Saturday, July 20, 2013

My Son and His Beautiful Shoes

By Danelle Frisbie © 2013


My son loves pink. Some days more so than any one of his other favorite colors. At almost-5-years-old his passion for 'beautiful things' has yet to diminish, and I love this about him. So I should have been better prepared for this day to eventually arrive... the day when another almost-5-year-old boy announced boldly to my son that what he likes, or what he wears, or what he finds 'beautiful' is NOT for boys, but for girls.

Sigh.

And it happened today. He wore his 'beautiful shoes' (the shoes that he picked out himself while we were traveling - those he says are his most favorite shoes ever, in the whole wide world - with pink and yellow and blue stars and stripes and splashes) to VBS for the second time. The first time he came home to tell me that his teacher told him she L-O-V-E-D his shoes. He was so happy. And proud. After all, he had scoured the whole store to find this one and only pair that fit his big, strong, wide Size 12 feet perfectly. And they weren't 'boring' like all the black and grey and dark blue shoes he was usually presented with.

Tonight, however, he came home to tell me that another boy had announced while behind him in line for the drinking fountain, "Your shoes are GIRL shoes!"

"How did you respond to him?" I asked, somewhat afraid of the answer, and at the same time trying to formulate my own thoughts and reactions into the most empowering mom-response for my 4 year old son... I didn't want to mess this up. And I was surprised by how unsure I was of the very best things to say when I - of all people - should know what to say. I had completed a graduate degree in Women's & Gender Studies and had always been positively certain I'd never have a child who was boxed or limited by others' cultural stereotypes and ignorant biases. Now here we stand, my son and I together with his beautiful shoes...

"I was drinking water when he said it," my son responded. "So I didn't say anything."

"You ignored him?" I asked. "Yes," he said, and continued, "Mom, can boys wear girl shoes?"

[Oh, stab through the gender conscious heart. From just one line, from just one little person, he received the message loud and clear that his shoes were made only for girls - and not made for him. Maybe, as a boy, he wasn't deserving of such beautiful shoes...]

"Honey, all shoes are made for all people - they are just shoes. Beautiful shoes are made for everyone. There is no such thing as 'girl shoes' and 'boy shoes' -- just shoes that we each get to look over and pick from -- the ones we love the most, the ones that feel good on our feet, and the ones we find fun to wear. Men and women, boys and girls, we can all wear any shoes we wish to wear."

"Do you sometimes wear Daddy's flip flops?" he asked. "Of course - they are fun and cushy on my feet," I smiled, knowing, however, that this is limited to quick runs outside due to our foot size difference...

"Would Daddy wear your shoes?" my son continued. "Sure he would - if his feet weren't so giant!" And we both laughed. Then I remembered an old photo I have of his father sporting my ultra-fabulous-flower-flip-flops. "Look at these beauties on Daddy's feet!" I smiled.

"Ohh... I want those shoes!" my son said.

Phew, maybe we were moving past the stereotypes.


"Yeah... I don't know why that boy said that," my son seemed to be reflecting again on what happened.

"I don't know either," I said. "Maybe that boy was just a little jealous of your shoes because they are so cool!  Maybe no one ever gave him beautiful shoes to wear. If someone says something like that again, you can just say, 'That's silly. Beautiful shoes are for everybody.'"

My son smiled, "I know, Mom!"

~~~~

The day following this discussion I was a little curious to see if my son would grab his beautiful shoes to wear as quickly when we got ready to go out on an adventure at the aquarium. I thought he may opt instead for his blue or grey shoes... But that didn't happen. He brought me his pink socks (well worn as they are one of two favorite pairs in his sock drawer) and his beautiful shoes and we slipped them on without a second thought.

I pray I can raise a son who is both wise and compassionate, strong and gentle. One who grows into a man who is sure of himself to the core, and able to empower others around him with this same steadfast consciousness.

What about you? How do you handle gender stereotypes as they are pushed upon your little ones? I am always interested to hear how other well-informed parents maneuver through the muck of cultural expectations our children face at such young ages in society.

~~~~

41 comments:

  1. I have a huge diaper stash, many brands, colors and sizes. About half I bought second hand before I knew I was having a son ( so fairly nutural colors) and about half came from a very generous friend. These included pink and purple and more "girl" colores...I have spent most of my sons almost 9 months explaining that colors do not have genders. My sons penis won't disapear due to him being in a pink dipe!

