I read this amazing blog post by The Other Livvy the other day in which she unpacks her feelings about dressing her girl in pink. It’s well worth the read. I have been thinking about writing a similar blog post for a while, only from a different perspective.
I am a mother of two boys. My youngest son has always had impeccable taste in clothing. Even when he was three he insisted on picking out his own clothes when getting dressed, and it wasn’t much later that he wanted to come with me when I went shopping for clothes for him. Hand-me-downs from his older brother were rejected as not to his taste. Not that I can blame him. His taste is vastly different from that of his brother’s and I always hated hand-me-downs as a kid as well.
Lately he has really branched out with his style. He got a cute bob cut and piercings in both his ears. He also loves wearing pink, something that my husband and I are totally on board with. I think it is important for a child to be able to express himself. And my son luckily doesn’t feel shy or embarrassed about wearing pink, even his pink sparkly trousers which were from the girl’s section of the Gap.
However, just wearing pink isn’t enough for him. Recently he’s made a couple of comments about how girls have so much more choice in clothes and why can boys only wear trousers? All fair questions. Sadly, society still views girls and women as inferior. Yes, it’s now “acceptable” for boys and men to wear pink, but only in a manly way. And, as Livvy pointed out in her article, it seems to be less acceptable for girls to wear pink.
When it comes to styles of clothing, I agree with my son. Girls can wear trousers, shorts, skirts and dresses. Boys can only wear trousers and shorts. Girls can be tomboys, but boys cannot be whatever the equivalent would be. And that comes back to how girls are viewed as inferior. We encourage girls to “be anything”, whether it be having a career in STEM, become good at sports, climb mountains or whatever. We love it when girls subvert the “girly” expectations and opt for wearing boy-ish colours. But we don’t really allow boys to wear pink, to like unicorns and rainbows and to play with dolls. When we talk about gender neutral parenting, we often mean steering our girls away from doing typical girly things, as if they are somehow worse.
I am happy to see that some Hollywood types are starting to change this view. The most famous, of course, is Billy Porter with his beautiful gowns on the red carpet. And Jaden Smith has worn skirts out and about as well. They are very small steps, but I am happy to see them being made. If we want to allow our children to grow up truly gender neutral, then we should allow them to make their own choices about what they want to do and how they want to dress. We should have shops which don’t sort their clothes in boy/girl sections and we should stop shaming anyone for their choice of dress.
This should start when our children are young. My son isn’t all that young anymore, but I am trying very hard to instil in him the knowledge that he can do anything and be anyone. That, if he wants to wear a dress, he totally can. So far he’s been too afraid to go all out, but I am hoping that he will soon get the confidence to put on a dress.
School could also do a lot more to support students in this. Sure, schools in the UK force our children to wear a uniform, thereby severely curtailing their ability to express themselves. But rather than having their uniform policy split between boys and girls, why can’t they just list all the acceptable parts of the uniform and let the kids decide whether they want to wear a skirt or trousers? My kid’s school complained to us at one point that my son had “unconventional hair” and “the wrong trousers” because his hair is a cute bob and he had chosen a pair of trousers from the girls’ uniform section (even though they were simple grey trousers).
I hope we can go back to the time when boys and men were unafraid to dress in splendour. Black, grey and blue didn’t use to be the only acceptable colours for me, nor were trousers the only acceptable garment. This tweet explains it very well:
BOYS. MY BOYS. Do you know why you dress Like That? Why you have that haircut? Do you know whose fucking fault it is that “acceptable” colors for men are: black, grey, navy blue, olive drab? It is because of one man.
BEAU FUCKING BRUMMELL
— Alexandra Rowland ✨ (@_alexrowland) February 25, 2019
Let’s all work together to make it more acceptable for boys – and men! – to wear all manner of clothing. Are you more comfortable in a suit? Good on you! Do you want to wear a ball gown to prom? Go for it! Would you like to wear a cute skirt with a silk blouse to that manager’s meeting? Have at it!
My husband always complains how it’s acceptable for women to wear cute, breezy dressed to the office in the summer, but men need to wear a button down shirt and trousers no matter how hot it is. They can’t even wear shorts. And he’s right. While my husband wasn’t suggesting he wear a dress to work, it’s true that we set such different expectation for men. And in the end, what does it matter how people are dressed? If a man wears a dress, that doesn’t make him any less compassionate, or capable to do his job, or good at sport.
I’ll close with saying I don’t have a solution. All I can do is support my son in the way he wants to dress and fight anyone who tries to make him feel embarrassed.