Boy in a Dress

L’il Boo wants to wear a dress.

If I were a different kind of person, I would get all panicky and start throwing Tonka trucks in his general direction, but I am not that kind of person.  Not least because I know where this desire has come from.

Every evening, to avoid school morning meltdown, I ask Boogie the following question: ‘Skirt, dress or trousers?’  She picks one, then I get two of the chosen items out of her wardrobe and she points to the one she wants to wear the following day.

Whilst largely not being arsed about clothes, Boogie is very specific about what kind of clothes she finds acceptable on her skin at any given time.  Some specifications are long-term, non-negotiable (buttons, frills), others are entirely arbitrary and fleeting (‘today I will scream if my jeans are in the wash, tomorrow I will tremble at the very mention of the word jeans’).

Given that this has been the case since she first turned two, the current system (after much trial and error) really works for us both; I get to take the ring road round Whinesville in the mornings and she gets to feel she ‘chooses’ from a choice simple enough that it doesn’t overwhelm her. Happy smiles all round.  By a conservative estimate I reckoned it’s saved me approximately eleventy million whining hours. Good times, eh?

L’il Boo, ever the copier, has now started to display random, fleeting likes and dislikes to items of clothing (dear god, no!).  So random in fact that I have no idea what he’s objecting to in any given case.  I very much doubt he knows either.  He’s just seen his sister do it, and that’s good enough for him.

He’s also, of course, seen that his sister gets choices he’s not offered.  No ‘dress, skirt or trousers’ for him.  Firstly, he gets offered nothing because I’m desperately trying to convince him he doesn’t have any preferences whatsoever.  Secondly, of course, because boys just don’t get the same choices, do they?  It’s ‘trousers or trousers?’ for them.  Or maybe ‘trousers or jeans?’ if I’m being creative.

The boy wants the option.  Practically, I can give it to him because I have enough of his sister’s old clothes in boxes to find something that fits.  But should I?

My first instinct is to say Fuck it!  The boy wants a dress, he can have a fucking dress!

Two things about this: I know enough to know that ‘Fuck it!’ is my first reaction to most things and to far too many things than can actually be good for me.  I also know the way the world works and it does not work well for boys who wear dresses.

He’s two.  Wearing a dress, he would be entirely unaware of any statement he’s making.  I, on the other hand, would be acutely aware of the statement he’s making and, because he’s two, it would be a statement about me more than him.  I’m already known as the resident weirdo feminist amongst both friends and acquaintances.  L’il Boo rocking a dress will do naught to lessen this reputation.

I will be accused (just ask Storm’s parents) of using my child to make a political and social statement, one which, bless him, he can’t possibly have had a say in.  That he chose a dress will not be a defence, merely another example of my man-bashing indoctrination of my children (y’know, like we feminists do).

Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a problem with any of that (Fuck it! I say – see?)  If anybody has a problem with me letting my son wear a dress, it’s just that – their problem.

But, though L’il Boo’s only two, he understands shock, and disgust, and horror and disapproval.  He understands all that just by looking at people’s faces.  Just like we all do.  And he will not understand that those faces are in reaction to his clothes, not to him.  And – have I said he’s only two? – he’s too young to have that explained to him.

Why would I want to put him through that?  It’s been bad enough when he goes forth wearing pink trousers (which, along with green trousers, are currently top of his ‘like’ list).  Trust me, people do not like being flummoxed when trying to assign children to a gender box.  On the other hand, why should I restrict him in an entirely unnecessary way?  My only stipulation for Boogie’s clothing choices are that they be weather-appropriate and even that’s fairly laxly enforced.  Why should it be different for L’il Boo?

Is he too young to wear a dress? Or I am just copping out, bowing to The Man?

And if I do cop out here, where’s the fucking line?  What do I compromise on next to stop bigots looking sideways at my children?

Answers on a postcard, please.

About MistressofBoogie

Feminist. Loud-mouth. Sometimes those two are linked. Sometimes not. View all posts by MistressofBoogie

11 responses to “Boy in a Dress

  • storysmoking

    Great post. And a really hard question, I think. I used to work at a kindergarten and the boys there were allowed to wear dresses when the kids dressed up for what ever they were playing. It wasn’t a problem (or statement) at all, but that’s probably because it was inside the kindergarten..

    • MistressofBoogie

      Yeah, I think boys are given a bit more leeway when it does to dressing up. Not much but a bit, though I always remember a small boy at nursery with Boogie running to his mum as she collected him, completely excited by his long purple sparkly dress-up dress which he was desperate to show off to her…and the look of horror on her face knocked the wind right out of him before she told him to ‘get off that ridiculous dress’. It was horrible.
      It’s just a question of how much he needs to be protected versus his right to express himself in a completely harmless way, and I’m still struggling with it.

  • Gappy

    I honestly don’t know the answer to this one. When I was at a festival once and my eldest son was small, he got dressed up with a skirt over a pair of leggings and some glitter on his face. I didn’t think anything of it, and neither actually did his father, but a group of male friends (and bear in mind that this was a group who considered themselves to be fairly right-on) obviously disapproved. I couldn’t believe it! He was just having fun dressing up and they were acting as though I was going to scar him for life!

    So yeah. I don’t know. I’ve just written a post about clothes too, weirdly enough.

    • MistressofBoogie

      I know – the scar them for life thing is pretty terrifying. I truly think I’ll have no problem with it (weirdly) when he older, when he’s old enough to understand that he’s breaking some people’s rule. Then he can decide whether he wants to break it or not. I really have no problem with that.

  • Dana Reid

    (Sorry if this comment is a double-up.)

    Eugh, the story about the wee boy in the purple dress makes me so sad.

    This is such a tricky one! I would probably go with explaining some people might find it strange and that they think boys shouldn’t wear dresses (I’m a fan of trying to explain complicated concepts to small people :P) and give him the choice from there. I don’t think there’s a right answer here. :(

    • MistressofBoogie

      Yeah, I’m also a fan of explaining complicated concepts; the pair of them are always surprising me with how much they understand stuff. And, you’re right – it has to be his choice; that’s the only ‘right’ answer I think.

  • mabaneropepper

    Here via Feministe.

    How old is your daughter? Can wearing skirts/dresses be an option that older kids get (ala staying up late or doing certain activities)? In a few years he may or may not still want to wear them, but the reasons will be more about who he is than just imitating his sister.

    • MistressofBoogie

      Boogie’s 6 and that may be an option, although the whole ‘that’s too big for you’ argument has never found a receptive audience in our house…
      Of course, since I started to actually think about the whole dress issue, he has never, not once, so much as mentioned the word ‘dress’!

  • jennylaville

    I know I’m coming in late to this discussion, but for what it’s worth, I say let him wear the dress (hope it’s a pretty one). I know loads of little boys who love nail varnish and my own son reguarly sports fairy wings (he’d love a dress, but we don’t have any) and he’s 3. If he’s man enough to don a dress, good for him.

  • MistressofBoogie

    Yeah, I got there, too (see next post).

    He still hasn’t asked for one again yet, though. Maybe he secretly reads this blog and is playing with my head…

  • Oddly Normal « Adventures in Boogieville

    [...] remember I struggled with this a while ago, when L’il Boo was all about being ‘the boy in the dress‘. And I concluded that if he wanted to wear a dress, he could wear a [...]

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