Boys Can Wear Dresses Too

31 Aug

“Look, the woman is free now,” Leila describes an American Indian man in the animated film.

“That’s a man, Leila,” I say, knowing full well where this would go.

“But, but he has long hair, and…”

“Men can have long hair,” I was a little too stern with her about this, fed-up with all the stereotyping.

“But look at the hair bands in her hair.”

“Leila, men can wear hair bands.”

I would get nowhere with my attitude, and of course my two-year-old’s are only trying to make sense of the world and figure out how they fit in it. Their gender differences are a part of that. I relax, try something different. “OK, you remember our friend in Koh Samui? He has very long hair. Sometimes he used hair bands to tie it up. Remember?”

She laughed and agreed.

My daughter is going through a phase where she needs to define herself as a girl. Quite normal I suppose.  It was after she repeatedly heard an older girl telling Rahul, “but that’s for girls,” as the doll and hair clips that he was playing with were snatched out of his hands, that it became as issue.

Since then, L often says similar things to her brother. I have a feeling that other than it being a gender identity thing, the issue is magnified because they are boy / girl twins who are almost always together. I am not yet sure how or if I even need to do something to help Leila with this question.

On a walk around the mall one day, Leila saw a shop full of pink things, she half stated, half asked if it’s only for girls. I disagreed. Rahul has often asked me the same question, “This is only for girls, mum?” He used to like pink. I doubt that it was a natural instinct; it was probably because his sister liked it. And then I’m not so sure that her obsession tendency for pink is natural either. More recently Rahul has constructed that “yellow” and “green” are his favorites. I see him consciously choosing those colors because he is a “boy”, and then also maybe a bit because it sets him apart from his twin sister.

“But I only want yellow nail polish,” he begged in their fight discussion this afternoon. He looks at me, almost in tears.
“NO, it’s only for girls,” she barks at him. A moment later she turns to me, “It’s only for girls mum?”
“Boys can also use nail polish guys, but neither of you can until you are older.”

A few days ago it was about toy make-up. “I want to play with this,” Rahul said as they were tugging and pulling on the toy eye-shadow. A man in the room, probably just trying to ease the tension, said, “Make-up is for girls Rahul.”

“Hey come on guys,” I couldn’t help myself, “some men use make-up.” I got some questioning looks from the men in that room. “Men who dance, act on stage or in movies use make-up.” I didn’t even touch those who might use it just because they enjoy it. Our home is a rather gender neutral space, the children have a range of toys, but we are immersed in a host of cultures all of which segregate gender roles and behaviour in the obvious, traditional sense.

An openly gay friend of mine in Lebanon, oriental-dance performing artist and teacher posted this little story on Facebook about a man who wears dresses in solidarity with his little boy. It reminded me of a conversation I overheard between my children and a couple of close Swedish friend. “Boys can wear dresses too,” my friend’s husband explained to them.

My children will have many influences in their lives and they’ll make their own choices. I still try to play my bit in keeping them open. I’ve always been grateful to the exposure I had growing up, to people of different cultures and way of thinking. My own parenting decisions and choices come from imitating those I respect and trust, as well as trying to realise my own mistakes.

A few weeks ago I saw a couple of sticker books that I thought my children would love. One was of an Indian girl, the other was an African girl. The idea is that the child plays designer. She can stick bags, and necklaces on the girl, colour in the clothes the way she wants. I bought both. For Leila. How was I to choose between an Indian and an African princess? And I had an inkling that Rahul might want to play with one at the same time. To be fair though, I bought Rahul a couple of finger puppets.

Rahul enjoyed his puppets, but luckily Leila agreed to share one of her princess design books with him. They both enjoyed sticking the bangles, bindhis, and chitenge prints on their models. In the sense of learning alone, he was doing well with focusing, sticking the handbags on the girl’s arm, and the flowers in her hair. So just because it’s a girl in the picture why can’t he play with the book? Maybe he’ll become a clothes designer one day. Why didn’t I just buy one princess book for each one of my children?

Over the weekend we went to a toy shop. Rahul chose a baby doll. He likes to change dolls’ clothes, rock and kiss them goodnight. Of course, he was shown the transformer cars and the Lego, but he was adamant about the baby doll. Only at the very last minute did a laser sword change his mind. Regardless of the outcome, I was glad that I would have proudly walked out of that shop having bought both my children dolls.

Related links:
From TV to toys: What shapes boys into boys and girls into girls             
Parenting the Enemy
– blog post by Janice Lindegard of Snide Reply
Boys Will Be Boys? – blog post by reanbean

I live in Chengdu with my husband Maher and our two-year-old twins Leila and Rahul.  I was an Ashtanga Yoga teacher until Our Little Yogis became the teachers.

14 Responses to “Boys Can Wear Dresses Too”

  1. DesiValentine August 31, 2012 at 10:38 pm #

    I think it comes down to respecting their choices, and I hope that by seeing their parents demonstrate such respect, my children will grow to be truly tolerant people. My son’s best friend has been taught very strict parameters for ‘girl things’ and ‘boy things’, and it’s confusing for my son. So, then, the lesson becomes that people have different opinions on what are ‘girls things’ and what are ‘boy things’, and that’s okay, too. Unless, of course, it’s a care provider snatching dolls away from my son or telling him he can’t wear a hairband. THAT would make me pretty angry.

