I recently read an article about Disneyland Paris refusing to allow a young boy to participate in the ‘princess for a day’ experience, and it got me thinking. I realized that I had some things to say about it. You see, my son wears dresses, so I have an opinion.
This particular case happened in Europe, but I can just as easily see it happening here.
I can understand how it happened. Despite all the ‘awareness’ that is in the media etc., people still have deeply rooted beliefs about what is acceptable, and what is not, and for some reason, there is still a strong belief that it’s somehow wrong for boys to wear or like things that are viewed as being for girls.I think this belief, that is still so prevalent in our society, is sad and so very damaging. Click To Tweet
It’s damaging to the boys who are subjected to ridicule or forced to hide their preferences, and it’s also a damaging message for girls. If it’s a sign of weakness for boys to wear or like girl’s clothes or colours, then girls are somehow lesser.
That is not a message my sons will receive from me.
I’m not just a bystander. I have wrestled with this societal belief in my own home.Sometimes my six-year old son wears dresses, and that’s perfectly okay with me. Click To Tweet
He also likes to wear Pokemon shirts and track pants – also okay with me.
His favourite colour is purple, with pink holding a close second. He also likes black, but that’s because he thinks it looks good with purple. Truth be told, if rainbow was a colour, that would be his favourite.
His favourite rubber boots were purple leopard print, and his current favourite pyjamas are pink and green leopard print (hmm I’m seeing another theme developing here).
He dresses up as princesses, Jedi knights, unicorns, flying squirrels, Batman, Ironman, a purple abominable snowman, and last year, he was Poison Ivy for Halloween.
He loves getting his picture taken with princesses just as much as he does with superheroes – male and female.
I asked him once why he liked dressing up like female super heroes – he shrugged and said: “I like girls.”
He makes me smile 🙂
I bought him his first tutu when he was about two and a half. The little girl I was babysitting at the time received a tutu, and my son was so jealous that I finally bought him one of his own. I also bought his twin brother one, and they happily wore those tutus for years.
His brother eventually ‘grew out’ of his love for tutus and princess dresses, but my son still loves them to this day – although he did get big enough that he has to wear his tutu with pants for the sake of decency.
Am I worried?Am I worried that by letting my son wear dresses and indulge in his love of purple sparkly things I’m somehow warping his sense of gender? Click To Tweet
Not in the least. His sparkly purple socks sit in his drawer beside his Batman, Superman and Ninja Turtle socks. It’s not about gender for him. I’m pretty sure that he doesn’t even think about gender beyond which bathroom to use at school.
He just knows what he likes.
Besides, if it held true that by dressing up as a princess my son is somehow in danger of fundamentally changing who he is, then it would also hold true that he might one day decide he’s actually a flying squirrel or a unicorn (a pink one, with a purple mane, tail and horn).And if it turns out that as my son gets older, he does identify as something other than a heterosexual male, than I want him to feel loved, unjudged and supported at home. Click To Tweet
I will NEVER ask him to hide who he truly is. Unless he’s an axe murderer – I really don’t want to know about that.
Was it easy?
This journey hasn’t always been easy for me. I grew up with the same societal beliefs about gender division as everyone around me, and I’ve spent most of my working years in a male dominated field. I know the issues.
When my son chose a dress for his first day of kindergarten outfit, my heart stopped for a moment and fear rose inside me. My first response reflected my own conditioning because every fiber of my being wanted to say “no.”
But, I didn’t, because I didn’t want to blacken his innocence. Instead, I had both boys pick out two new outfits, so that we’d have a backup plan.
Why was I afraid this time? He’d been wearing his tutu and princess dresses out in public for years.
The difference was that he’d be alone at school. I wouldn’t be there to stand beside him if it all went wrong. And let’s not kid around about how scary school can be.
What did I do?
I’ll admit I got home from the mall and started googling what other parents thought of this dilemma.
One person’s response really stood out for me. They suggested that we think about all the things that woman would still be wearing or not wearing today, if there hadn’t been courageous women in our past who dressed against the societal rules – the corset and pants, anyone?
In the end, I chickened out a little bit – I was terrified of him having a disaster on his VERY first day of school.
My son and I discussed that wearing dresses to school was tricky because we didn’t know what day he’d have gym on, and it’s harder to climb on the monkey bars in a dress – he’s a bit of a monkey. Luckily (in my mind), this all made practical sense to him, and he happily agreed to wear his Monster High shirt instead. His shirt was still obviously meant for girls, but it was one step less terrifying for me than a dress.
He decided he’d wear his new dress on the plane when we went on our vacation in a few weeks.
All was good. His first day of school went fine despite some minor teasing about his shirt. I told him I thought it was an amazing shirt – he gave me a hug and confessed that he did too.
He happily kept on wearing his shirt.
What about when he goes to school? Is it okay if my son wears dresses at school?
In the second half of the year the issue came up again. I got a text at work from my husband. My son had insisted on wearing his dress to school. My husband had used our ‘dresses are difficult at school’ defence, but it hadn’t held weight, because my son had seen the girls wearing their dresses.
He wore his dress, and he was fine 🙂
A parenting win for me? – maybe.
Now, I know that we’re lucky. The school my son goes to is a very positive and inclusive environment. Not all schools are like this. In some cases the approach would likely need to be very different – but even here, it’s possible to still leave the choice with the child. Because as long as they know that you believe in them, love them and accept their differences, then it’s harder for the outside world to damage their psyche.
What about protecting him?
I know that not everyone agrees with me. I’ve been told very bluntly that I should ‘protect’ my son by forcing him to dress like a ‘boy’ – at least our society’s view of what is acceptable for a boy to wear.But how am I protecting him, if I’m saying that I think there’s something wrong with his choices? Click To Tweet
Because that’s what I’m saying, if I make him change.
Letting him choose
Instead, I choose to let him choose. And by doing so, we can stay a united front against any pressure he receives from the outside.
Believe me when I tell you that I don’t have my head in the sand. I know what could happen. I’ve talked about it with him. I’ve given him strong and positive language that he can use, but so far he’s been fine.
In fact, the only time he’s ever been confronted was on the first day of kindergarten. One of the other kindergarten boys made some comments about his Monster High shirt being for girls. His response? “So?” and he carried on playing.
I’m happy because he’s happy, and he isn’t afraid to do his own thing. It isn’t even really that he isn’t afraid of being different; I’m not even sure he notices the differences. He just knows what he likes, and the things he likes aren’t hurting anyone, if anything they are sending a powerful message.
I think that we could all learn a few things about love and acceptance of ourselves and others from this one six-year old child who just happens to LOVE sparkly purple socks.
If you have stories about how your children are being true to themselves and challenging gender norms, please share them in the comments below.
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