It was our first vacation after our son’s birth. The hotel had one of those gorgeous, overpriced jewelry stores. For the entire seven-day stay, our son was captivated by the bling in that window. Every time we passed, he expressed "oohs" and "aahs" as bright as those halogen spotlights.
He was 18 months old. It was adorable. It was no big deal.
Fast-forward a year and our son began asking to wear mama’s dresses. When we'd visit a friend’s home, our son would ask to see the closet to try on all the high heels. I gave him bits of unused jewelry that he proudly put on — usually all of it at once.
Mama, Dadda? Did you know that I’m like 50% girl and 50% boy? Because I like both sides of me the same amount.
Around three, our son asked to be a zombie girl for Halloween. So, we got a dress and decorated it with fake blood. I did ghoulish makeup on him. We nervously took him to preschool and watched the other kids to see if anyone would ask, "Why are you dressed like a girl?!" We quietly told the teacher we had brought "boy clothes" in case he wanted to change.
That day not a single kid said an unkind word to our zombie girl.
Halloween is our son’s favorite holiday in the world. He can pass — as an ancient Egyptian princess or a woodland fairy. “At that house the man said I was a very beautiful princess! He thought I was really a girl!”
It was no big deal.
And it doesn’t need to be.
Our son told us that some of the boys wanted to wear dresses at home but their dads wouldn’t let them. He said when the kids played “family” at school, it was often the boys who were the mothers and sisters, and the girls who were the fathers and brothers.
Some parents don’t encourage (or allow) their sons to explore their feminine side. But many do encourage their daughters to explore non-stereotypical gender play. Parents want to raise tough, whole daughters who won’t be held back in a man’s world. And it's wonderful.
We say things like:
Girls can be firefighters and police officers.
Here's a doll of a woman who's an astronaut.
Let's read about strong women.
When boys exhibit non-stereotypical gender traits, many parents get uncomfortable. A son who expresses interest in traditionally feminine things is often considered a source of worry. We add it to the list of things to discuss with the pediatrician. What’s this double standard about?
When our son's kindergarten teacher came for a customary home visit before school started, our son dressed in his favorite yellow sparkly dress and cowboy boots. The teacher snapped a picture right before she left. My husband and I looked at each other and, without saying a word, ran out to her car.
"Excuse me, sorry to ask, but how are you going to use the picture? We don't want him to be made fun of by his classmates for dressing differently."
She assured us that the photo wouldn't be shared and it was just for her to learn kids' names.
We breathed a sigh of relief.
If a daughter had greeted her teacher in a police officer’s outfit for a photo, I doubt we would have felt the same panic. (That's not to say girls don't struggle with gender non-conformity, too. If a girl's family and community don’t encourage her exploration of masculine traits, it doesn't matter how loudly she gets the message of acceptance elsewhere. It has to start in the safest space first: the home.)In his “all things girly” mode, our son has all the stereotypical, archetypal trappings: heels, nail polish, makeup and sparkles, the gaudier the better. We expose him to the “tougher” shades of femininity, too.