One hot summer day, my friend and I are sitting outside watching the kids play in the pool. Dakota, who has just turned five, comes up to me and asks to swim naked because the swimsuit is annoying and it’s really hot out. Our yard is very private so I say sure! Dakota quickly takes the swimsuit off and hops back in the pool. Do you picture Dakota as a boy or a girl? Does the child’s sex determine how you feel about the situation?
Full disclosure, this story is half true. The child asking to remove the swimsuit was my four-year-old son. Shortly, after he asked to remove his swimsuit, my friend’s five-year-old daughter wanted to remove hers as well. I had no problems letting my son be naked in the pool, but when my friend’s daughter asked, I paused. I was a bit shocked at myself. I am a loud and proud feminist (I don’t hate men, but I do believe in equality for women), and here I am deciding on children’s clothing choices based entirely on their sex.
At this point I am suddenly met with my own sense of discrimination in this situation. Why is her being naked an issue? Neither child cares that the other is naked. So why is it ok, in my mind, for my son to be the comfy naked frat boy, but her daughter should be an uncomfortable clothed girl?
It amazes me how much society sneaks in and influences one’s thinking. Clothing is one of society’s favorite ways to trap us into “genderizing” our children. As a mother, I have fallen into this trap. When I buy clothes for me, I want to look cute. When I buy clothes for my boys, I wonder if they will be comfortable. My boys wouldn’t wear anything cute no matter how much I bribed them (I seriously tried one year for Christmas pictures, it was an epic failure).
On a recent school clothes shopping trip with my niece, I found myself falling into the trap again, focusing on cute clothing rather than anything she might find comfortable. I had to force myself to ask her if she was comfortable in the clothes I had picked out for her, and if she could sit in those clothes all day. I have been an advocate for making girls clothing looser and more comfortable. I cannot imagine sitting in a chair for 6-8 hours a day in jeggings. Don’t get me wrong, I love my jeggings, but I couldn’t imagine trying to sit all day in them. Yet, here I was pulling out ‘cute’ clothes for my niece without any consideration of comfort.
How can we stop thinking about gender first when making clothing decisions? For me, the best way to change my thinking is to answer the question “Do I change my answer when the child’s gender is put into consideration?” If my answer does change, maybe I need to explore “WHY?”.
Children’s clothing is only one piece of the larger issue of categorizing our children into gender roles. It’s time to expand our thinking, question the expectations we are placing on our children, and determine if the societal gender norms that we were raised on are outdated.
~ Carrie Lyons
Carrie is a military spouse, mother of two, and the cofounder of #sizeHUMAN which provides products, information, and programs that help individuals lead an authentic and empowered life.