Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Kids, Gender-Bending

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.


  1. You are a remarkable person and an amazing mother. I was one of those "weird" kids, too. My father was very less than supportive of my choices in.. well.. anything.

    My middle boy loves princesses and pink and shiny things. He's my Kaylee (from Firefly/Serenity). My oldest boy wants a ponytail. No one has brought up earrings yet. I completely understand your fears about kids learning lessons the hard way from their peers. It's a fine line to walk - keeping them safe while letting them be free.

  2. This is a great post and I am interested to read the comments from your readers. I could care less if Jude gets earrings but I would give one bit of advice in this regard. No, you didn't ask for it, but since I have older kids, and I am your older sister, I am going to play that card :). If he brings up ear piercing again, suggest he wait a bit to see if he really wants them pierced. Say yes, but that you'll wait another couple of months and check in again. I got both my girls ears done at around age 8 after they asked and once we had talked about how it was permanent, and that they would have to care for their piercings etc. Later, J thought maybe she shouldn't have done so at all bc she didn't really like wearing earrings after all! NOW she wears them sometimes but certainly not every day.
    I am doing the same thing with K who wants a tattoo. I am strongly suggesting that she find a design she likes, then carry it around for a year before committing to the ink. She has changed her mind a few times already and still has not made an appointment.
    So- yeah- I love the suit on Violet, and I'll love earrings on Jude...just my two cents on the timing...

  3. I agree with Lana that anything permanent shouldn't be impulsive!

    Your children are going to be judged with or without earings, it's just that the earings create a more obvious target in that little slice of the world. (There's a story in the news right now about a Montreal girl who was sent home for wearing a Habs jersey to school.)

    Violet really does rock that suit!

  4. such a beautiful post. prior to the birth of my children I worked in San Francisco as a counselor within the GLBTQ community. puzzling out gender identity can be interesting, difficult and also painful depending on how much support anyone gets. I loved exploring these issues but there was also so much pain for so many people.

    thank you and

  5. and she looks AMAZING in that suit!!
    I am so glad my own four children have always gravitated to the "unique" kids once they entered formalized schooling ( for my two eldest this was at the highschool level) . They felt the pull of following their own paths and respected others who felt strong enough to walk their own.Childhood is supposed to be a time of trying on identities, learning what makes sense for ourselves. If we are lucky we get supportive parents who love and allow us this space to explore

    1. They are their mother's daughters!

    2. well aren't you sweet! ( I am guessing your brood also have some friends cutting their own swath through life !)

  6. I had to come back to just look at these photos again. I LOVE Violet's confident poses!

  7. Oh wow. I needed to hear this today. I have a son that is constantly pushing the limits of what I thought was my "open-minded, liberal parenting". He always wants to wear "girl" clothes. He wears pink and purple all the time. He prefers nighties at bedtime. He loves dresses and wants to wear them to dressy occasions. When he was a toddler we did not care at that he is almost 5 and going to be in kindgergarten, I find myself worrying about it......or excusing his dress when in the company of other parents. Because I care what they think more than he does. I am finding this very illuminating about my own fears. And ultimately, (most) of the reason I care so much is because I don't want him to be treated cruelly and teased, have his feelings hurt...I want him to fit in.....but could it also be because I want to fit in????

  8. I remember when Cullen grew his hair out for cancer and while he looked amazing sporting a mass of brown curls he did have to field some less that understanding comments. He always found it interesting how many people backpedaled when they found why he was doing it. He was also so encouraged by how much support he got from his friends, boys or girls. They were there to defend him or support him as needed. It is a great learning experience for kids to be a bit different even if it is hard to let them.

    Violet totally rocks the suit! Love it.

  9. I'm sure if Jude had of been the 3rd child down the line you would be much more relaxed too. My older daughter just gave me and my son (5) makeovers for mother's day. I didn't even blink an eye when he wanted bright red toe nails, after getting his blush, eye shadow and lip stick on! I have pictures of him dancing in tutu's when he was younger and right now their favourite movies are any of the Barbie ones. I do realize this is just his 'older, cooler' sisters influence. He thought about getting his ears pierced until he found out it was a needle - he hates them - so that solved that problem.

  10. V totally rocks the suit.

    When my eldest son was 5 or so, he loved having painted toenails. At his swimming lesson, his instructor admired his pink toenails and asked if his mother painted them for him. He responded, "No, my daddy did."

    We just ran into the ear piercing thing with our middling. Like Lana suggests, I urged her to spend time thinking about it. Both my eldest daughter and I have pierced ears and never do we wear earrings. Such a waste of metal pierced through flesh. Eldest pointed out that wearing earrings are a pain, literally, when it comes to wearing hockey helmets. Middling is now reconsidering.

  11. This is incredible. You are such a good mom and I really appreciated this post.


This space is a creative outlet for a busy mama; I warmly embrace your comments and feedback, as well as questions/requests for details. I do check them daily and will respond where appropriate! Thank you for visiting the Knitty Gritty Homestead!