Having a feminist as a mom must be a pain in the ass. I know my younger son will complain about it. My older son has been better about it mostly because he is very good at politely tuning me out.
But when Older Son was in kindergarten, one of his grandmother bought him a pink shirt. And he panicked. He didn’t want to hurt his grandmother but he also knew that there was a societal taboo against boys wearing pink. I did not tell him that there was a taboo, he just knew it. Poor kid was highly attuned to his emotional surroundings and that couldn’t have been easy.
So he had a problem and he brought it to his mother. And what I told him was not helpful at all.
“There is more to being a man than the color of your shirt,” is what I said. What I should have said was, “Your grandmother loves you and she only wants this gift to make you happy. If wearing it makes you unhappy, grandma won’t like that so don’t wear it and don’t worry.”
Hindsight is indeed 20/20. Poor older son. It was a teaching moment regarding the elastic and enduring love of a grandmother for her grandchild but I turned it into a moment to preach something he probably already knew. Namely, that wearing a pink shirt does nothing to negatively impact masculine qualities. If you have the skin tone, pink will improve your appearance but that is something entirely different. Maybe the better conversation could have been about options.
Why are boys so limited in what they can wear? Why can’t they wear whatever they want? Dresses? Nail polish? Sparkly headwear?
It doesn’t make sense to limit a person when they are young. They are figuring out who they are and how they fit in to their surroundings. We allow boys a very narrow band of expression when it comes to their appearance. Why?
Wear pink. Paint your nails. Weave stands of rhinestones in your hair. I don’t care. Just keep your promises. And be kind to others. Show up when you say you will. Tell the truth. Do one thing in your life that benefits others and not just you and yours. These things have nothing to do with the color and shape of the clothes you put on your body and everything to do with the quality of your character.
Why are we afraid to allow boys near traditionally feminine things like nail polish and makeup and flounces? There’s more to being a woman than whether or not you wear mascara. Are we clinging to external expressions of masculine and feminine because we no longer know what it means to be quality human beings? A good man can wear nail polish because the two have nothing to do with each other. Bernie Madoff, the Enron jackals and pretty much every other financial collapse of the last 15 years was triggered by men dressed in suits and ties and not a single tiara or pink painted nail bed in sight. So what have we learned? That men in suits are not to be trusted? That wearing a suit turns people greedy?
Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.
Maybe we can begin to think and talk about allowing kids to experiment with their appearance in ways that can be easily changed. Seven year olds shouldn’t be getting tattoos. But a boy wearing a dress is nothing more than a boy wearing a dress. He’s trying it on, seeing if he likes it. And if he does, so what? Will it make him more likely to bankrupt old people? According to a quick Google search, stealing money from vulnerable populations is overwhelmingly the work of men in suits, not men in dresses.