Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Boys Don't Wear Dresses...Today

I had been asked to submit some photos along with a short editorial I wrote up for Bamboo Magazine's upcoming summer issue. The piece takes a look at young boys and gender expression. In addition to some general thoughts, I mixed in a few personal stories as well. The editors asked for some photos of EZ playing dress up, yet all of the candid shots I have didn't quite match the aesthetic of the magazine (i.e. you can see piles of unfolded laundry or dirty dishes in the background), so I decided it was time to whip out the camera and stage a little photo shoot.

I explained to EZ that I wrote an article and needed a few pictures to go with it. I asked if he'd mind playing with his kitchen while I snapped away. He had no problem and I was able to get a handful of cute pictures, yet none that stood out to either me or the editors.

Totally adorable, but not exactly what we were going for...

Then...it rained. And rained. And rained. For almost two weeks. And I was unable to get any good photos outdoors (because we just could not escape the unfolded laundry and dirty dishes indoors!).

Finally, this past weekend we were blessed with beautiful sun (and heat and humidity) and I took advantage of it. I reminded EZ about needing some more photos and asked if he'd be okay with playing dress up with his best friend.

They occasionally spend hours all dolled up in fancy dresses playing Princess, so I didn't think it would be that hard to have him don a dress for a few minutes while I snapped some photos. EZ had other ideas.

"Ima, dresses are for girls. I'm a boy. I'll wear a tie," he informed me as his friend eagerly put on her ruffled tutu.

I paused, weighing my options. There was no way I was going to force him into a costume, even for the sake of an article. The whole point to my parenting philosophy is to allow him to feel comfortable enough to express himself in whatever manner he chooses, and while some days that might be wearing a princess dress, other days it's a tie (and some days it's wearing nothing at all. sigh.).

And...he's 4. Some days he does play around with the idea of stereotypical gender norms like "boys wear ties and only girls wear dresses." So, we talk about it. While I'd never force him to wear something he didn't want to, I let him know that boys can wear ties and so can girls...that whoever wants to wear a dress may do so. I remind him that he's free to make his own choice.

I still had a photo to take, however.

Before I had time to figure out what to do, the kids decided for me.

"Butterfly!" they shouted at the same time.

EZ had spotted a pair of pink, sparkly butterfly wings and a purple silk scarf, asking me to tie it around him.

"I'm a dad butterfly," he explained, in case there was any confusion.

"Great!" I exclaimed, watching as he ran around, fingers atop his head for antennae.

I was able to snap a bunch of really wonderful pictures and can't wait to see which one the magazine ends up using. However, the experience reiterated for me the importance of offering choices and working with whatever comes up...even if that means that my child wants to wear a dress tie butterfly wings! 

My little butterfly


Rachel said...

Do you think it's harder as the Mama of a boy child to navigate around these kinds of cultural landmines (boys in dresses, etc)? The Jillian spent the bulk of her 3rd year wearing her Buzz Lightyear costume and no one batted an eye about it. I have to wonder if people would have been so "aww, cute" about it if she'd been a boy wearing a Minnie Mouse costume for the better part of a year. I really do feel like the navigation of gender is easier with a girl because they can cross lines more easily than boys can. By that I mean that society at large is almost always okay with a little girl wearing blue pants than it is with a little boy wearing a pink dress, know what I mean?

A. Mama said...

That thought has totally come up many times for sure. I definitely think it's much easier for a young girl to fluidly travel the gender lines, then it is for a young boy. I think the concept of masculinity totally plays into it as well. There are such *strong* attachments to masculinity and anything that is seen as a threat to this institution is immediately suspect.

Leland said...

What if you child decided to wear clothes that resembled those of the fictional character Freddie Krueger? Or a brown shirt and a swastika? Would it be okay for him to put on a white sheet and wear a hood?

My point in asking is to determine whether there are in fact parameters and limits to the choices your child makes? If a pair of butterfly wings is okay, but a hood is not, then isn't that an imposition on his choice, no less so than society's view that boys don't wear dresses?

From another parent who grapples with tough questions and loathes simplistic answers,
Leland Stone