I recently did a poll asking people what they would like to see on the blog. One topic really stood out: gender roles. It's something I deal with personally with both my girls and son. I don't really think about the clothes they put on day-to-day (which is funny because we work in fashion) or their interests and that within itself became an act of defiance to some.
My 2 & 1/2 year old son loves to wear dresses, pink boots, and requests we paint his nails almost daily, but loses his mind when he sees a monster truck. People always ask me if he is a boy or girl and my daughters like to chime in with, "We don't know yet!" and it's true, we are just calling him a he until/if he tells us otherwise. My youngest daughter is femininity personified and thinks she can take on every and anyone. Fierce and goofy. My oldest doesn't like to define herself either. She loves video games, martial arts, soccer, and the fastest, scariest rollercoasters. She also leaves lip gloss in the car so she can put it on before school and frequently experiments with her looks.
Tiny Bangs as a brand is not specifically for girls. A lot of people assume it is and that doesn't always bother me because I understand why they think that. Clothing is never just for a specific gender though.
One other mom in particular comes to mind when I think about this issue and her name is Jessica Melancon. She's been my friend for awhile now and not only is she a bad ass, she is also the mom of Nemis AKA Queen Lactatia. If you don't know who Lactatia is, please Google. At only 9 years old, this drag kid has revolutionized the game. Here's what happened when I sat down with Jessica to talk about gender and parenting.
Kirsten: Tell me about your kids.
Jessica: I like to think we've raised both of our kids to be naturally defiant. My 15 year old daughter adamantly refuses to wear make up. It's her way of flipping the finger to society and the ridiculous beauty standards imposed on us, as women. Then we have our son, who is a gender fluid super star who just is, all the time. I feel like we've just let them do their own things for so long that it's created this deep and unwavering confidence in both of them. They also have two very unconventional parents, so that helps.
Kirsten: What's been your approach to raising a kid who defies gender norms?
Jessica: When both my kids were babies, my husband and I dressed them kind of funky in ways we thought were bad ass and cool, kinda like our mini me's. I think we've always tried to keep things pretty gender neutral just for fact that we didn't subscribe to the whole "pink is for girls, blue is for boys" mentality, so when they got older and started dressing themselves, telling our son he wasn't allowed to wear glittery fancy shoes, or his sister's hand-me-down pink and purple tutus, never crossed our minds. He liked what he liked and we let him wear whatever he wanted to. Gender stereotypes are pretty silly to begin with and we wanted to continue that mentality in our children. Let them know that they had total creative control over their own fashion choices.
Kirsten: What problems have you encountered so far and how have you dealt with them?
Jessica: The biggest problem so far, has been with their school. Our son has been pretty gender fluid his whole life. He's always combined girls and boys clothes on the regular so his school has a hard time trying to fit him into a box. So on days that he goes to school wearing a dress, I always get some sort of email advising me that my son has come to school dressed as a girl. I try to approach addressing it from an educational and informative angle, but the conversation is becoming a tired one. I never get emails about my daughter going to school wearing jeans and a t-shirt, dressing like a "boy". The double standards and stereotypes are dated and tired.
Kirsten: What do you say to people who want to label your child? What are some incorrect assumptions you've experienced?
Jessica: As far as labelling goes, that's a tough one. Gender and correct pronoun use are at the fore front of the gender revolution happening right now. When people ask, or want to label, I think it comes from a place of courtesy and respect, not wanting to misgender or make assumptions. When people ask, or when he gets asked how he identifies, he often just says that he identifies as awesome. One of the biggest misconceptions is that he is transgendered, or that he wants to be a girl. The truth is, he's genderfluid and likes to combine both genders together in this vibrant and magical display as both.
Kirsten: How do you feel about femininity and traditional feminine characteristics being sexualized and frowned upon?
Jessica: It is going to take a lot of unlearning to completely reverse the affects of rape culture. As a woman, it affects everything about my life, my daughter's life, every woman's life. It really doesn't matter what we wear, it all gets sexualized. Instead of teaching our boys about consent and sexualization and respecting women and their bodies, we teach our girls how not to get raped and sexualized by instilling in them this idea that they need to cover themselves up, hide their shoulders and thighs, stomachs and breast so they wont trigger the boys into behaving in inappropriate ways. Rape culture continues to cater to toxic masculinity, male privilege and misogoyny, but placing the onus on women.
Kirsten: What are your thoughts on the trend of empowering and celebrating girls who pursue masculine interests while shaming kids who want to express themselves in "girly" ways at the same time?
Jessica: Obviously, it makes my heart swell women I see girls stepping in and dominating what is normally very male dominated. Flexing their muscles in a grrrl power sort of way, but again, it hits a nerve and is a bit of a double standard when it comes to boys having interests that are considered girly and feminine. Like, they're not going to grow up to be "men" if they play with dolls and make up and nail polish. It implies that anything typically girlish or feminine is going to make them weak. It's a statement that women are weak and that, on every fundamental level, makes me angry. I think that people and parents should be less concerned about their boys growing up to be weak sissies for liking the color pink and more concerned about whether or not they're going to grow up to be misogynists and rapists.
Kirsten: What's your advice for parents wanting to raise kids who are free to choose their own identity, especially if the one they choose is against the grain?
Jessica: Obviously, there's no manual or trusty handbook when it comes to raising kids. We all strap in and try to do our best and raise our kids the best way we know how. For parents who have children who are a little more creative when it comes to gender expression, it can be a tough one. We're so conditioned to care about what other people think. Like, what are the neighbors going to think? How is our family going to react? What are people going to say about us? It's a hard one to unlearn but it's necessary when you have a kid(s) who don't fit into the box. The key to raising confident, openly expressive kids is not caring what other people are going to think or say. It lets your kids know that no matter what, you accept and support who they are, that there is absolutely nothing to fear or be ashamed of. It teaches self love, in my opinion. When parents actively go out of their way to repress or dissuade their gender creative children, I think it's a reflection of their own insecurities and is a fear response.
I hope you enjoyed our exploration of the topic of gender roles! Leave a comment if you want to talk more about it or you have suggestions for future topics.