Today I read a wonderful blog about helping children to make free choices about how they dress and express themselves without subscribing to gender stereotypes. I would really recommend following the link to read the post; it’s a brilliant piece and I’m sure a lot of mums will be able to relate to it.
This post didn’t so much make me think about my children and their freedom of choice as it did myself and my own. When I was little, my mom put me in dresses and pink and frills. Every. Fucking. Day. I’ve seen the photos. I remember having an aversion to tights for years because she dressed me in them so often and I found them so bloody uncomfortable. In fact, I actually said to my husband one day shortly after we met that “tights are just about the worst thing a woman can do to herself”. I hated them. And to this day I am not much of a pink wearer. In fact, I have one pink jumper and one pink hoodie in my whole wardrobe. Everything else I own is every other colour except for pink.
If I had had a daughter, I probably would have dressed her in the odd pink thing when she was little, but so much of the stuff out there for girls just isn’t practical, is it? And kids are kids. Kids like to get grubby and they like to climb stuff and they give not one single fuck if they scuff their new shoes or ladder their tights. As well they shouldn’t. Their job in life is to have fun, not care about how they look and how other people perceive them. So, in reality, she would have ended up living in sweaters, jeans and leggings, which is exactly what O and F wear every day.
Last year I took O for some new shoes with my mom. Since he was about two, I have encouraged him to choose his own shoes. Something that he likes and will enjoy wearing, because otherwise he will just damned well refuse to wear them at all. On that particular day, he gravitated towards the pink shoes while my mom looked on in abject horror. O pointed to the vast array of pastel coloured, bejewelled footwear and said, “can I have butterflies on my shoes, mummy?” “You can have whatever you want, darling,” I replied, hoping simply that whatever he chose would be in stock in the right size. My mom, on the other hand, sidled up close to me and murmured in my ear, “the other kids will make fun of him at playgroup.” I turned to her and responded, “mom, he’s three. All of his friends are three too and they will not care what colour his shoes are.” That’s just one example of how normalised gender stereotyping has become, that there’s this assumption that children will make fun of each other for dressing in clothes that weren’t designed for them without an adult actually pointing it out in the first place.
I’ll leave you to think about that one while I get back to my original point.
Which was this: I used to hate wearing dresses and skirts. My teen years were spent in boys jeans and band t-shirts, probably in direct rebellion against the pink and the frills and the bloody fucking tights. Nothing changed when O was born, nor when F came along just less than two and a half years later. Why would it? I had a toddler to run around after and a newborn to look after. Anything other than jeans or sweats felt ridiculous and impractical. But in July last year I started a new job and things changed. I can’t quite remember how or why, but I found myself going to work in dresses and skirts. I had a minor operation just a few weeks after I started and it meant that I suddenly gained back a little bit of body confidence I hadn’t realised I’d been missing.
Fast forward nine months and I work two days a week most of the time. On those two days I never, ever go to work in trousers. Not even smart ones. And, in fact, I’m not even keen on wearing jeans anymore outside of work, but running around after two little boys in a skirt and high-heeled boots is just a total no-no. That’s a sure-fire way to end up accidentally flashing my knickers and turning my ankle as I run after one or both of them in the park. Sometimes I wonder if what really happened is that I felt like I needed a bit of girliness now that I am surrounded by boys. Because I don’t mind that at all, but maybe, on some subconscious level, I feel like I need to reclaim some of what I sometimes feel I have lost of the femininity in my life.
My husband used to ask me a lot why I never wore a dress or skirt, which is when the tights comment was originally made. Most of the time I just grumbled semi-incoherent statements about gender stereotypes and why the fuck would I be uncomfortable by choice and perhaps he wanted to try wearing a dress instead? The first time I came down the stairs in a skirt ready for work, he did a double take. This kept happening for a few weeks until suddenly he could just take one look at my outfit and smoothly deduce, “working today, then?”
The thing is, I think we all evolve and change all the time. For example, every pair of jeans I owned used to be the “boyfriend” style. These days, they’re all skinny cut. I’m not even sure when that happened, but it hasn’t changed for a long time now. I think sometimes we just get bored with the person in the mirror and we need to reinvent ourselves every now and again to stay interested. And I will actively encourage my children to make their own choices about how they dress and how they choose to present themselves to the world. O already chooses his own clothes and has very definite ideas about what he will and will not wear, and I’m sure that will change many times over the years before he just starts asking me for a clothing allowance instead. F is too young to care about much besides climbing every-fucking-thing in sight right now, but I fully expect him to be the same in a couple of years.
I hope my children feel comfortable enough in themselves to express exactly who they are when they make choices about their clothes. Because the visual persona we present to the world often says a lot about the person we are inside, and I would hate for them to feel like it’s not okay for them to wear what feels right to them. All I want is what every parent wants; for my kids to be happy. And I know that all my mom was trying to do when she dressed me in flowery dresses and puffy skirts was to show me that it was fine to climb a tree in a tutu. Or something to that effect. She just wanted me to have fun with clothes because clothes can be fun. She didn’t mean to give me an aversion to tights that would last 20 years. Really. She was just doing what she thought mothers of daughters were supposed to do.
Although. I do remember having a really cool pair of purple floral jeans that I wish I still had now. In an adult size, of course. So maybe it wasn’t all bad after all.
Thank you, Oh Dolly Dosh, for letting me link to your post and for writing such a brilliant blog about raising girls without pigeonholing them based on their gender. You rock!
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