I was getting ready to check out at the second-hand children’s clothing shop when I realized I had a problem. When we had first arrived at the store Bobby had brought me a pair of white heeled girls’ dress shoes just his size and had asked me to put them on him (he doesn’t really have words yet, but that doesn’t mean he can’t communicate!). So I had, and he’d been running around in them with smiling from ear to ear ever since. And now that it was time to go, well, now he wouldn’t let me take those white heeled dress shoes off of him. Oh, there were tears and there was hysteria! Bobby wanted those white heels, and he was letting me know the only way he knew how. And as it so happens, he is really very good at communicating.
So I bought Bobby those white heels.
Bobby’s older sister Sally loves dancing. Sometimes we turn on music videos and let her have at it, throwing herself into the music. Sometimes she dances on hard wood floor, clicking and clacking in her heeled dress shoes. Not surprisingly, Bobby is usually jamming right alongside her. Bobby loves music just as much as Sally, and he dances right alongside her, creating his own little innovative dances. I think Bobby was probably remembering how Sally danced in her heels, clicking and clacking, and so clinging to the heels his own size that he had found all the tighter.
Bobby also just loves shoes in general. My shoes, Sean’s shoes, Sally’s shoes, and every pair of shoes his own size he can find—he loves shoes. Sometimes he brings me his shoes and asks me to put them on him, and then brings me another pair of his shoes and asks me to switch them, and so on over and over again until I want to throw up my hands. But I had never seen Bobby quite as entranced with any pair of shoes as he was with that pair of white heeled dress shoes.
Bobby adores those white dress shoes.
It’s weird, this thing we do to children. We gender them so quickly today. Why is a little girl expected to wear white heeled dress shoes while a little boy her same age wearing the same shoes is looked at as odd or out of place? Take a look around the baby and toddler clothing at any major store and you’ll find that almost nothing crosses over between the two genders. It’s so extreme it’s almost surreal. And of course, it didn’t used to be this way. No, this is relatively new.
Sometimes I think I know why we do this, why we so quickly gender children’s clothing, and it’s at those moments that I am profoundly saddened. Because I know what happens when I take Sally out in her blue jeans and a dark-colored T-shirt, and I know what happens when I take Bobby out in Sally’s old pink jammies. People treat them differently. I’ve had people assume that Sally is a boy before, and do you know what they do? They call her “buddy” and bring her a batman coloring book instead of a princess one. Sometimes I wonder whether we gender children’s clothing as quickly as we do so that we can properly gender how we as a society treat those children. And then we say it’s natural.
I’m not embarking on some sort of plan to subvert the gendering of children’s clothing as a whole. Sometimes I think I should. Sometimes I contemplate gender swapping their clothing entirely. There are several things that stop me, though. For one thing, my children do not exist for me to use their lives to make some sort of point. For another thing, Sally is already making her own clothing choices, some of them quite feminine, and I wouldn’t constrain that freedom. And then, of course, is the fact that my children will have to navigate the world that exists, not the one I might wish exists, and that means they must learn to navigate the gendered roles imputed upon them even in the here and now.
But I’m also not making an effort to force my children into gendered clothing choices. I’m not going to tell them that these clothes are boy clothes and those clothes are girls clothes and that they have to stick with the clothes that correspond with the gender assigned them at birth. And I’m certainly not going to constrain their choices—society will do more than enough of that on it’s own. And, well, that means that if Bobby wants to wear white heeled dress shoes—if those are what makes his day—I’m letting him. Period.
And you know what? Bobby rocks his heels.