing her regret over her initial comments. Hopefully both she and her viewers have a better understanding of how shaming boys for doing “feminine” things hurts everyone, women included. In the meantime, I’m just hoping for adorable videos of Prince George learning a tour jete.

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