My preschool-aged son is a sweet, handsome, athletic boy. He loves soccer and swimming and riding his bike. He LOVES motorcycles and all kinds of stunts (stunts on motorcycles, bicycle tricks, dance tricks, martial arts "tricks"). And he has a very "masculine" haircut too, which he loves.
He also loves nail polish. And dresses and hair accessories. And dolls. And pink. It's probably his favorite color. My son doesn't want to BE a girl, he just likes "girly things." Sometimes he dresses up in a pretty dress and wears a bow on his head and he puts a cape on and calls himself "Princess Man!" He's a heroic MAN who dresses like a princess.
We are very flexible about gender and we tell him he can wear or be anything he wants. The rules about gender are "stupid and wrong" (our words). Whenever someone says "pink is for girls" we've taught him to say things like, "no, anyone can wear pink" or "pink is for girls AND boys." We remind him that kids who say stuff like that are WRONG and don't know any better.
But he understands that there are social rules about gender and thus will not wear dresses outside the home, or tiaras or bows. But nail polish... well he's flexible about that.
Usually adults compliment him on his nail polish. They might show a surprised reaction and some will make disapproving faces but no adult has ever said anything mean about it. Kids are another story.
Recently, a boy in my son's martial arts class has decided my son is a girl. He pesters him and calls him a "she". This bothers my son but my son's reaction is to simply be mean back.
Does anyone else deal with this? How do you empower your kids to challenge harmful social norms without encouraging them to get into fights or trouble? How do you deal with the bullies and "normal" parents who foster gender myths?