Tuesday, October 09, 2007

We Are What We Wear?

Image:Chaplin-Girl in a Pink Dress Reading, with a Dog.jpg

My daughter-in-law and I were talking on the phone last night and she was complaining about an issue she's been having recently with people mistaking Joli for a boy. It's not the first time she's mentioned being annoyed by the situation. I sympathized because I remember issues with gender expectations while raising mostly a pack of boys. (Don't EVEN get me started on the whole Boy Toy/Girl Toy fight I have with McDonalds!)

And yet, although I understood her point, I was slightly confused by how much it bothered her. I had my own issues with children's clothing when raising my boys. Some family members (but fortunately, no friends, I guess I hung with a more open minded crowd) had problems with the pink cap that Sam wore as a baby and the white girl's snowboots he loved and wore ALL THE TIME (no really, all the time - and might I point out that it didn't snow where we lived then) when he was three. Also, when Joe was in preschool, people called his shark shirt a girl shirt. It was from the Monterey Bay Aquarium and it had a very ferocious shark on it. It was his favorite. It also happened to be pink.

It's not like I went out of my way to dress my children in gender confusing clothing. For the most part they wore jeans or sweats in the bright primary colors that were popular back then. They also had some football jerseys. A few of their infant clothes had a duck or flower or something on it and were in equal measures dark, bright, or pastel. And as they got older, they wore what they chose, not what I picked out. William had a penchant for tie-dye for awhile. Sam went through a stage where he refused to wear any bright colors in high school. As a young girl Noel was a tomboy who still loved to drag her doll around and dress like Holly Hobby while physically terrifying her brothers. Then she went through her Goth stage. Joshua and Joe were both pretty preppy for awhile. (As a preteen, Joshua used to go camping in button down shirts. True. I have photos.) I even, although it was all for theatre, have a few photos of Noel dressing herself up as a "guy" and the boys dressed up in dresses and wigs from the Dress Up Box. In other words, I dressed them in a variety of clothing that appealed to me and later, to them.

In this last conversation, Lisa tried to explain that it wasn't the occasional "What a handsome little boy" comment she gets from strangers that bother her (and which seem to happen no matter what color she's wearing). It's the insinuation, by friends and family, that it's somehow Lisa's fault because she sometimes dresses her child in gender neutral clothing. Of course in the eyes of these critics, this clothing is not gender neutral but, in fact, gender specific. Specifically, MALE by virtue of it being any color other than pink or purple and/or by relating to sports and/or by being free of lace or ruffles.

Hubby and William had overheard me talking, we'd all been sitting on the couch when I was on the phone, and hubby wondered what the comments he'd overheard were about. So I tried to give them the gist of the conversation, adding that I wasn't sure why it bothered her as much as it did.

"Well, but if she dresses her in boy clothes...."

I cut hubby off. "What do you mean, boy clothes?!"

"Well, boy colors."

"Okay, look at me. Right now I'm wearing black and red. Are those boy colors?"

"Yes, but you're a grown woman. You have breasts. I can tell you're a girl."

Now I'm starting to understand why Lisa is so pissed.

"So, we're required to dress our daughters in GENDER IDENTIFYING clothing until they are old enough to have breasts?"

"Or long hair." This comment from William, the boy with hair that fell past his shoulders until about three months ago.

"Okay. So how old do they have to be before it's culturally acceptable to let little girls wear anything but pink and purple then? Two? Four? Te....."

It went on from there until I decided it wasn't worth banging my head against the proverbial wall any longer and went back to watching television. But now I totally grok why Lisa was so hot under the collar about defending her daughter's right to be a whole person.

It's not that Lisa, or I, have any deep rooted hatred of pink and purple or ruffles and lace. Au contraire! We both love dressing up in "girl stuff" when we feel like it. But we both also like blue jeans, black t-shirts, boots, football jerseys... Why can't Joli (or any little girl) enjoy the same variety of choices!?

I was so steamed up that I wanted to write this post last night but in the end I was too tired to form coherent sentences. As you can tell if you read last night's post below. Instead I called up Lisa and told her about having to defend the argument to hubby and William and how I now understood her situation much better. I told her I had thought to blog about it but then thought that, really, it was more her right to tell her story or not, so I hadn't.

Except now I've gone ahead and written about it anyway, haven't I. But not nearly as well as Lisa did. Go read what she has to say about it on her blog today. I'm sure she sat down at her computer wearing something pink and frilly (NOT) when she wrote these kick ass words.


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