“I want a pink princess dress” said the little voice from the back of the minivan. Immediately, my pulse quickened as I thought quickly what I would say. I did a mental scan of princess dresses I had seen and tried to remember if all of them were so frilly.
I knew my time was short and if I did not respond I would start hearing the “MaMaMaMa, Mommy, I said I want a pink princess dress.” I gathered myself before that happened and let my child know that one cannot always get what they want at that exact moment and he would have to earn the dress.
I do not have a daughter. I have two sons. My younger son, Word Boy, is a wonderful blend of contrasting characteristics. He loves Star Wars and “liber saber” fights, baby dolls and playing kitchen, wrestling and talking about killing things, Hello Kitty and the color pink. What prompted the request for a dress was him trying to figure out society’s pre-defined gender roles.
He asked me why boys had to be knights and girls had to be princesses. If I had a daughter who asked me that, I would not even blink an eye before telling her she could be a knight. My answer to him was much the same; it did not have to be that way and he could be a knight or a princess. He immediately followed with a request for a pink princess dress.
What’s a mom to do? I consider myself to be open minded and strive to raise my boys in the same manner, but the idea of my little boy wearing a dress made me uncomfortable. I thought about it and knew it was my own bias, one that Word Boy does not yet possess.
In the end, after meeting his goal on progress towards potty training, we went to Wal-Mart and I walked him to the girls section of clothing. He looked around confused and said “No, princess dress!” I decided to try the girl section of the toy aisle and sure enough, there were several princess dresses to choose from. He picked the pinkest, frilliest one, and proudly walked it to the checkout counter.
As soon as we got to the car, he demanded “I want on!” We were on our way to his preschool! I decided I had come far enough to buy my boy a pink princess dress at a Wal-Mart in Alabama, so what did wearing it to school matter?
Yes, his dress drew some questions, but the difference in reaction between preschoolers and adults is telling. A male and female classmate asked why he was wearing a dress, and he answered “Cause I like too; I like princess dresses.” Both said “okay” and then started playing with him. Questions from adults were harder, and their reactions ranged from acceptance to surprise.
I would be lying if I didn’t say that it was a hard mothering moment for me. Thankfully, I came across this excellent New York Times article from August 2012. This quote from the article resonated with me and describes exactly how I feel:
“Many of the parents who allow their children to occupy that “middle space” were socially liberal even before they had a pink boy, quick to defend gay rights and women’s equality and to question the confines of traditional masculinity and femininity. But when their sons upend conventional norms, even they feel disoriented. How could my own child’s play — something ordinarily so joyous to watch — stir up such discomfort? And why does it bother me that he wants to wear a dress?”
I am still coming to my own acceptance on this issue. I know I would proudly raise a daughter who questioned gender boundaries, so why should I be surprised a son who wants to?