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    1. haha... I love that response! Wish I would have thought of it when my son also wore mostly pink diapers during his first year (because they had been on super sale and I couldn't pass up brand new, fully adjustable, pocket diapers with snaps for $8 each!).

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    2. Never worry about "purple", I'm in love with purple and have been since I was 14m I'm also 6' 2" shaved head play in hard rock bands, happily married for 12 yrs with two beautiful girls, professionally employed and financially very comfortable. So the moral of the story is PURPLE ROCKS !!!

      PS Here in Melbourne one of the big fashions in the early 80's was men in lots and I mean LOTS of pink, no one ever batted an eyelid at it :)

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  2. Lol my oldest loves pink and purple. He picked a purple bag for his kids meal from subway. The guy behind the counter raised his eyebrows and looked at me like I should talk him out of it. I just laughed and said yeah ds that's a great choice.

    We also go to a consignment sale and the last three times his choice has been a "girls" toy. So what if he likes my little pony, strawberry shortcake etc.

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  3. My daughter has been playing with Matchbox cars and Star Wars toys since she was barely a year old, and has Star Wars t-shirts from the boy section of Old Navy. She has a play kitchen and a workbench.

    My son will probably play with all of his big sister's stuff so he will have a little of everything too. He was wearing her pink Yankees hat today at the beach. People are so weird about that stuff. Seriously, who cares! Kids are kids.

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    1. My FAVORITE toys growing up were the very same things. Matchbox and Star Wars!!! I am proud to have grown up a "tomboy" because I can build my own shed, change my own tire, and honestly dont need to call a man for help with anything. If anything... I get more help from my mom or my friend (both happen to be women that are BY FAR stronger and more competent than most men I know)

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  4. My Dad and sons look awesome in pink polo shirts!

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  5. I'm the mother of 3 sons. They're now 28, 26, and 17. I've seen it all, and heard it all from the ignorant strangers, and family members alike. When one of my sons wanted to go to school one day with painted nails - I didn't flinch. When one wanted a doll - same responce. Purple hair dye? No big deal. When people surpress their childrens desires to express themselves - THAT is a recipe for trouble. My boys turned out absolutely fine, and I made sure they treated everyone the way I treated them; with respect, love, and acceptance. They're now the most amazing PEOPLE you would ever want to meet. You sound like an amazing mom. Keep up the good work!

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  6. You are a beautiful mother. I loved this post.

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  7. What breaks my heart is the double standard. No girl will ever have that horrible experience. Why must our boys have do deal with that?

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    1. Actually this happens with my daughter all the time. Complete strangers that are adults stop me and comment about my daughter wearing and buying "boys" stuff. I had a woman snub me and tell me that she would never let her daughter read, "things like that" when she saw my girl reading a Bob the Builder book, and another woman thought she needed to tell us how weird it is for her to pick out a longhorn at build-a-bear,"when there is so many pink things around". Gender ignorance runs both ways!

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    2. Sadly, that's not true. I often have to remind my 5yo dd that there's no such thing as "boy toys" and "girl toys."

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  8. A age 4 my son chose purple flip flops. He loved them. Unfortunately, he got comments on them from other people, but I was always quick to let it be known that there was nothing wrong with him liking and wearing them. I told my son that his cousin (my nephew) also loves purple. And besides, it wasn't long ago that pink was considered masculine and blue feminine.

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  9. This literally made me tear up.

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  10. My 2yr old loves pink and purple! My in laws are all country "boys be tough, must be "manly" mindset which is bit irritating but one of my son's favorite toys my mom got him because he LOVES flowers and its a purple, pink, and light green stuffed turtle covered in pink and purple flowers :) My dad about flipped out that it was a GIRL toy, of course my son was like "No, its mine. See the pretty flowers" Score for my boy! :) Colors are beautiful and all colors were created to be enjoyed!

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  11. honestly... i ended up discouraging my son from getting a girl's swimsuit when he said he wanted one like his sister. i told him he could have one, but everyone would definitely think he was a girl. ultimately, it was his choice, but not really, right? he decided on a rash guard swim shirt...he is growing his hair out and styling it with bands and clips, and i am constantly called on to re-assert that he is a boy when interacting with strangers.

