On five-year-olds and gender roles.

Say you’ve got a five-year-old son who isn’t conforming to traditional gender roles. Specifically, he likes to wear skirts and dresses instead of the customary pants most little boys wear. Do you try to convince him to dress traditionally or do you allow him to cross gender lines in his clothing choices?

That’s the choice Nils Pickert of Germany faced with his own son:

Nils Pickert and his son.

The pair used to live in the well-to-do borough of Kreuzberg in cosmopolitan Berlin, where there was little or no reaction to Mr Pickert’s son wearing dresses.

The issue would simply spark debate among parents, he said, over whether allowing it was ‘wise or ridiculous’. For open-minded Mr Pickert, it was never even a question.

He would sometimes dress in a skirt or dress himself, during mild weather.

When they moved to a ‘very traditional, very religious’ little town, however, Mr Pickert’s son became too embarrassed to wear women’s clothing to nursery school – and asked his father if he would dress up again.

‘I didn’t want to talk my son into not wearing dresses and skirts,’ said Mr Pickert. ‘I had only one option left: To broaden my shoulders for my little buddy and dress in a skirt myself.

‘After all, you can’t expect a child at pre-school age to have the same ability to assert themselves as an adult completely without role model. And so I became that role model.’

Personally, I think Mr. Pickert is a great Dad for encouraging his son to be who he wants to be, but it appears I may be in the minority judging from the reaction in the comments around the web.

From the Daily Mail comment section itself we get the following:

What?? This is sick! They both need to see a doctor and the child to see a psychologist.

– Rob, England, 30/8/2012 13:51

what .hes a little boy not a girl he should not wear girls clothes hes 5 for gods sake why is the father encouraging this its sick.

– bee, plymouth england, 30/8/2012 16:24

OMG what is the world coming to with these people who seek to feminize their male children? Seriously, the child should be removed from the home.

– Action Bob, The Universe, 30/8/2012 16:01

And then from the comments on the FARK for this article which had a HERO tag associated with it:

Hero tag? Try Dumbass tag.

A good father wouldn’t let his five year old son dress like a girl at school or anywhere else.

– DmGdDawg

Sigh, what a failure of a parent. Your not helping your making it worse. Do you fix a leaking sink by saying, it isn’t the sink’s fault but it should be the kitchen that needs to accept the water better.

– Thisbymaster

Hero tag?

HERO?

How about a farking ZERO.

Part of being a parent is to keep kids from doing stupid shiat like, say, wearing a g’damn dress to school when you’re a 5 year old boy.

– Hagenhatesyouall

I was bit odd as a kid myself and I took a fair amount of shit for it. No, I didn’t run around in dresses, but I was the 80 pound weakling who got beat up on a regular basis and my biological father died when I was 5 so I tended to be a little off-kilter from those two things just to start with. I was also ADHD and didn’t know it and that alone is enough to make you feel like an outsider who doesn’t really fit in and I eventually got to the point where I embraced my weirdness and just accepted that I wasn’t quite normal. I suppose that’s why my initial reaction to this story was to cheer the dad for supporting his kid instead of trying to force him to be “normal.”

I honestly don’t understand what the big deal is. The kid is five years old. It’s not clear he even has a concept of gender roles let alone why some folks would expect him to conform to them. It’s similar to the uproar over the J. Crew catalog that had a VP painting her son’s toenails in it. Holy fuck, the Far Right had a fit over that with FOX’s own Dr. Keith Asshole Ablow declaring the kid would need therapy in a few years to deal with the horror of his own mother forcing him to paint his toenails a bright pink color.

I’ve said before, including in that entry about the J. Crew catalog, that I’ve been known to paint my own toenails from time to time despite being an adult heterosexual male. It gets worse than that though. Back when I was a teenager I had a Unicorn phase that would rival any teen girl’s obsession with the fantasy creatures. I collected statues, had posters, the whole shebang. As an adult I’m not as into them anymore (though my obsession over all things otter is still as strong as ever), but the years that I was into them doesn’t seem to have affected my manliness all that much. Of course you could argue that I’m not exactly a man’s man to begin with, but it’s not like macho men have never worn dresses. Again in that J. Crew entry I mention the fact that at one point it was common for kids of both genders to wear dresses up until age 7 including such notable examples as Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Pic of Franklin Roosevelt as a child in a dress.

Roosevelt before he went on to become President of the United States

Seriously, what’s the worst that could happen? He turns out to be gay? That could happen regardless of whether he conforms to gender roles. Just look at the number of gay-hating Republicans putting on a manly front only to turn out to be gayer than the Village People when people aren’t looking. He could end up a transvestite? A number of men have managed to be quite successful while wearing women’s clothing. Perhaps he’ll grow up and want a sex-change operation. Again, that’s just a likely to happen regardless of what clothes he starts off in.

He might be more comfortable during hot summer days? Oh the horror! If only people would put so much energy into worrying about things that actually matter like whether he’s getting a decent education or whether the planet will be habitable by the time he grows up.

So the kid is a little different. Let him be different. We don’t all need to be the same.

Older brother stands up to bullying dad for gender stereotyping.

