These are for boys and those are for girls

A few months ago I was standing in line at the craft store,  there was a short wait and the woman behind me was with her son, who was, predictably, grabbing all the stuff at toddler level and asking for it. “How old is your child?” I asked. “He’s almost 4,” the woman replied. Me, with a chuckle, “I have an almost 3 year old.” How nice, two women sharing the bond of parenthood.

Until the boy picked up a bright pink foam tiara and asked his mom to buy it for him while putting it on his head. “PUT THAT DOWN,” she hissed at him, reaching to take it out of his hand, “that’s for girls and you’re a boy.” He whined that he wanted it and she repeated, “PUT IT DOWN, you’re NOT a girl and that’s for girls.”

And my heart broke a little.

Kidlet’s favorite shoes are his “sparkly sneakers.” They have pink and blue glitter on them, and light up when he walks. He picked them out a few months ago and wears them all the time. Yesterday, outfitted in a t-shirt, shorts, a pair of baby legs with helicopters on them, purple socks, and his sparkly sneakers, we headed out to the park after I picked him up from school.

And it happened. One of the moments I’ve been dreading. Another child, a little boy, ran up to us and asked, “How old is she?” I said, “He just turned 3, how old are you?” And the boy said, “He? But he has girl shoes on!” And I died a little. Here it was – kidlet’s first direct challenge to his choice of footwear. I tried to find a smile and gentle tone as I replied, “They’re pink and blue sparkly shoes, they’re for anyone,” but my mind raced. Had kidlet heard this? Would he remember it some morning while getting dressed for school? Would I hear him refuse to put them on while explaining that they were “for girls”?


We live in a binary world. I understand that. I understand that when I go shopping for my own clothes I shop in the “women’s” department. And I understand that 9 out of 10 times I buy kidlet’s clothes in the “boy’s” department. I participate in gendering him. But, as I said to Alison Piepmeier here, “If my penis-having child wants to wear a tiara WHY IN THE EVER LOVING HELL WOULD I STOP HIM?” If he presents me with something that HE WANTS, that doesn’t fit our culture’s gender binary, why would I refuse him?

I guess that’s a terrifically complicated answer. I mean, I wouldn’t refuse him. But I know parents that would, and I don’t fault them for it. We are taught to conform. And we’re punished, literally maybe, and socially often, when we don’t. We tease, or are teased, we laugh, or are laughed at, we use words and body language to directly or indirectly remind people that non-conformity is suspect and will not be tolerated, outside the safest of spaces.

So I want my kid to have a safe space. And I will do everything I can to provide him with a safe space, both in our home, and in the communities I choose to introduce him to. It’s a terrifically privileged position to have – that I have the ability to choose his communities – I recognize that. Not everyone has that option. Maybe the mom standing behind me at the craft store doesn’t have that privilege. Maybe she has a family or a community that would punish her for allowing her child to express himself how he wanted to. I don’t know.

I was blessed with 2 parents whose bedrock principle of life was non-conformity. They encouraged me, from birth basically, to question everything, to challenge the status quo, to demand an explanation when I was told that something was supposed to be a certain way. I was expected to form my own positions and opinions based on the answers to questions I asked. And I was supported. Which was the most important gift of all.

Yesterday the little boy who challenged kidlet’s shoes turned out to be a pretty nice kid. He and kidlet spent the next 20 minutes or so playing football, which mostly amounted to the older child letting kidlet chase him around and tackle him. It was really cute to see them playing. And while they were playing, another mom said to me, “It’s really great to see his creative expression” as she gestured to his clothes, “you don’t see a lot of parents who will let their kids do that.”

All the patterns


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20 responses to “These are for boys and those are for girls

  1. This is fantastic! I find myself continually addressing my own latent (and socialised) perception of gender and gender roles. I too want my son to express himself exactly as he wants, including tiaras and sparkly shoes. If we TRULY believe in gender equality and see gender as a spectrum, we must allow our sons to express themselves within that spectrum.

  2. This is so well written. Thank you for sharing. I think a lot about the day that someone challenges Kale choices because they’re perceived to wrong based on his sex. We’ve had other adults question our decision to let Kale pick his own clothes or toys – even if they come from the “girls” section of the store. I’m glad that I’ve been able to stick up for him in those situations, but know that I won’t always be so lucky. I hope, like your parents did for you, that the way I raise him and encourage him to question the status quo, that he’ll feel confident in sticking up for himself – and hopefully others.

