Media recommendations for a gender-nonconforming 3-year-old boy
January 27, 2014 3:44 PM   Subscribe

I’m looking some age-appropriate media that will show my bright, sensitive 3 year old son (who seems to be more interested in all things femme every day) that his interests are okay. He has lots of female family members and friends who demonstrate to him that there are a million different ways of being a woman or a girl. But neither his dad nor I is feminine in the slightest, and most of the men in his life are uniformly masculine. I’d love it if he could see positive representations of boys and men in books and TV who have a wider variety of gender expressions.

I’m dreaming of something along the lines of a genderbent My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic (which is, yes, one of his favorites), with a wide cast of characters with different personalities and interests and gender presentations. Does something like that exist?

I'm not terribly interested in "issues" books that are about gender identity; I'd just like some representation of boys who are interested in some of the same things that fascinate him.

He's got a very long attention span, and a pretty sophisticated grasp of how stories work, at least for his age, so longer picture books, books of stories without pictures, and more complex TV shows (without significant scary elements) are all fine.
posted by libraritarian to Media & Arts (32 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Ma Vie en Rose might be better a little later, but you could watch it first and see what you think - the rating doesn't reflect the content very well.
posted by jardinier at 3:46 PM on January 27, 2014

"My Princess Boy" sounds perfect for your lil' guy - it's slightly "issue"-y, but also utterly sweet and adorable.
posted by julthumbscrew at 3:49 PM on January 27, 2014

What are the things that fascinate him? Would he like books about artists? There are some lovely biographical series with a focus on childhood. They are only picture books in that they contain examples of the art.
posted by michaelh at 3:51 PM on January 27, 2014

If you're open to vintage cartoons, both Rainbow Brite and Care Bears are likely to fit the bill.
posted by juniperesque at 3:52 PM on January 27, 2014 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Good question, michaelh. He'd absolutely be interested in books about artists. He loves art and pretty things in general. Most of the games he makes up involve playing "mommy" to babies and baby animals, or cooking, or gardening, or doing other stereotypically nurturing things. He loves music and wild dancing, and generally appreciates things that are beautiful or sparkly or purple or, preferably, all three. Which is to say, he's a pretty delightful kid to be around.
posted by libraritarian at 3:58 PM on January 27, 2014 [12 favorites]

Maybe this Goodreads list of children's books that break gender stereotypes would have something that feels right?

PS - your description of your son made my heart smile. He sounds like a wonderful child.
posted by cecic at 4:05 PM on January 27, 2014 [3 favorites]

The Oz books, besides having a strong female lead character, and besides being delightful read-a-louds (because they work for kids and are interesting for grownups), contain the trippy trans story of Princess Ozma who lives her childhood in the form of a boy named Tip.

They're a bit complex for a 3 year old but I've seen them read to 5 year olds with success.
posted by latkes at 4:11 PM on January 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

SheZow? I can't tell you much about it other than that I heard about it via crackpot complaints about crossdressing, and figured that if the sort of people who were complaining about it were complaining about it, then, it was likely something my family would enjoy. My own kid really likes it.
posted by kmennie at 4:12 PM on January 27, 2014

Princess Jellyfish has a main character who likes to dress in drag and befriends a really shy, nerdy girl because he thinks she's hilarious and interesting.

Rainbow Brite and old-school He-Man might work too -- Prince Adam was femme enough that I remember a couple of other kids I knew commenting that it was weird he wore pink and talked about his feelings.
posted by spunweb at 4:13 PM on January 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

They're not very gender bending, but if you're looking for ensemble cast shows with a variety of genders (as opposed to MLP-FiM which is almost uniformly female presenting), I would recommend Bubble Guppies, and Super-Why. They have equal numbers of male and female characters and the male characters aren't stereotypically masculine.. they're little boys who like what they're interested in, and all of the characters play together.

I've re-watched some old school He-Man and Care Bears, and they don't exactly have the messages you may want sent across. Adam was shown little respect, while He-Man exemplified everything a 'man' should strive for, namely big muscles and a fair bit of masochism. Care Bears are all about "girls can do this stuff too", in a way that strongly implies that it's surprising, nay, even shocking, that this one weird girl could do something that boys do.
posted by valoius at 4:27 PM on January 27, 2014 [3 favorites]

He's probably a little young for it still, but Adventure Time occasionally grapples with this sort of thing. There's the Princess Cookie episode, which has a male character who wants to be a princess. BMO, one of the main characters, also appears to be genderfluid, and switches between male and female pronouns. Adventure Time has also had a couple of alternate universe episodes where the entire cast is genderbent to their opposite gender versions.