Here’s one of those stories that’ll make you feel a little better about your fellow humans:

Dear Customer who stuck up for his little brother, | Up and down we go..

Eventually, I helped the brothers pick a game called Mirror’s Edge. The youngest was pretty excited about the game, and then he specifically asked me.. “Do you have any girl color controllers?” I directed him to the only colored controllers we have which includes pink and purple ones. He grabbed the purple one, and informed me purple was his FAVORITE.

The boys had been taking awhile, so their father eventually comes in. He see’s the game, and the controller, and starts in on the youngest about how he needs to pick something different. Something more manly. Something with guns and fighting, and certainly not a purple controller. He tries to convince him to get the new Zombie game “Dead Island.” and the little boy just stands there repeating “Dad, this is what I want, ok?” Eventually it turns into a full blown argument complete with Dad threatening to whoop his son if he doesn’t choose different items.

This could’ve ended badly, but this kid has an awesome older brother. Go read the whole thing to see how it turns out.

J. Crew catalog has pic of boy wearing toenail polish and FOX News freaks the fuck out.

Scan of the J. Crews ad.

The offending advertisement. Click to embiggen.

You’d think it was one of the seven signs what with the way “Dr.” Keith Ablow reacts to a picture in a J. Crews catalog in which a mom talks about how fun it is to paint her son’s toenails:

A recent feature in J. Crew’s online catalogue portrays designer Jenna Lyons painting her son Beckett’s toe nails hot pink. The quote accompanying the image reads, “Lucky for me, I ended up with a boy whose favorite color is pink. Toenail painting is way more fun in neon.”

Yeah, well, it may be fun and games now, Jenna, but at least put some money aside for psychotherapy for the kid—and maybe a little for others who’ll be affected by your “innocent” pleasure.

Got that? You’re not just setting your own kid up for mental illness by engaging in girly activities, but you’re putting everyone else at risk as well!

What could be so dangerous about putting a little hot pink on your son’s toenails?

This is a dramatic example of the way that our culture is being encouraged to abandon all trappings of gender identity—homogenizing males and females when the outcome of such “psychological sterilization” [my word choice] is not known.

A dramatic example? Really? I’m not sure how you see it as encouraging our culture to abandon all trappings of gender identity. So the boy likes a little nail polish. So did Eddie Izzard and he has been fairly successful in spite of it. Now he’s a dramatic example of abandoning of traditional gender roles.

I speak from experience. I’ve been known to have my toenails painted on occasion as well (though I tend to prefer a more macho blue metal flake color). Granted I did this as an adult, but I don’t think it would’ve been any more damaging had I done it as a kid. Last I checked I was still in a stable marriage, still heterosexual, and overall of sound mind and body. My wife started it. She wanted to paint some toenails and mine were within easy reach so she did. I had so much fun with the reactions I got while walking around in sandals that every summer I usually paint them at least once just because it bothers the fuck out of some people.

People like “Dr.” Keith Asshole Ablow:

In our technology-driven world—fueled by Facebook, split-second Prozac prescriptions and lots of other assaults on genuine emotion and genuine relationships and actual consequences for behavior—almost nothing is now honored as real and true.

The irony of someone at FOX News whining about nothing being honored as real and true is pretty hard to bear given their propensity to make shit up to fit their needs.

Increasingly, this includes the truth that it is unwise to dress little girls like miniature adults (in halter tops and shorts emblazoned with PINK across the bottoms) and that it is unwise to encourage little boys to playact like little girls.

OK, I’ll agree that the tendency of some people to dress their young daughters up like strippers is in bad taste (though I’m not sure halter tops and shorts are the worst offenses in that regard) but little boys playacting like little girls? Don’t see a problem with that. In addition to all the macho boy toys I grew up with, I also wanted an Easy Bake Oven. My sister eventually got one and I spent some time playing with it until my curiosity was satisfied. Later in my teenage years I had a period where I took a home correspondence course in cake decorating which may have been inspired by my time with the Easy Bake Oven. What a horrible outcome that ended up being! I learned how to bake and decorate cakes!

If you have no problem with the J. Crew ad, how about one in which a little boy models a sundress? What could possibly be the problem with that?

That’s a good question. I don’t see a problem with it. In point of fact at one time it wasn’t uncommon for little boys to wear dresses. Some of them you may have even heard of. Such as Franklin D. Roosevelt:

Pic of Franklin Roosevelt as a child in a dress.

Yeah, that's probably what gave him polio*.

That picture comes from an interesting article over at Smithsonian.com that talks about why boys wear blue and girls wear pink:

Little Franklin Delano Roosevelt sits primly on a stool, his white skirt spread smoothly over his lap, his hands clasping a hat trimmed with a marabou feather. Shoulder-length hair and patent leather party shoes complete the ensemble.

We find the look unsettling today, yet social convention of 1884, when FDR was photographed at age 2 1/2, dictated that boys wore dresses until age 6 or 7, also the time of their first haircut. Franklin’s outfit was considered gender-neutral.

