Something interesting happened yesterday when we picked Brandon up from daycare. Matt and I walked in and Brandon had been transformed…into a princess! The kids were having a great time playing dressup and Brandon had on this fantastic princess costume that I would totally wear if I was him, too.
His teacher told me that they’d been taking pictures earlier in the day and he saw one and pointed at it and that’s where the quote in the picture came from: “Look at her! He’s a princess!” I can totally hear my little guy saying that and it made me laugh.
When he didn’t want to leave the dress behind, his teacher jumped in with an offer to let him wear it home if he brought it back. (She wins teacher of the year, by the way.) When we got home, he sat on the front step looking ridiculously cute in the dress, with is crown, wand and the always necessary sporty sunglasses. The moment had to be recorded.
I posted the picture to Facebook and received more likes and comments than I have on anything in quite a while. Who wouldn’t like a picture of him, especially in a princess costume!?
The comments, however, made me slightly uncomfortable at the same time as they generated interesting discussion. My discomfort was from being called a hero for letting Brandon “express himself regardless”. To me, I did nothing apart from allowing him to continue to play in a way that he wanted to. He’s starting to practice imaginary play and that’s beyond exciting to me. The last thing I’m going to do is squash it by telling him he’s a boy so he can’t wear a dress.
And that, my friends, was the issue: There are many well-meaning, loving, kind parents who want their children to conform to society’s accepted gender guidelines long before the age when children notice or care that these invisible lines even exist. This forces children to fit into a mold that fits some quite well and others perpetually struggle to be comfortable in.
My intent in posting that picture of Brandon was to share a fun incident. However, it generated an interesting discussion - with friends and in my own thoughts. Does anyone remember this post from a couple of years ago? Sarah, the mom who let her son dress as Daphne (from Scooby Doo) for Halloween? Despite my distate for the link bait title (and I get why she went there), I feel like this discussion of boys dressing as girls is far from over. Sarah raised an extremely important point in her post when she stated:
If my daughter had dressed as Batman, no one would have thought twice about it. No one.
HOW WRONG IS THAT!?
Know what else is wrong? A mother second-guessing herself for letting her son choose to wear a dress or other “feminine” accessories. But she’s well-justified when society can’t be trusted to treat him decently if he’s dressed outside of the norm. (You know how I feel about “normal”, right?)
Women have won a lot of rights over the last century: the right to vote, to choose the length of our hemline, to wear pants, to work or stay home - the list goes on and on. Things have gotten better for us! And yet, I wonder if a consequence is (even if only temporarily as the pendulum settles) that males now have certain rigid expectations of their role that, at times, make males the new oppressed gender. Don’t get me wrong - I’m not going to start the masculinist (is that even a word?) movement. However, as the mother of a son, this is something I am genuinely concerned about.
I have trouble with the concept of raising children gender neutral. From ensuring that toys and books don’t influence with stereotypes to not revealing the gender of a child. I have to wonder if this is potentially a whole new form of oppression where children may be discouraged from showing interest in something because it’s too close to being stereotypical. For example, we have lived on a construction site since before Brandon was born. He’s seen equipment all over the place since he was a baby and early on had a keen interest. (Not to mention that his daddy loves all things construction and engineering, and works in the field too.) Should I discourage that because it’s too stereotypically “boy”?
If I had a daughter, would I have to discourage her from wanting to play with dolls and other stereotypical “girl” activities?
My own philosophy has been to encourage Brandon’s interests as he discovers them. Sometimes that means he plays with a doll. Sometimes it means he plays with a fire truck.
Apart from the obvious double standard, there is a far bigger and more important issue with discussions around a young boy dressing as a girl and that’s the nearly automatic discussion of whether or not he’s gay. Or gender confused. Or whatever. (Can you feel me rolling my eyes?)
Children are people. Let them grow and develop with dignity and respect. That kind of discussion around an adult is offensive, so why is it considered (by some) to be okay with a child?
My son is 4 years old. I have NO CLUE the kind of person he’ll be as an adult. I certainly have hopes for him, most of which include his happiness and fulfillment in life (and grandchildren for me to love ;). I’m certainly not going to look at that picture of him wearing a dress and start wondering (or worrying) that he may be gay. Regardless of the path he takes in life, I will love him. Always and unconditionally.
We need to stop reading so much into the actions of young children and start to question the judgments applied to boys versus girls. The reality is that they’re discovering the world and themselves. If part of that exploration includes journeys that cross over the border of gender, does it truly matter?
My lack of worry about boys dressing as girls probably has a lot to do with my tendency to force my little brother to dress as and pretend to be a girl when we were children. I wanted a sister, so when mom and dad didn’t deliver, I created one for myself. Her name was Kelly. Kelly grew up into a very large, bearded, tattooed man with three daughters who claims he understands women *snort* and owes that to me. Surprisingly, his incredibly talented, intelligent and lovely wife even agrees! ;)