I will note that there are occasionally things on Adventure Time that are kind of dark or appalling to adults, but which either sail right over children's heads or don't bother them at all judging by my little cousins.
posted by yasaman at 4:38 PM on January 27, 2014

This might not be what you're looking for, quite, but has he seen Charlie and Lola? The titular characters are siblings, and while Charlie is fairly stereotypically male in presentation and many of his interests, he's often in a nurturing/caretaking role, which I've found to be relatively rare for male children in cartoons.
posted by MeghanC at 4:47 PM on January 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

Unico! Unico is a sweet little unicorn boy who wants to help people. He can be brave, but his kindness is his major quality. In Fantastic Adventures of Unico he befriends a demon kid who doesn't want friends and a bratty cat that eventually becomes a helpful human girl. The final villain may be a little scary, but I also think you could skip the battle. Definitely your call. It doesn't have as large of a cast as MLP so not as much diversity, but I think Unico is exactly the kind of character you're looking for.

Unico in the Island of Magic has much more focus on the villain and is way scarier.
posted by SometimesChartreuse at 4:50 PM on January 27, 2014

it's probably better for tweens or pre-adolescents, but i was surprised to discover wandering son (hōrō musuko) a few years back. it's about a middle school boy on the cusp of puberty who wants to be a girl and a girl who wants to be a boy and both of their worries about growing up. and also their relationships with their friends. it's now available on crunchyroll. i would suggest watching it ahead of time, just to gauge if it's appropriate or too confusing.

the themes it covers are really nice, but maybe a bit too complex for a three year old to deal with since they're quite nuanced. still, it's a very touching series and perhaps if you or your son are still looking for something when he's maybe 8 or 9, this will probably make more sense right around then. i have no clue what three year olds can deal with, it may just be fun to watch since it shows both a girl and a boy experimenting with gender norms even if the context is confusing.

its accompanying manga came highly recommended, but i haven't checked it out so i can't say.
posted by nsfmc at 5:37 PM on January 27, 2014

May I suggest a friend's book? 10,000 Dresses. It may be more of an "issues" book than you want, but thought I'd suggest it.
posted by gingerbeer at 5:41 PM on January 27, 2014

The Adventures of Tulip?
posted by southern_sky at 5:59 PM on January 27, 2014

He might be a little young for it, but The Sissy Duckling is a great book. If you don't read it to him now, do it in a year or two.
posted by Dansaman at 6:36 PM on January 27, 2014

I ADORE Princess Jellyfish aka Kuragehime and stayed up until 5AM Saturday morning reading the manga online and it is totally not appropriate for a 3 year old. (It's not dirty or inappropriate or anything, it would just be entirely over his head.)
posted by maryr at 6:42 PM on January 27, 2014

BTW, it sounds like you've got the girls interested in "boy" stuff covered - you're kind of looking for boys interested in "girl" stuff, yes? Or at least in things that aren't tools and weapons?
posted by maryr at 6:48 PM on January 27, 2014

It may be too early, but your son sounds like he has a greater understanding and appreciation of the performing arts, so I recommend the ballet documentary First Position (warning: youtube link), which is available for free streaming on Netflix.

To keep it short and simple, skip the segments on the females, and focus on the boys- Aran Bell (11 years old) and Joan Sebastian Zamora (16 years) - both fine examples of determination, athleticism, and artistry. Gender identity is not a main point of discussion for either.

I also recommend George Balanchine's The Nutcracker (except for the battle between the Nutcracker and the Mouse King, which occurs in Act I).
posted by invisible ink at 7:58 PM on January 27, 2014

How about "Dora the Explorer"? It's aimed for the very young and although repetitive it shows a strong girl solving problems and taking a leadership role.
posted by saradarlin at 8:19 PM on January 27, 2014

Baum created Chick the Cherub for John Dough and the Cherub. They attend Ozma's birthday in the Road to Oz.
posted by brujita at 8:43 PM on January 27, 2014

