Cats are the undisputed rulers of the internet.
And because recent research suggests that our feline friends would murder us all if they weren’t so small, it’s probably best that we continue appeasing them by purchasing shirts, mugs, and all other manner of cat-branded accoutrements to continue showing our undying fealty to these juggernauts of the animal kingdom.
There’s one problem, though: Despite the fact that cats are metal AF, they’re somehow still seen as animals “only girls like.”
Ridiculous, right? One man certainly thought so. And he’s doing something about it.
In an April 2 Facebook post that’s gone viral, David Pendragon told a story that’s both heartbreaking and uplifting.
It involves his cousin’s 10-year-old son, who was bullied for bringing a dope-ass lunchbox covered in a violently hued array of kittens to school.
From Pendragon’s post:
“My cousin, Emily, has a 10 year old son named Ryker. Ryker, who loves cats, was very excited to get his new lunchbox. Unfortunately because of its colors, or because it has cats, or both he was teased about it by other boys in his class. He even wanted to stop taking his lunch so he wouldn’t be teased about it any longer.”
How messed up is that? Spoiler alert: very.
Of all the everyday disappointments of being a kid, I can think of nothing sadder than being told you shouldn’t enjoy something just because it’s “girly.”
What’s wrong with being “girly”? Absolutely nothing.
But it’s that kind of thinking that can trap boys in patterns of toxic masculinity (via harmful messages like “men don’t show emotions,” “men don’t cry,” and “men should reject anything that’s considered to be feminine”) and demean women.
And yet, as a society, we continue to perpetuate this idea for no other reason than “that’s the way it’s always been.”
But it hasn’t.
Did you know that pink used to be a “boy” color?
A quick bit of history: It wasn’t until the 1940s that blue became synonymous with boys. In fact, for a long time, Smithsonian.com notes, boys would wear white dresses and have long hair until the age of 6 or 7. This was seen as gender neutral. When colors came into the picture, pink was initially seen as the most “masculine” option.
In 1918, pink was prescribed for boys due to it being a “more decided and stronger color,” having been derived from the bold color red. For girls? The “delicate and dainty” blue.
But it got even more complicated, with shifting trends suggesting that blue and pink weren’t about gender at all, but about babies’ coloring. Have a blond kid? Wrap ’em up in blue. Your baby’s first hairs showing up a dark auburn? Swaddle ’em in pink.
In 1927, Smithsonian.com adds, Time magazine published an article informing parents which colors were “appropriate” based on sales at top department stores. The color for boys? Pink.
So, what changed? Manufacturers interpreted these changing customer preferences and switched things up. Generations since have been passing down the idea that boys and girls have specific, gender-prescribed color preferences.
And sometimes, when these views are challenged, moral panic ensues.
Remember what happened when Target decided to go gender neutral for in-store signs advertising kids’ clothes and toys? Or the much-to-do that occurred when a father bought his daughter a “Little Mermaid” doll? (That kid’s got good taste, by the way. Ariel’s the undisputed best of all the Disney princesses.)
Forcing kids into gender roles at a young age is harmful.
As Cassandra Stone points out on Scary Mommy, making kids choose what they like based on how their genitalia looked at birth is breaking their spirits and setting them on a path of self-denial.
Why shouldn’t a girl love monster trucks? And why shouldn’t a boy love kittens? Or dresses? There really isn’t any reason except a desperate clinging to archaic thinking. (Check out FDR rocking a white dress and long hair in 1884. He grew up to be president.)
And isn’t that what we should really be focusing on — making the world a safer place for everyone to express themselves? It’s more important to make sure that all kids learn it’s OK to be themselves.
Pendragon agrees. That’s why he’s stepping up for his cousin in the best way possible.
“So I have ordered the same lunchbox for myself and proudly carried it to work today at my large, conservative, corporate workplace,” he wrote. “I’ve told anyone who asked the story behind my lunchbox and … they all stand with Ryker too.”
“There’s no one way to be a man,” he added. “Men can be colorful. Men can be expressive. Men can be emotional and silly and gleeful.”
Most importantly? Men (and boys) can step up for others to end the notion that we can’t like what we like and feel what we feel. It’s up to us to encourage each other to just be ourselves.