Vinny is a big fan of Dora the Explorer. He's such a big fan that yesterday at the store he saw a Dora outfit that he really wanted. Trouble is, the outfit was very pink and very frilly. And while Jeff and I don't personally care what he wears just so long as it fits and is appropriate for the weather, we were hesitant to buy him a pink frilly outfit. This is a conservative state -- would child protective services be called against us? Luckily they didn't have any of these particular outfits in his size, so we were able to hedge by saying, "Sorry, sweetie, but they don't have the right size for you."
I've never seen him want anything so badly before. He was really upset when we didn't get it for him. We tried to assure him that we would find something in his size later, and that seemed to soothe him, but he kept asking about it for the rest of the day, and even several times today.
So while Vinny and I enjoyed the children's museum this afternoon, Jeff shopped for something Dora-themed that he wouldn't have to worry about Vinny being seen in. He finally settled upon a Dora nightgown. It's purple and it has puffy sleeves, but it's a nightgown and will only be worn inside the house.
You should have seen the joy on his face when Vinny first saw that nightgown. He was very excited and wanted to put it on right away! In fact, he is lying here in my arms asleep wearing that nightgown as I type this.
Jeff also found a website where you can create your own custom t-shirts with Dora on them, so we'll probably order one of those so he can show his enthusiasm for Dora outside the house without us worrying about the consequences.
Ideally, I would want my child to feel free to wear whatever outfit he wanted to wear, without fear of consequences. I don't want to indoctrinate him into the ridiculous notion that there are some things/activities/colors for girls and other things/activities/colors for boys. I want him to continue to enjoy cooking, dancing, and holding pretend picnics. I also want him to continue to enjoy screwdrivers, tinkertoys, and fans. In other words, I want him to feel free to express himself in any way, even if that way is categorized as feminine by our society.
I am, however, aware that this is a far from ideal world. While sticks and stones certainly do break bones, words can break hearts. And sadly, we have to watch out for both possibilities when the arbitrary lines of gender norms get crossed.
The propagation of gender norms has been a recent topic of conversation over at Isis the Scientist's place. The problem is that it's okay for girls and women to cross gender boundaries (heck, I'm a scientist and I wear pants all the time!) but it's not okay for boys and men to do so (my husband faces more discrimination than I do because of his choice of vocation). This is because in our patriarchal society, "male" is regarded as the default, and "female" as "other" -- inferior to men. In this set-up, it makes sense that girls and women would want to cross over to the other gender, and doesn't make sense when boys and men want to do it. Similarly, girls and women can and do regularly have male role models, while it is very rare for men to have female role models.
This is why Vinny's admiration of Dora is problematic in this society, and why there are no shirts for boys with Dora on them. On the other hand, if Vinny were a girl who admired Diego, we'd just cross over to the boys' side of the clothing aisle and not think twice about it.
It's really sad that we can't find a boys' Dora shirt off the rack, and I feel guilty about caving in to society's norms by not buying him the frilly pink Dora outfit. But I think we were able to frame it in a way that will keep him innocently admiring Dora and feeling free to wear pink for a while longer.