Do you ever wonder why we are quite comfortable when our little girls want to dress like a little boy, but if our little boys want to do the same, we cringe inside. Some of us try to distract or dissuade them, others outright forbid it. Why does it cause such strong reactions?
I used to have a lot of fun dressing my son from the time he was an infant. There were lots of choices, many gender neutral. (One of my favorites was a snuggly that had him looking like the cutest little bumble bee). As he got a bit older, the choices definitely declined and became more confined to the rules of what a boy should wear. As a parent, it bothered me that I wasn’t able to have the variety that was there for little girls. Girls’ clothing continued to be fun and creative! No wonder a lot of little boys want to wear the girls’ clothing sometimes – it is cuter and just more fun to wear!
Is there such resistance to allow little boys to choose ‘girls’ clothes to wear because of fears of homophobia? Is that what it really boils down to? Or is it that even if we feel OK to do that at home, we won’t allow it in public because we don’t want our boys to be ridiculed and shamed.
It might feel different if the boy in question is 3, or 13. It might mean different things. Perhaps the bottom line is that our job as parents is to unconditionally love our children, keep them safe and protected as much as we can. We need to accept them and their explorations and choices. If there is a question that our boys may be bullied for going outside of what society dictates, then we need to double down on ensuring their self esteem is high, and that they feel good about who they are and the choices they make.
My husband’s favorite color is pink – and it looks great on him. His band’s name was Pink Cadillac. We didn’t think so much about pink being girly. But then we had some professional photos taken of our son when he was 2, and I chose the most adorable pink tuxedo for him to wear. He looked so darn cute and the color was perfect for his complexion, just like his dad’s. I was more than a little surprised at some of the comments I received as well as the shocked reactions when the photos were shared. Some biases are hidden, some are not!
There is more and more research showing that these rigid gender rules are perpetuated by nurture rather than being driven by nature. Historically men wore pink and girls wore blue. It is only in the past century it has changed. In that light, it is up to us to recognize our own reactions, examine them, and then make changes. There really is no need for ‘pink & blue’ divide. It is the meaning we attach to this that creates and continues biased gender stereotypes.
If we stopped attaching significance to these colors they would not have the power to cause shame or judgement. It is the value we put to these that causes issues. It has been interesting to live in a variety of cultures and experiencing first hand the freedom you have when you don’t place rigid definitions for how things must be. You don’t have to use things just the way everyone else uses them; or wear clothes the same way the culture demands. You are free of the constraints and can manage things on what makes sense and feels good to you. Quite an enlightening feeling!