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  12. I think this is amazing. My hubby wears pink and purple polo shirts and I just love it when he does. Our son wears one black flip flop and one red (it looks pink people tease him its pink not red) he said he doesn't care. Thank you for sharing this story with us.

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  13. I love this article! My son will be 7 in September and for the last 2 years or so he decided to let his hair grow, and sometimes let me put it in a ponytail on hot days. I am ashamed to say that some male members of my family werent supportive and even had nasty comments to say, even in front of him! I took those people aside and told them that was inappropriate and unacceptable and that I give my son the option to make decisions about how he looks. I feel like I am constantly waging this war against the world for letting my son, no my child, not only be a child but make decisions without mine or others prejudices. My little guy also loves mani's and pedi's and proudly shows off his sparkly nails to anyone that will look. Recently, we have had the "girl" things, "boy" things questions from him and I reply that specific colors dont mean they are boy colors or girl colors, and if he likes purple and pink well thats awesome cause I like blue and green! I love how you responded and reaffirmed your little ones love for beautiful things, and this story touched my heart. Thank you for your lack of judgements and your open minded approach to parenting. I applaud you!

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  14. My son is 5.5 years old and loves beautiful things. He wears his Easter dress to school and asks me to sew him skirts. His favorite color is purple, after we was done with his pink phase. I painted glitter on his shoes and he was so happy.

    We chose his school carefully so he would feel welcome to be who he is. He extended family was wary at first, but now they either fully support him or keep their opinions to themselves. I'm proud that our little family can help change our society to make purple glitter boys feel comfortable.

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  15. I think it's such a hard balance between empowering your child to embrace his passions and individuality without setting him up for bullying in the schools and beyond. Sometimes I wish that my 4 year old, ballet loving, princess dressing, fairy imagining son could exist solely with our friends and family who recognize his passions, and love him all the more for them. However, I know that sending him to pre school in his dress up clothes, or encouraging him to persue his love of dance (as I would for any daughter) has consequences. I enjoy reading other's approaches and decisions, as you said, none of us has the perfect answer. I talk to my son about gender stereotypes and some things that society expects, but also about how incredible he is with music and his vivid imagination. I hope he feels so loved and appreciated for his own uniqueness that he will be confident to be who he wants to be despite those who question "are those girls' shoes?"

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  16. My son was insistient on being a princess for Halloween this last year. He goes to a Catholic school because its the best education for now. Any how I spoke with his teachers about and explained that I was supportive of this and I was going to let him be a princess. They where actually really supportive.....my husband and I had planned ahead to both be at his school on dress up day too help if he needed it. We talked to him and explained that others might tease him for his courage to wear something pretty and that other boys sometimes didn't get the opportunity to play with pretty things. He thought it was sad for those boys and said he was fine if they teased him. We even worked it out that dad would dress as a princess with him for trick or treat. The week before Halloween his bff and him began playing peter pan and it all changed....he wanted too be Jake. So we didn't have to deal with anything but my mother who said if he was dressed like a princess she couldn't come hang out with him. I told her not to bother coming. Since the. We had to have a conversation that if a time ever comes that her beliefs make my children have any doubt in themselves she would be out of their lives. For now he didn't known that grandma had thought about coming. He still plays with dolls and helps dad cook dinner every night..as my husband is the cook. He got a kitchen set for Christmas ! My daughter loves working on the car with dad and building things. I just want my kids happy. Btw his preschool teacher bought a real men wear pink shirt and wore it to school and told him she did it for him.

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  17. We had a similar issue in our house not long ago. My 3 year old daughter announced to me that my 5 year old daughter was wearing "boy" shoes (brown sandals). I asked her if sandals were worn on penises or vaginas. After we talked about how sandals belong on feet she decided that shoes are for anyone with feet.

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  18. my son also loves to dance, and I have encouraged him to dance regardless. At school he was worried to be in the dance group because he was the only boy, the others might make fun of him etc. The school's male teacher told him to let him know if there was any problems with other kids, and encouraged him to follow his passion. He loves it and even got the starting role of the dance, since his was the only boy. I also show him lots of men who are successful dancers, to show him what is possible.
    It is a fine line as you say to look after them and not make them targets. Because my son is a target for kids in other ways, often I run the safer line & not try to make him more of a target, but hair and dancing don't bother me at all. My son has longer hair than his two sisters, his goal is to have ponytails.
    Incidentally, when I take my kids places, it doesn't matter what they are wearing, people often mistake them for the other gender.

