Alright, I’m willing to ´fess up: I am a bit of a hypocrite. I mean, I’ll say that I’d like to raise my sons so they’re independent, self-assured, follow-their-own drummer types.
And yet, the other day I was shopping for sweatshirts with the little guys. Son the younger wanted the pink one, which was clearly a girls’ cut. Given how I could go on about the need to move beyond society’s artificially designated impositions of what’s appropriate for each sex, etc. etc., not to mention the importance of supporting gay rights, what I should have done was bought the pink one for my preschooler.
I’ve spoken to mothers of girls who have no problems using big brother’s hand-me-downs or other boy clothes for their daughters, and I think I’d be the same. But pink clothes for boys are a tough one. In this one area of dressing, the rules are looser for girls. Women in men’s clothes are unnoticeable (jeans and blazers) or high fashion. But men in women’s clothes are either carrying a bagpipe, celebrating Halloween – or making a statement about something. Four-year-olds don’t know from statements, they just know what they like.
In this essay, the white mother takes special care of her African American adopted daughter’s hair, making sure it always looks neat and well cared for. Her white friends are amused when their white daughters run around with messy hair, but Dawn Friedman feels that given the history of racism she doesn’t have that luxury for her daughter – she wants to make sure her daughter is as protected as she can be, shown to be a loved and cared-for child so others, the mom hopes, will treat her daughter the same way.
And that’s true for the parent of any child, minority or otherwise. You want to send them out into the world as protected as possible. Sometimes conventionality, at least a cover of it, seems more protective than a more individual path – although that’s clearly where children have to arrive as adults, and only being comfortable with and knowing themselves provides any kind of real protection. It’s a tough balance – particularly because other kids can be tough on the kid who gets tagged an oddball. The stereotype would be the asocial nerd who may make your parental heart swell with pride when he (she?) is the star of a Web 7.0 start-up, but that’s after the heartbreak of watching him come home from fourth grade without any friends to play with.
I don’t think the four-year-old crowd has an opinion yet on who should wear pink, although skirts and truck t-shirts are probably already labeled. Adults, of course, are fully opinionated. For example, my opinion is that if a four-year-old gets dressed before eating breakfast, there will be times that parts of breakfast might be worn throughout the day. But I know son the younger’s teacher subscribes to the “aim for neatly turned-out children” school of thought. So I change his shirt. Usually.
Here, cartoonist Rutu Modan, who has had a regular column in the New York Times, writes of taking an accepting approach to her son’s girly dressing.
I did think, and I hoped, that in general I fall more on the encourage-your-individuality side of child rearing. How kids dress shouldn’t be a big deal, and if they have a strong opinion on it, I try to let them be. But there’s theory and then there’s practice, and pink was a color too far. Son the younger wasn’t adamant about wanting the pink sweatshirt, so you know what happened: I steered him toward the blue.