Why is it that mothers of girls experience people mistaking their daughters for boys and mothers of boys experience people mistaking their sons for daughters? If you don’t know, that’s fine. Either wait for a pronoun to be dropped or go with gender-neutral compliments. I’m also not offended if you ask, but I can’t help but be perturbed if you assume wrongly.
I’m sure I’m overreacting, and I can’t deny that I might be carrying some emotional baggage from my childhood when people assumed I was a boy. As a girl named Charli, I’m no stranger to people mispronouncing my name or being uncertain of my gender. But I’d hoped to spare Rowan the frustration and awkwardness I went through. Six months into his life, though, and I’m realizing that it can’t be helped. However, I can help Rowan learn how to handle it gracefully (on the outside, at least; I can edit what comes out of my mouth, but I can’t help what originates in my head).
I might also be extra-sensitive about this due to two back-to-back episodes of strangers mistaking my child’s gender.
The first happened at the pediatrician’s office. To start, the nurse called us back by pronouncing my son’s name “Roh-wan.” (In case there’s any confusion, it’s pronounced like “Owen” but with an –R in front.) My first thought is, “Really? That’s the first pronunciation you come up with? I had no idea his name could get butchered.” But instead I wait patiently for her to try again. She gets it right the second time. Unfortunately, the same mistake happened the last time we were at the office (same person). But this time around, she also refers to my son as a “she.” Seriously? Wouldn’t the chart indicate he’s a male? I’d prefer to give the nurse the death glare and shriek, “He’s a boy!” but I politely use the male pronoun to nudge her in the right direction.
The second time this happened was at Target. I was talking to Rowan and telling him what a good boy he was, and the woman behind me (who had no sense of personal space) overheard our conversation. “Oh, he’s a boy? He’s so pretty that I thought he was a girl!” Rowan wore a blue-colored onesie along with his jeans and brown cardigan. His stroller had a blanket with blue elephants on it. He also has a defined cleft in his chin that’s traditionally associated with males. But even if she had overlooked all of these things, I couldn’t help but think, “Why wouldn’t you keep that mistake to yourself?” On the outside, though, I addressed the backhanded compliment as graciously as I could. “He is a gorgeous little boy, isn’t he?”
Hopefully my sweet daughter Roh-wan will be able to handle these situations with a little more aplomb than her mother. (Wink wink.)