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  19. I could've written this post. Thank you. Having boy/girl twins means I work extra hard to parent "equally" so if one wants puppy tails, I can't really deny the other, the same with princess dress-up, etc. At 3, they both get to play with whichever toys they feel like, but it's really hard to pick gender neutral things, and it was quite early they decided "that's blue so it must be mine, that's pink so it must be yours." I have told them many times that how they wear their hair, or what they wear, or what they play with or what they like to do or what their favorite color is, is not what makes them a boy or a girl. Since they bathe together, they have noticed the REAL difference between boys and girls. But it breaks my heart when my gentle son asks me, "Mom, boys can have pretty things, right?" He has noticed the colors in the toy aisles and the boy and girl section of the clothing store, etc. As a former proud tomboy who made my mom shop in the boys section for all my stuff, I think we need a name for the opposite of "tomboy" so it becomes more benignly acceptable to those who may not know and love your child ( immediate family, etc.) I just don't want to lose credibility with him for saying something is absolutely fine, then when he gets made fun of, he looks at me and says, "hey, you said this was fine!" Well, it IS fine, but you might get comments from other people. How do I gently warn him or let him know that I think it's fine, but you might get comments from people who don't understand.

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  20. I have an almost-4-year-old son who wears a pink princess dress everywhere, glitter nails, barettes, the more sparkle the better. He often pretends he's a girl or says he wishes he could be beautiful like Barbie. At first I thought this was an unusual thing, because I personally hadn't seen it, and then I started finding more and more discussions like this one and I've had many moms come up to me and tell me their sons did exactly the same thing. I'm now thinking this is the flip side of being a "tom boy" .... just as common but usually repressed. Gratitude to all the loving parents on this discussion board for letting their sons just be! (and protecting them when need be) I wish there were more mamas like you.

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  21. My son is nearly 6 and still likes to paint his nails and have dress up parties. When he was in school (he is now homeschooled) he has comments from the older kids on how nail polish is only for girls. He came and told me, asked me if that was true and I said the same thing as you. Anyone can wear it, wear what you want as long as you love it! He said he told the kids that that wasn't true. Him and his younger brother have make up parties too where they put on my makeup and dress in my shirts for dresses. One day my oldest asked if he could go to the grocery store with me, in a dress and with makeup, and I couldn't believe that I hesitated. I was so mad at myself for even questioning it. More because of other peoples comments! After discussing with my husband I took him with me to the store. A couple people stared but nothing big that he even noticed and I was so happy I did it. I never want to stick my kids in some box that society has created. I want them to stand out.....if that is what they want. Good for you Mama! :)

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  22. My sons are adults now but when they were babies and toddlers I put them in "girls" clothes myself because I like flowers more than I like trucks or tools as images. My middle son ended up loving all things girl- why wouldn't he? tutus and flowing skirts are fun to wear and dance in. He wore "girls" shoes and clothes to school because that's what he liked and wanted to wear. Kid's teased him and soon realized he was not phased and moved on to pick on someone weaker. His teachers always told me that he was well liked by ALL the kids in his class. He's grown up now and (sadly, in my opinion) wears what I think are really ugly typical guy clothes.

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  23. My son has just turned four and he loves many "girly" things because he has a big sister who he adores. He says his favourite colours are light blue and pink. He wants pretty jewellery like his sister, he loves sparkly things and dolls. He has 2 baby dolls of his own and he also likes to play with my daughter's astronaut barbie. Other kids (mostly girls) have on occasion made comments about his toys being girl's toys. Whenever I overheard this I asked them something along these lines: "When you play with your baby dolls, what do you play? Do you play that you're the mommy, and this is your baby? Well, boys and men can love babies, too, can't they? I bet your Daddy loves you. Daniel is playing with his baby doll and he's pretending to be the Daddy."
    My daughter also loves girly things. She loves climbing trees in her sparkly princess dress and she is a big Scooby Doo and Star Wars fan. She was almost 6 when she lamented about the lack of "cool" undies in the girl's section and asked me to buy her Scooby Doo ones. She's awesome at soccer and loves ponies. Let them be whoever they want to be.

