We've had many conversations about gender roles in our home: that it's okay for men and boys to be nurturing and gentle, that it's okay for girls to be rough and tumble. That women are really strong and powerful. That men can be vulnerable and can cry. We talk about gender stereotypes in movies and storybooks, and try to have a healthy balance of heroic girls who don't need saving, and gentle boys who take care of others. As parents, we are curious about where this life will take our children and we work hard at controlling the inadvertent limits we set on them because they're "boy" or "girl".
We also encourage our children to express themselves through clothes and hair. My husband and I were both "artistic" teenagers, both involved in musical theatre, both creative when it came to hairstyles and fashion. I wore a strapless polka dotted dress and a pill box hat with red nylons to our rural high school. He had a banana-coloured suit. I favoured red lipstick, he loved his short-on-one-side, long-on-the-other hair cut. While this may sound tame compared to today's tattooed and pierced teenagers, we were certainly considered "different" in the universe of our middle-of-nowhere high school. We talk a lot about how we'll handle our children's fashion whims as they grow, and agree that blue mohawks are okay, for Jude or for the girls.
Still, we hesitated when Jude brought up getting both his ears pierced. I love the way this looks, personally, but I also remember the reaction my brother got when he came home from university sporting this look, along with a beaded necklace (if I recall, he got roughed up at a local bar, was called a fag, and had his necklace ripped from his neck, Cinderella-style). We live in rural Ontario, where traditions and gender roles are not questioned, generally. Girls wear pink and play with dolls. Boys wear camo and play with guns. Period.
We were worried about Jude getting teased at school. And admittedly, we were concerned about being judged as parents, not because we felt we'd be wrong to let him get his ears pierced, but because others wouldn't understand our idea of the bigger picture. The irony, of course, is that we were worried about what others would think about our attempts to let our children do things without worrying about what others think. Ha!
Then Violet spotted this suit in the give-away pile. It's three-piece. It's pin-striped. In short, it's awesome. It reminded me that I once upcycled my dad's pin-stripe suit into a skirt-vest ensemble as a teenager. But this little suit was too small for Jude, so I was about to give it away.
Violet nabbed it, tightened it up with a belt, and wondered if we'd be able to find some shiny black (boy's) dress shoes to go with it for her uncle's wedding in August. She rocks this look, and I love that she claimed this as 'her' style. She wants a chemistry-themed birthday party. She wants to cut her hair short like mine.
Which brought up another uncomfortable realisation: I'm more comfortable with my girls bending a bit towards "boy" things, than I am about Jude bending towards "girl" things. It's based in fear, of course: fear that others won't understand, fear that my boy will learn hard lessons about what is considered "acceptable", fear that his feelings will be wounded by cruel words.
But then I remember: my best friends in the world are the people who were drawn to me because they noticed my quirky style, or because I noticed theirs. One of my first high school friends was a boy who wore a dress to a wedding when he was five, because he just wanted to and his mom said yes.
Those are the kinds of friends I want my children to have: friends who love them because they're not afraid to be different and because they face the world with a sense of adventure, fun, colour, and openness.
So. The next time Jude mentions getting his ears pierced, I'll take a deep breath, and say yes.