My 2.5 year old got invited to his very first birthday party by a friend from preschool. I confess I gushed a bit: my little (and last) baby! going to his party on his own! For whatever reason, this milestone touched me more than some, and we were both looking forward to it with some anticipation.
I’m glad I touched base with the mom hosting, because she advised that it was to be a princess party. Because it meant we had the *perfect* outfit: a hand-me-down fairy dress from a friend who had outgrown it. My son often wears this dress at home, and now he’d get a chance to wear it out too.
Apparently it’s a Tinkerbell dress, as I was advised by several women when they saw Rami. I didn’t know; maybe I should have adorned him with a little bell too?
It was interesting seeing the response we got at the party. For the most part, everyone was welcoming enough – a two year old can pretty much wear an ostrich on his head and get away with it. Even so, I did perceive some discomfort, the looks and acknowledgment of the Tinkerbell in their midst but without the smile I’d ordinarily expect. I wondered whether they shared the view of the three year old birthday girl who stopped in her tracks and said (more than once), “Why is a boy wearing a dress? That’s silly.”
There was also the grandfather who told me what a lovely daughter I had. When I told him I had a son, he could not reply, and I think he was genuinely confused. At the end of the party, when I changed my son out of the dress and into his street clothes – it was too cold to go out in the tutu or else we would have worn it home – we met the grandfather again. He was visibly relieved: “Ah, there’s the boy in his clothes.”
I am not unaware that firm (and problematic) gender lines still exist for children – any toy store with its separate boy and girl sections speak for themselves – but I was surprised to find them alive and well at such a young age, with something so unthreatening as a boy enjoying dress-up.
It means that the conversations about stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination that I had with a group of parents at a social justice school fair this week are still so necessary. I’d like to think they’re rudimentary, but they aren’t. We’ve got a way to go before people can be who they are, express it freely, and be accepted, even if they are two years old.
Here is a list of storybooks (some recommended from the social justice fair) around gender roles, as useful starting points for discussion with our children. I haven’t read these yet, but they’re on hold for me at the library. If you have any to add, please share them.
William’s Doll by Charlotte Zolotow
Piggybook by Anthony Browne
My Princess Boy by Cheryl Kilodavis
10,000 Dresses by Marcus Ewert
Be Who You Are by Jennifer Carr
Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman
A Girl Named Dan by Dandi D. Mackall
Ruby’s Wish by Shirin Yim
Pinky and Rex and the Bully by James Howe
White Dynamite and Curly Kidd by Bill Martin