    I also have to say it’s refreshing to see a post like this that doesn’t place judgement on others that have a different perspective and acknowledges your own privilege.

    • We get some pressure from some adults in our sphere, which I don’t worry about too much because as long as it’s directed at me, I can handle it. I worry about the time when O starts to pick up on the pressure and starts to wonder what’s wrong with what he likes. And of course, other kids. Hopefully he’ll learn to love his self-expression and be happy to shrug off any one else’s judgment.

      I try to remain confident that we’re (and you and several other people that I know) are raising strong kids, who will take comfort in knowing that they are supported and able to make their own choices. ONWARD PARADIGM SHIFTERS! 🙂

  3. bebehblog

    I sort of feeling like HAVING a girl and a boy has made it easier/more acceptable to outsiders when my kids don’t follow the blue/pink rules. If Evan has on nail polish, people assume it’s because I was doing Caroline’s nails and he asked. If Caroline wears a hockey shirt, they assume it was a hand-me-down. In the Target checkout no one gives the boy/girl toys a sideeye because I have both kinds of children so even if the trucks are for Caroline and the magic wand it for Evan no one knows.

    • I do think you have a bit of an advantage when it comes to warding off the side-eye. I have a “don’t even ask me” face that I’ve perfected. Your way probably lends itself to more friends. I should have another kid!

      It makes me heart sing that Evan paints his nails. 🙂

  4. MistressofBoogie

    And let’s be honest; it takes a world more courage to allow out-of-the-box gender expression in our sons than in our daughters. It’s something I’m really struggling with right now, having one of each. I honestly think I’ll find it easier as they get older – even though I know it’ll get harder for them. When L’il Boo goes out dressed in ‘girl’ clothes, I feel like I’m leading out a lamb to the slaughter – and it goes against every maternal instinct in my body – because he doesn’t ‘get’ yet that what he’s doing is ‘wrong’, doesn’t understand the reaction he might get. I ask myself what kind of mother would set their kid up for the kind of reaction he might get?? At least as he gets older he’ll understand what’s ‘wrong’ on some level and bending gender expression will be a more conscious decision on his part . . . and if he still wants to do it, then by crap, I’m gonna sing while he does it!

  5. This is great! Thank you for sharing. It also expresses in a round-a-bout way why I am terrified to have children. You have so much power over who that little person becomes. You know who you want them to be. Someone who is courageous. Someone who isn’t tied down by the gendering of small children. But there’s only so much a parent can do. Society, other children, other parents, and teachers can also have a huge impression on your child, for good or bad. And that, to me, is terrifying.

  6. I think he’s a dang snappy dresser! I dig those legwarmers…and the shoes too.

  7. Ana

    I’ve always thought it was pretty silly to have seperate clothes for boys and girls. Even as a young kid (around 7), I remember arguing with my mom about clothes I couldn’t get because they were “girl clothes”. While I understand now why parents limit the clothes their children can wear, it’s nice to see more are not basing it on gender.

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  9. I’m having so many feelings – sad and happy and angry – after reading this post. Basically it all comes down to feeling totally heartbroken by the gender binary, the way it takes something innocuous like a color or a texture or a piece of fabric, and turns it into something that has the potential to lead to violence and shame.

    That said, your kid and his sparkle shoes and his great sense of style (!) make me very happy. Those shoes are the best.

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  14. Erin

    Ugg,thanks for writing about this. I recently wrote about this very thing. I was in a toy store and witnessed an interaction between what appeared to be a grandmother and 2 young girls (dressed head to toe in pink). One of the young girls looked to be about 6. She picked up a car to show her grandmother. Grandmother said loudly in a chastizing voice, “put that down, girls don’t play with cars”. I died inside for a second, crushed that attitude exists and sad that she recieved that message. After walking around with anger in my throat for a bit, I found the 3- some getting ready to leave. I walked up to the young girl and told her that girls can play with cars too. She looked at me for a second and then got a huge smile on her face as she ran excitedly to grandma saying ,” she said that girls can play with cars too!”. I may have been out of line. I don’t care. I hope she never forgets that.

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