I have three children. One 5 almost 6 year old boy and 2 almost 2 and a half year old boy/girl twins. Out of my three children, two are very particular about what they want to wear. The third is largely unconcerned about his garments or even whether or not he needs to wear them.
I’ve written before about my eldest boy’s penchant for female clothing. My twins share a closet and dresser and my daughter will invariably go to Archer’s side of the dresser and pull out “boy’s” clothes to wear. She is not interested in anything other than jeans, sweat pants, and t-shirts. She will refuse to wear any of the lovely sweaters, skirts, or tights that are in her drawers. Thank goodness for friends and hand-me-downs so that at least I am not paying for these unworn items! I did manage to get her into a dress at Easter, but only over a pair of jeans. And this brings me to the “Why” of this post.
I could dress Tamsin day after day after day in Archer’s clothes. And for the most part, I do. No one blinks an eye. People often comment on how cute she looks in boys clothes. One day we were at our gymnastics class and Archer happened to be wearing a pair of Tamsin’s tights with one of her shirts and she was in sweat pants and an oversized t-shirt. We had been going to this gymnastics class for a few months so I was more than a little surprised when two different people asked me, “What’s up with Archer’s outfit?” Not “What’s up with the way the twins are dressed?” or “It looks like Archer and Tamsin swapped wardrobes” but “What’s up with Archer’s outfit?”
I’ve even heard people with older daughters mention that they buy rain boots and snow boots in blue or black so that they can be handed down to their younger son. This is a fairly strong statement: I will not dress my son in girl’s clothing. I can’t count the number of times I have seen notices on my Multiples buy/sell group asking for “boy/girl items” for their young twins, but that “boy/boy items” would be okay too. Just not girl/girl. Again, that implicit statement that it’s okay for girls to wear boys clothes, but not for boys to wear girls clothes.
Today we went to pick Harris up from the bus stop on our balance bikes–both blue, since they were a gift. Tamsin chose a red spring jacket to wear with green piping, and Archer chose a yellow floral jacket. Perhaps some people walking by thought that Archer was a girl. That doesn’t matter to me. By allowing Archer and Tamsin the freedom to make their own choices, I let them know that these gender lines are largely irrelevant.
Don’t get me wrong–I know that there are lots of challenges facing girls in today’s world, and I am not looking forward to them as my daughter gets older. But one area where girls have it a lot easier is in the clothing department. They can wear whatever they want–princess dresses, sweat pants and t-shirt and no one will bat an eye. But try to put your boy in a pair of pink mittens and watch out!
Harris never referred to pink as a “girl” colour until he started Kindergarten, where there are many kids who like to reinforce social conventions. He still likes pink, but he now tells people it’s a “girl” colour. Boy colours–girl colours–really? Somehow I don’t think Tamsin will have it quite as hard if she tells people her favourite colour is blue. And why is this? In some ways I’m afraid to find out. I’m afraid to ask my friend why she buys her daughter blue rain boots so that they can be handed down to her son, instead of the ones her daughter wants. I’m afraid to confront the people who comment on my son’s choice of wardrobe. Why? I don’t know. Maybe I’m afraid of their answers.
My guess is that if people stopped and thought about it, the reason would be fairly straightforward: Girls are made of sugar and spice and everything nice. Boys are made of snips and snails and puppy dogs’ tails. And never the twain shall meet. Unless, the girl happens to like mud puddles and wants to play hockey. We want our daughters to be strong, and independent. But the reverse isn’t true. Too often we steer away from buying our son a doll or a tea set. What message does this give? The message is clear: it’s not okay for our sons to be nurturing or soft. Boys don’t cry. We’ve come a long way, but I am still shocked by how strong gender stereotyping is, and how so many open-minded, liberal people (subconsciously or otherwise) buy into it. It is easier to follow the crowd and deny our sons certain items then to face the reactions of other (already judgmental) parents and outsiders. But in denying these things we are saying that boys shouldn’t be caring and nurturing.
There have been cases in the news in the last few years about parents who have decided to raise their children in a gender-neutral setting: the first being a couple in the UK, and more recently a couple in Canada. The couple in the UK, Beck Laxton and Kieran Cooper, decided to keep people in the dark about their child Sasha’s gender in order to challenge stereotypes. Laxton says she chose to do it “[b]ecause I wanted to avoid all that stereotyping. Stereotypes seem fundamentally stupid. Why would you slot people into boxes?”¹ Laxton asks a really good question–why would you slot people into boxes? Laxton compares gender stereotyping to horoscopes. “It’s like horoscopes: what could be stupider than thinking there are 12 types of personality that depend on when you were born? It’s so idiotic”¹ We don’t act this way toward adults. Imagine the reaction you would get if you questioned a male friend on his choice of a pink dress shirt. Or your sister-in-law on her preference for blue pants.
I know I couldn’t be as committed as Beck Laxton and Kieran Cooper at raising a child in a gender-neutral environment. (As some of my readers may know, I have a definite problem with commitment.) However, I do think it’s a brave and courageous thing that this couple is doing and I welcome the chance for discussion. A conversation is beginning. One which is not without its opponents. A columnist for the Daily Mail wrote that if people go against gender norms, society could be “brainwashed into pretending that the differences between male and female don’t exist–in order to reconstruct society into some unattainable utopia of sexual and gender identicality. The dual goal is to marginalise men and to upend society’s fundamental moral codes . . . Far from ushering in a better world, this threatens to stamp out the individual right to know what we are, and to rob us of humanity itself.”²
I must respectfully disagree with the Daily Mail columnist. I think that by allowing our children the freedom to be who they are, we are embodying the very definition of humanity. I myself would welcome a brighter, more rainbow coloured world fueled and powered by humanity and empathy.
1. Higginbotham, Emma. “Why I decided to raise my son ‘gender neutral’.” Cambridge News. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 May 2014. http://www.cambridge-news.co.uk/Home/Hes-pretty-in-pink-to-make-you-think-20012012.htm
2. Phillips, Melanie. “You’ve got to be a few sequins short of a tutu to raise your son as ‘gender neutral’.” Mail Online. Associated Newspapers, 22 Jan. 2012. Web. 21 May 2014. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-2090369/Sasha-Laxton-Youve-got-sequins-short-tutu-raise-son-gender-neutral.html
This post took a lot of time thinking and a lot of reading, but it’s finally done. While researching this topic, I came across many excellent websites. I invite you to read some of the articles, click on the videos, and do some thinking. Maybe even start a conversation. Here’s a few places to get you started:
To read an excellent article on the history of colour in children’s clothing go to: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/when-did-girls-start-wearing-pink-1370097/?all
To read an excellent article about the backlash faced by Sasha’s parents go to: http://newsfeed.time.com/2012/01/24/parents-who-hid-childs-gender-for-five-years-now-face-backlash/
To see an excellent and extremely funny video about boy/girl stereotypes go to: http://www.upworthy.com/when-its-done-with-adults-the-gender-stereotyping-we-do-with-kids-looks-as-ridiculous-as-it-is
To see and donate to an excellent entrepreneurial idea regarding children’s clothing go to: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/jennneilson/jill-and-jack-kids-clothes-that-go-beyond-pink-and
If you’d like to contact me about this post or about anything else you’ve read please email me at: email@example.com or tweet me @JudyAmy74.