    • natasha devalia August 31, 2012 at 11:06 pm #

      Thanks for your thoughts on this, Desi. Absolutely, people have different views of what are “girl things” and what are “boy things” and it comes down to respecting them. I just hope my kids deal with all this with a broad mind. I suppose, like you say, they learn and absorb attitudes from the close people around them.

  2. jmlindy422 August 31, 2012 at 11:04 pm #

    I’ve been watching Project Runway again. One of the leading contestants is a young man, I think his name is Fabio, who wears dresses and other girlie clothes. Last night, he wore a pink floral wreath with his funky black clothes. He looked fabulous but still manly, whatever that means.

    • natasha devalia August 31, 2012 at 11:38 pm #

      Ah that’s great. I just looked Fabio up, and found this short video – a closet tour. And he’s wearing nail polish.

      Gosh, the confusion I’ll get if I show some of this to my kids…might make for some interesting conversation.

      • jmlindy422 September 1, 2012 at 1:21 am #

        Love it!

        • natasha devalia September 1, 2012 at 9:04 am #

          The kids loved the picture of the boy and his dad wearing dresses, and the fabio closet tour video.
          L to R: You like to wear a dress Rahul?
          R: No, I like t-shirts and shorts.

          When I explained that Fabio is a clothes designer who draws pictures of clothes and then cuts up cloth and sews it into things that can be worn, Rahul said, “Like papa. Papa is a clothes designer.” And when he saw Fabio with a dress in his closet he said, “Papa has one.” (A lot of this comes from the fact that Maher is away at the moment!)


  3. Monica September 1, 2012 at 1:06 am #

    One of my daughters prefers things (clothes, toys, shoes, everything) that are stereotypically considered to be “boy” things. The other could not be more girly-girl. We have had many discussions about how there are no “boy things” and “girl things,” that everyone just likes what they like. Boys and girls can have long or short hair, earrings or no earrings, wear whatever colors they like, etc. Highly recommend Free to Be, You and Me. It’s available in book, DVD, and CD.

    • natasha devalia September 1, 2012 at 5:06 am #

      Hey Monica,
      Great to hear from you! Thanks for your thoughts on this. The way you put it sounds reasonable and age appropriate. I need to incorporate more of it into our days. Thanks for the recommendation – it seems to be a classic. I’m sure I’ll find some of it somewhere.

  4. Chittiappa September 1, 2012 at 2:49 am #

    My experience with my three boys is that they figure out for themselves what they want to play with. My eldest sleeps with his little doll every night. My second, also has a stuffed doll called Max that he sleeps with. And my third, also has a doll to cuddle up with. They both like shoes that have pink in them. Their favorite colour is purple (of course it helps that I have purple clothes as well). The only time I interfered was when they chose a hot pink jacket, and I just refused on account it being being hideous.

    I would like to think that I have been gender neutral when it comes to letting them choose their toys, clothes whatever. Of course, they may be swayed a little since I am a complete car nut, and my excuse to buy toy cars is that it’s for them when really I want them ;-).

    But one of the funniest moments was when they had begged and pleaded for a toy pram, and one of our friends lent us one (since her girl was completely uninterested). Well, they carefully put their dolls in it, tucked them in, and then proceeded to drive monster truck style around the room crashing and jumping the thing. Poor dolls :-).

    However, school and daycare and the social aspect of being in a large group of kids, they figure out for themselves what boys play with and what girls play with regardless of how gender neutral we try to be. There are parents who are very gender conscious, and their attitudes rubs off on their kids, and thus our kids pick up on it. Only now have they actually said that princesses are for girls. But all colours are still gender neutral in this house.

    I’m more upset walking into a toy store, or kiddies clothing store where everything is so gender specific in terms of colours and toys and the store is laid out as such. How can we expect our kids to have open minds when society has already decided what is for boys and what is for girls? I tell you, parenting is hard.

    • natasha devalia September 1, 2012 at 4:56 am #

      Thanks for taking the time to read and comment. I really enjoy reading about your boys. Parenting is certainly a challenge.

      No one thinks twice when L plays with trains. My son has a doll he loves as well, we have two prams, and generally they both play with each other’s toys. But I’m a little sad that R has fixated that pink is for his sister. L “owns” pink in this house. I suppose it’s up to me to find a way to balance that out in one sense, without imposing anything. But then he did that with cheese as well. She likes cheese, I don’t. This is why I think it might partly be a twin thing.

      And about the shops and what are for girls and what are for boys – it’s ridiculous. I’ve heard, that’s for girls, not boys MANY times.

  5. heidinevini September 1, 2012 at 1:20 pm #

    Really love this, Natasha. So proud of you for constantly and relentlessly opening your children’s minds. You are a wonderful source of inspiration. After days of watching my daughter play “princess” with her boy cousin, a game which entailed her adorning herself and him sitting there watching, I finally said, “Hey, guys, what about Lyle? Don’t forget to put make-up and jewelry on him too!” They were amazed but happy, and they promptly started decorating him. Love and miss you lots.

    • natasha devalia September 1, 2012 at 3:13 pm #

      Thanks for that Heidi, and I’ll pass the same kind words back at you. It’s great that they were happy decorating Lyle …Hope all is well on your side. Love and miss you too. Look forward to hearing some stories from you!

  6. hermes fake May 5, 2013 at 9:59 pm #

    Hello, your articles here Boys Can Wear Dresses Too | Multicultural Mothering to write well, thanks for sharing!


  1. Boys Can Wear Dresses Too | Our Little Yogis - November 4, 2012

    […] (As Posted at Multicultural Mothering) […]

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