Months before my son was born, my partner and I picked out an outfit for him to wear home from the hospital. It had orange foxes on it, was white in color, but was clearly made with a "boy baby" in mind. As our son grew older, we dressed him in shirts that said "Handsome Man" and "Daddy's Little Helper" and "Mom's Prince Charming" — all adorable and made for "little boys" and all purchased without a second thought. But now that our son is older and starting to make his own decisions about his clothes (new parents, please trust, that starts happening much sooner than you think it will), I'm letting my son wear whatever it is he wants.
If my son wants to wear a tutu or a purple dress or a pink shirt or try my high heels on (all have happened, rather adorably might I add), he does.
My partner and I don't tell him "no" or that he's "being silly" or that he can't wear whatever it is he wants to wear, simply because they're "girl clothes." Why? Because there are no "girl clothes." There are clothes that are worn by a majority of women, and there are clothes that are worn by a majority of men, but that doesn't change the fabric of the outfit or the person wearing it. It doesn't come with extra pockets that carry gender stereotypes and specific sexual preferences or anything else that our culture wishes to use to identify individuals. The gendering of clothing is a marketing decision designed to cast inanimate objects as expressions of the gender construct we choose to identify with, or choose to project onto our babies and kids. That's literally it.
In the end, they're just clothes, and when my son picks out pink clothes or purple clothes, or clothes that others may say are only appropriate for girls, I don't bat an eye. My son is a toddler who likes what he likes when he likes it, and who will have plenty of time to try and navigate society's ridiculous expectations of him. For now, and for as long as I can facilitate it, my son gets to be a carefree kid. So, with that in mind, here are 10 reasons why my son can wear whatever it is he wants.
The idea that dresses are "for girls" and jerseys are "for boys" is as fictitious as it is dangerous. Gender is nothing more than a social construct; a lazy way of providing an identification that makes it easier for people to make assumptions about others. Instead of getting to know someone, you can use their gender to make sweeping judgements and conjectures. But the truth is, gender cannot (and often, does not) tell you much of anything about a person, and I won't teach my son that he has to adhere to the stereotypes surrounding a socially created identifier, in order to be accepted. My son has the right to find out who he is all on his own, and without the whispers of a dying cultural qualifier informing his perception of himself and shaming his clothing choices.
If I don't want to be judged by how I look or what I wear, as a woman, then neither should my son. When he wants to wear a pink tutu or a dress, it doesn't mean anything more than my son wanting to wear a pink tutu or a dress. There are no assumptions to be aptly made about my son's gender or sexuality or personality, and I won't teach my son that it's normal to judge people by their clothes.
Fashion is another form of self-expression, and I won't stifle my son because society tells him he can only express himself in a particular way. If I tell my son that, by being himself, he's "wrong," I'm telling him that there's something wrong with him. I can't imagine what kind of damage that message could do to him and his emotional development.
A vital part of my son's ability to become the person he will eventually become is the freedom to search and explore himself. He needs to try new things and experience new things and that can be done with wardrobe, music, art, and almost anything else. I refuse to keep my son from finding out who he is, just because our culture can't wrap its collective mind around a boy wearing pink. My son's future is worth more than social disapproval.
When I tell my son that he can't wear pink or a dress or something society has decided "only girls" should wear, I'm subtly telling him that femininity, is weak and bad. I'm telling him that everything that society describes as "feminine" is beneath him, because he's a man and not a woman. I'm reinforcing the idea that because he's a boy, he can't be emotional or caring or cry. I will not teach my son that feminine characteristics are weak characteristics, because that is just not true.
If I want to teach my son body positivity, it starts with never shaming my son for how he decides to dress. I am in a position to set an example. If I want my son to love and respect not only his body, but the bodies of everyone, regardless of shape, size, color, weight, etc., then I need to respect his and the (healthy) choices he makes with it. As my son grows and matures, he will gain more ownership over his body and that's awesome; that's what's supposed to happen. So, if I'm going to help my son grow into a man, I need to respect the decisions he makes with his body, including and especially when that decision is wearing a pink shirt and playing with a doll.
Clothes don't dictate someone's gender or sexuality, but lets suspend reality and pretend they did — it still wouldn't matter. If my son's choice to wear a tutu would somehow, magically change who he will one day be attracted to, what does it matter? My son has made a choice and he's happy. I can't just simply write that it's OK that my son wears pink, because it won't make him gay because that subtly implies that there's something wrong with being gay. There's nothing wrong with whatever gender my kid's partner(s) turn out to be, so long as they're nice and respectful and worship their mother-in-law, and there's nothing wrong with choosing a purple dress with bows on it. Sensing a trend, yet?
I cannot (and will not) decide what my son does with his body for the rest of his life. Yes, I was able to dress him when he was young...because he wasn't able to. But now that he is, and has expressed an intereste in picking out his own clothes, I cannot deny him that. I will not deny him that. He deserves to make decisions about his body (when he's old enough and capable enough, of course) and those decisions deserve to be respected, especially when it's something as simple and harmless as picking out clothes.
Seriously, you guys. They're just clothes. Can we stop attaching these fictitious meanings to cotton material? Please?
At the end of the day, if a pink shirt or a purple dress or a pair of my oversized heels make my son happy, then I'm going to let him be happy. Why would I cut my son's happiness short, just because society has haphazardly decided what any one (or any) gender should do or say or wear? When my son smiles and laughs and plays (whether it be with dolls or a toy truck, although let's be honest, it's probably an iPad), I know I am doing my job, I know that he is learning and growing and joyful, and I know that our judgmental culture can keep it to themselves if they have a problem with it.