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  24. My oldest son was homeschooled until he was eight. One day when he was seven he was in the kitchen making paper dolls. He liked to cut them out, colour them, and make clothes for them. He was happily doing this when a friend of his came over (after school). Friend asked: "What are you doing?" Son said: "Making paper dolls." Friend said: "But boys don't play with paper dolls!!!" Son said: "Of course they do, I'm a boy and I'm playing with them." Friend shrugged his shoulders and said: "Okay. Can I have some paper and crayons and I'll make some too." They played happily the rest of the afternoon.

    He's in his 30s now, married to his wife for 12 years and the father of five children. He works as an electrician but one of his hobbies is quilting - he makes beautiful quilts. I love that he does what HE wants and never worries that it's a boy thing or a girl thing.

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  25. My Daughter is 3 and is starting to make up opinions about gender and what she believes belongs where. As a person who doesn't buy into gender stereotypes but believes people should be who they are and dress how they want, I have definitely had conversations with her about how ballet is for everyone, and boys and girls can wear whatever colors they like. I will never shame my children for wanting to wear something that makes them happy or play with something they like.

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  26. The store I used to work at hosted an Easter Day cake walk for kiddos with arts and crafts. One super cute kid with blonde hair past the waist was coloring his bunny ear headband purple. I commented that they were SO pretty and would look beautiful! The kid looked up from coloring and said "Thank you! They will look beautiful! Purple is my favorite color. But just so you know, I'm a boy. Its ok, lots of people don't know that because of my hair. Mom says my hair is beautiful and handsome, too!" I was flabbergasted at how wonderfully polite and open-minded he was! Way to go Mom!

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  27. One day I picked my 5 year old up from Kindergarten and in front of me another little boy pointed to my sons favorite pair of shoes, pink and silver glitter cowboy boots, and said "why is he wearing girls shoes?". I responded by asking him what makes him think they were girls shoes? The boy obviously knew what types of things were marketed towards girls, but he was unable to verbalize any of those reasons. He just kept repeating "but they are for girls!" as I responded, "but, why?". We never mentioned pink or glitter. My son then said something about them being cowboy boots so we segued into how boys can be cowboys and they need boots too. So I hope that the boy came away with a glimmer that things are made for people and don't need to be boy/girl.

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  28. My son wears all the colors of the rainbow - he's 14 months old. I don't cringe about what colors he wears and will continue to allow him to wear any colors/patterns he likes throughout his whole childhood. Love this post so much! Great!

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  29. Such a beautiful post from a beautiful mom, her beautiful son and his beautiful shoes, it brought a tear to my eye... Such a wonderful mom xxx

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  30. Today, my daughter told me dresses are for everyone, even cybermen. https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=177037595808293&set=p.177037595808293&type=1&theater

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  31. Just wonderful. I'm always trying to be very careful with my daughter. I don't want stereotypes to limit her in the slightest. I know they did me as a young girl.

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  32. I love this article! My 3-year-old son loves pink too (he used to love purple). I have bought him clothes from the 'girls' section because it's hard to find pink and purple things made for boys. His favorite shoes are purple crocs, but I think he would love those beautiful shoes too!

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  33. My daughter loves Thomas the Tank Engine, which is geared towards boys. She has blue Thomas jammies and she loves them!! Colors are colors!! Thank you for this post :) And she has lots of "boy" dipes which we were given from a friend!

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  34. my 8 year old daughters favorite color is royal blue. she has a blue bike and wont do anything pink purple or girly

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  35. I was in Kmart the other day and looked at raincoats for my 1 year old daughter. They had 4 colours - black, blue, yellow and pink (with white hearts on the sleeves). Blue and yellow were labelled "boy's raincoat" , pink was labelled "girl's raincoat" and black was labelled "children's raincoat" ... There was no other difference in the shape or fit between the 'boys' and 'girls' raincoats, just the colour. Since when did colours belong to boys or girls!?! This really grinds my gears! I chose a yellow raincoat for my daughter and was so cross, that I scribbled out "boy's" on the label so it just said "raincoat" because that's just it - A RAINCOAT!!

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