Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Dress Up or Dress Down?

Dress Up or Dress Down?
At what point do we say, oh for goodness sake enough already? At what point do we stand up and tell the naysayers, the condemners, the haters that their position is not only wrong, but harmful? At what point do we stop pigeon-holing toward one gender or another?

You may have been with me for the first two lines. Perhaps not so much for the third.

We live in a world where societies expect girls to be one way, boys another. Well-intentioned parents who want what they think is best for their children train them toward a specific gender to prepare them for the world as they see it. After all, who wants their child to go through pain and agony as a result of going against what is considered "normal".

But what exactly is normal?

Most of us hold some responsibility for the way society thinks. We've bought into what has been deemed the norm. We get stuck in gender stereotypes and buy trucks for boys and dolls for girls without even checking to make sure that's the preference of the child. We're getting better overall, but we've still got such a long way to go.

Last week, a 5-year-old from the U.K. was booted out of his church-run after-school program because he committed the reprehensible sin of wearing a princess outfit. It reminded me of a situation I had to deal with many years ago when I operated a child daycare.

One little boy in my care used to love dressing up in silky skirts and tops from the dress-up box in the play room. He'd pranced around screeching with unbridled delight, "I'm a fairy princess, I'm a fairy princess." His mother and I were unconcerned and simply encouraged his self expression. His father, on the other hand, was mortified when he learned of his sons play preference.

He demanded I cease and desist because in his words, "it will turn my boy funny", his word for gay. A thieving pirate, a sword-yielding musketeer or a gun-toting cowboy were all perfectly acceptable and manly.

The fact that this little boy loved silky clothes and princess stories and fantasy would not turn him gay. This child was either gay or he wasn't. To limit his expression as a result of some archaic belief was to limit a passion that this child could use in his future. Not to mention there is nothing wrong with being gay.

But his father was so wrapped up in his own fear and expectations that he couldn't and wouldn't see how harmful he was being. He refused to believe that he was telling his son that there was something wrong with him. What he wanted was his son to be a "normal" boy.

But normal is overrated. Normal is what a group of people have deemed a standard. When enough people exhibit a certain standard, that standard is adopted by the whole. But as Morticia of Addams Family fame once said, "What's normal for the spider is chaos for the fly."

It's all about perspective.

Gender expectations tell children who are different that they are not enough.That unless they change, they will never be enough. The adolescent male with the high-pitched voice, or the reverse, the female youth with the deep voice, are both regarded as blatantly different in a negative way. We make judgments about their sexuality as a result of their appearance, the way they sound and their very presence.

We are all unique in some way. When we as a society decide that each of us must conform to what is considered "normal" looks, behaviour and preferences, we rob the world of much-needed musicians, artists, choreographers, comedians, creative and expressive geniuses of every kind.

I say damn the gender stereotypes. Pink or blue, frilly or silky, whatever is in between. Let kids dress up the way they want to.

It's time to dress down the naysayers, the conformists and the haters. It's time to accept children as they are and to encourage expressive and creative behaviours that show us who they are. Beautiful little beings that the world is lucky to have.
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1 comment:

  1. I couldn't agree more about the fact that normal is overrated.


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