Advice / Life

VillageQ Advice from Ms. Radcliffe: Fear of Four-Year-Old Fashionista

Dear Ms. Radcliffe,

My wife and I have a 4-year-old son who has always preferred traditional girl toys to boy toys, girl clothes to boys. He loves pink, glitter, nail polish…the whole nine yards. He doesn’t say he wants to be a girl, but he does like to dress like one. (And he hasn’t gotten that from either of us—we wear plenty of boy clothes!) Up until now, we’ve let him wear whatever he likes. But next year, he’s going into kindergarten, and we feel it’s time to stop. We don’t want him to be teased, bullied, etc., and we know he will be if he continues like this. What is the best way to let him know he needs to start wearing boy clothes in September?

Signed,

Policing in Portland

 

Dear Policing,

Great news! You have a child who is not afraid to be himself. If he’s been out and about in his fabulous frocks, he has already received the odd look from the odd parent or child and he has decided he just doesn’t care. After all, his parents, the most important people in his universe, said it was fine. You’d be surprised at just how far a little of that goes.

That said, of course this is hard for you. We live in a rigid, binary culture that begins the process of gender conformity at the ripe age of five minutes old. We wrap our girls in pink blankets and our boys in blue, and from that point on, the fashion gods of childrenswear dictate that we will shop for our tiny tots on separate sides of the store, with pinks, purples and yellows available in dresses for girls, and reds, blues and greens in overalls for boys. (For bald little girl babies, add a pink headband to seal the deal.)

For some reason, we, as a society, have decided that the greatest danger that faces our children is not an accident or an illness, but that strangers might be unclear on which set of genitalia our children possess. And this, at a time in life when they need to be least concerned with this distinction. Our girls grow up believing that if they wear boy clothes, they are “tomboys,” which implies a freakish, but harmless stage they will successfully pass through one day, or, if they continue the behavior through middle school, lesbians. Our boys grow up simply forbidden to wear “girl colors” until they are grown men, at which time they are allowed to reintroduce purple ties and pink shirts, so long as they appear sufficiently conservative otherwise. Or are gay.

But, you will say, men don’t wear frilly skirts. They don’t parade around in sparkly dresses. Perhaps, because of the aforementioned binary rigidity, that’s largely true. And I, for one, weep for all the men whose love of sparkles and frills was snuffed out at a tender age, such that they can no longer even remember what it felt like to want to wear a color other than navy.

Our children are born with an appreciation for every color of the rainbow, every style, shape and cut. They don’t know one or another is wrong, until we tell them so. Are there some boys who gravitate to “boy colors” and “boy toys”? Sure. Ditto girls and the color pink and dolls. But a broken clock is always right twice a day. The majority of boys and girls never get the chance to find out what they would gravitate toward because they’re told before they can form an opinion, or remember what it was.

Because of your wonderful parenting, your son has had the opportunity to do just that, to explore the bounty of nature’s colors, fabrics, and styles. Don’t stop now! He is experimenting with how to best express who he is, a process that will be invaluable to his ability to stay true to himself later on in life. “When we’re taught that our inner voice is wrong, it tells us to ignore our instincts about ourselves, to doubt ourselves, and to rely upon others’ opinions of us and who we should or should not be,” says Doreen McGuire, president of Mothers Against Gender Conformity. “Then, when they grow up, we expect them to stand up to peer pressure. But how can they?”

The future President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1884. (Source: Smithsonian.com)

The future President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1884. (Source: Smithsonian.com)

My advice, Policing, is to continue what you’ve been doing, right into kindergarten. Prepare your son by talking with him about what some other people think of boys wearing “girl clothes” and what they may say. Let him know that other kids may be saying that because they wanted to wear girl clothes or play with girl toys and that’s what their parents told them, so they’re repeating it. Tell him you think he looks fah-bu-lous. Show him the photo of Franklin D. Roosevelt, circa 1884, and tell him if it’s good enough for a four-time POTUS, it’s good enough for him.

Then tell him that if other children ask why he is wearing “girl clothes,” he should smile and say simply: “They’re not girl clothes if a boy is wearing them.”

Supportively Yours,

Ms. Claudia Radcliffe

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