I believe what you are looking for is a book from the early '70's called Free to be You and Me. It has some Shel Silverstein, a poem/song called William Wants a Doll, a story about two new borns trying to figure out if they are boy or girl and if it matters, boys who cook, and a story about a princess whose father has a contest to marry her off, but she wins the contest and just wants to be friends with the boy who comes closest. There are other stories too, I just can't remember what they are. This book may be out of print. There may be a recording out there, I remember my kinder teacher playing a record of it.
posted by 101cats at 10:03 PM on January 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

Free to Be You and Me was definitely also a record. I loved it.
posted by mai at 10:39 PM on January 27, 2014

William Wants a Doll
posted by Oriole Adams at 2:41 AM on January 28, 2014

I can't think of anything non-issuey that specifically presents boys with 'feminine' interests, but there are a ton of cartoons geared to young kids where gender is pretty much irrelevant. Word World, Wonder Pets, Super Why, Bubble Guppies, Ni Hao Kai Lan, Oswald, and Barney all spring to mind. Disney shows seem to have more gender separation than Nick Jr or PBS Kids. The Winnie the Pooh stories are great read-aloud books without strong gender roles. Free to Be You and Me is a pretty awesome book/cd for any kid.

While I certainly don't know your son better than you do, your description of his interests and activities really doesn't sound even a little bit gender nonconforming for a 3 year old. Both of my boys did that sort of thing at that age (as did my girls) - my older son carried a pink Hello Kitty purse for months, and my younger son LOVED playing dress-up in sparkly dresses and high heels, and both of them played mommy to (and even breastfed) their stuffed animals. Both of them are pretty stereotypical boys a few years later and are showing fewer and fewer traces of their feminine sides as they get older. They still like cooking, gardening, music, and wild dancing, but those aren't gender-specific interests at all in our household. I don't think there are many three-year-olds that are very aware of differences in gender roles - at that age they barely grasp the concept of genders themselves. Most little kids like shiny pretty stuff and they are interested in "nurturing" activities because they love to be nurtured themselves.
posted by Dojie at 6:50 AM on January 28, 2014 [3 favorites]

If not Dora, I was actually considering suggesting her cousin Diego - he rescues animals. It's not ideal because it focus more on the adventuring part than the nurturing/nursing animals part, but my friend's boys were really into it when I visited last - the same visit where the oldest saw me painting my toenails and insisted on joining. I agree with Dojie's fine print above, over all, but it is sad to see how hard it is to find a male equivalent to the 6 My Little Ponies.
posted by maryr at 8:07 AM on January 28, 2014

I was coming to say what Dojie said. I think others have covered recs, but please do not raise your son to think appreciating art and doing stereotypically nurturing things means he's a girl. Even if he ends up being super stoked being a boy, he should be allowed to pursue whatever interests he has. The options aren't just "be a boy and play with trucks or be a girl and like dolls."
posted by masquesoporfavor at 8:51 AM on January 28, 2014

Response by poster: please do not raise your son to think appreciating art and doing stereotypically nurturing things means he's a girl. Even if he ends up being super stoked being a boy, he should be allowed to pursue whatever interests he has.

That's certainly not what I'm suggesting at all. In fact, I'm asking this question because I want him to see that these are all things that boys do and enjoy, not because I want him to think that he's a girl.

When I say he's gender-nonconforming, I mean that he doesn't see his interests reflected in standard media depictions of what boys do. I don't think he's abnormal at all, I just think that representations of men in popular culture are awfully narrow. He does identify himself as a girl much of the time, and regularly says he wants to be a girl when he grows up. I'm well aware that this is likely just one of many phases, and that he's figuring out how gender works and is understood by the rest of the world. I don't want to stifle him while he's learning what he likes and who he is, but I also would like him to see that he can have all of these interests while being a boy.

Thanks to everyone for your suggestions!
posted by libraritarian at 11:22 AM on January 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

Free to Be...You and Me

The book

The music
posted by michellenoel at 11:27 AM on January 28, 2014

Raising My Rainbow is a great blog written by the mother of a gender-nonconforming boy. Her son identifies as "a boy who only likes girl things." The blog should have a lot of good recs on it, and you could also email the author to ask her for additional recs.

She also recently put out a book. Some of her focus is definitely on the implications of raising a child who is likely to identify as trans or gay, but a lot of it is just about things her son enjoys.
posted by zahava at 5:51 PM on January 28, 2014

Just to clarify, I didn't mean that the art/artist books should be presented as feminine. Art is for everybody.
posted by michaelh at 8:47 PM on February 2, 2014

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