[…] “It’s really a story of what happened to neutral clothing,” says Paoletti, who has explored the meaning of children’s clothing for 30 years. For centuries, she says, children wore dainty white dresses up to age 6. “What was once a matter of practicality—you dress your baby in white dresses and diapers; white cotton can be bleached—became a matter of ‘Oh my God, if I dress my baby in the wrong thing, they’ll grow up perverted,’ ” Paoletti says.

Which is pretty much what our good “Dr.” is trying to claim. What’s really interesting, though, is that originally pink was for boys:

For example, a Ladies’ Home Journal article in June 1918 said, “The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.” Other sources said blue was flattering for blonds, pink for brunettes; or blue was for blue-eyed babies, pink for brown-eyed babies, according to Paoletti.

It seems like America survived for quite some time with boys wearing dresses for nearly a decade of their lives. And when gender specific colors started to come along the boys started out in pink. But this is a FOX News columnist we’re talking about. He’s not going to let reality get in the way of his argument:

Well, how about the fact that encouraging the choosing of gender identity, rather than suggesting our children become comfortable with the ones that they got at birth, can throw our species into real psychological turmoil—not to mention crowding operating rooms with procedures to grotesquely amputate body parts? Why not make race the next frontier? What would be so wrong with people deciding to tattoo themselves dark brown and claim African-American heritage? Why not bleach the skin of others so they can playact as Caucasians?

I don’t think anyone is suggesting that their children “choose” their gender identity. I think some folks just aren’t freaking out if their kid doesn’t conform to expected gender norms and there really isn’t a problem with that. As for operating rooms suddenly being jammed up with people seeking to change their gender to the opposite team, I seriously doubt that’s going to be a huge problem. At least nothing you’ve presented here suggests that it will be.

Also there’s quite a big difference between allowing your kid to wear hot pink nail polish or a dress and someone tattooing or bleaching themselves in order to become a different race. Though it’s not like some folks haven’t experimented with that concept as an adult with some rather enlightening experiences to show for it. As I recall there was also a show on FX called Black. White. back in 2006 that had a white family and black family switch roles through the use of makeup. It’s something that several people have undertaken without culture crashing down around us.

So we’re left to wonder what the harm is. Finally, the “Dr.” gets around to telling us:

The fallout is already being seen. Increasingly, girls show none of the reticence they once did to engage in early sexual relationships with boys. That may be a good thing from the standpoint of gender equality, but it could be a bad thing since there is no longer the same typically “feminine” brake on such behavior. Girls beat up other girls on YouTube. Young men primp and preen until their abdomens are washboards and their hair is perfect. And while that may seem like no big deal, it will be a very big deal if it turns out that neither gender is very comfortable anymore nurturing children above all else, and neither gender is motivated to rank creating a family above having great sex forever and neither gender is motivated to protect the nation by marching into combat against other men and risking their lives.

He says all of this as though this is something new. It isn’t. There have always been girls who were happy to engage in sex at an early age. There has always been fights between girls. There have always been young men who go out of their way to groom themselves. I can remember all of those things from my own childhood growing up. I’ve seen nothing to suggest it’s more prevalent now than it was back then. If anything, we’re just more aware of it due to the advance of technology.

The argument that this will all lead to the elimination of people who want families and to raise children and to go off to war is, frankly, silly. We’ve managed to conduct two wars for the better part of the last decade without a draft. The wedding and baby industries don’t show any signs of impending collapse. This is nothing but a bunch of hand-waving hysteria mongering from someone who’s supposedly a mental health professional.

But that’s just because I can’t see the conspiracy that’s right before my eyes:

Jenna Lyons and J. Crew seem to know exactly what they’re up to. That’s why the photograph of Jenna’s son so prominently displays his hot pink, neon toe nails. These folks are hostile to the gender distinctions that actually are part of the magnificent synergy that creates and sustains the human race. They respect their own creative notions a whole lot more than any creative Force in the universe.

Yes, they’re out to destroy gender distinctions because it’ll make them rich by being able to sell both men’s and women’s clothing to the same person doubling their profits! It’s BRILLIANT!

Here’s what I want to know: Why can’t we let kids grow up to be who and what they want to be? So your son wants to be a hair dresser. If it makes him happy then what’s the problem? Your daughter wants to be a NASCAR racer. You can make a decent living doing that. Your son wants to dress like a girl? It worked for the aforementioned Eddie Izzard and actor Tim Curry’s best known role involved him looking more feminine than masculine.

The real harm comes from trying to force your kids to be something that they aren’t. If your son ends up being gay it’s because he was born that way, not because he liked playing with Barbies as a child. If your daughter ends up a lesbian it’s because she was born that way, not because she liked playing Cowboys and Indians as a kid. I didn’t care much for watching sports as a kid and I still don’t as an adult. I put my energy into video games and, eventually, computers and it’s served me fairly well. You should encourage your kids to be who they are and not what everyone else expects them to be and it’s going to take them awhile to figure that out. They may bend or break a few cultural norms along the way, but not everyone who paints his toenails is going to end up a childless misanthrope who wouldn’t lift a finger to save his country. If anything they may gain a greater insight into how others are perceived.

*While it’s “common knowledge” that Roosevelt had polio, the truth is it may have been a different disease.