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Stop Telling My Son Not to Wear Pink

My son loves his sister. In fact, he adores her. He likes to follow her around, picking up her cast off toys and mimicking her play. Often, this means donning princess dresses and wearing headbands. And because he is stubborn, once he puts on a necklace or clamps a hair bow onto his shirt, he keeps it there all day.

I love his little imitations and so does his sister, who at 2.5 years older than him, loves to help him look just like her. Every morning, as she brushes her hair in her room, he comes in and stands next to her. “Brush!” He demands. And she does, smashing the brush on his head and saying, “Oh bubba, you wook so wonderful and fancy.”

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He smiles and laughs. Sometimes, I’ve even heard him say, “day do!” His version of “Thank you.” As a mom, I freaking love this. I have seven siblings. That is seven people, each spinning out from my parents like a spoke of a wheel. And while we are all connected, we all go our different directions. I have siblings, who if we weren’t blood related, I would never be friends with, our lives are just that different. But I love them, deeply and fiercely, with all the gut-love you can only have for someone who spent their formative years stealing your clothes.

So, when my son chooses to go to school in a headband or insists on wearing his sisters Elsa socks, I say nothing. Hell, I even encourage it. He loves her, so he loves her stuff. How could I cast a wary eye on these sibling shenanigans? And even if the root cause of this isn’t sibling love, even if he honest-to-god loves him some pink, so what?

If he wants to wear them, they are boy appropriate.

A few nights ago, at a friend’s house, as my son tramped around in bright pink socks, someone said, “Can’t you buy him boy socks?”

“He chose them,” I said. “I let my kids chose.” That settled the matter. But the next day, a family member encouraged me to buy my son more “boy appropriate” dress ups, when they saw a picture of him in a princess dress.

“If he wants to wear them, they are boy appropriate,” I said.

“Oh right, you are one of those feminists,” she said.

And yes, I am. Of course, I am. Look, when my daughter picks up a bow and arrow, tells everyone she loves Legos, or proclaims herself a princess policeman, no one bats an eye. In fact, she gets high-fives and encouragements. But when my son, at only 19-months, asks for “stick stick” (lipstick), I’m lectured on the proper procedure for raising a boy.

This double standard lies at the heart of our society's dysfunction about men and women. Men and things male are valued because they are male. This is why when my daughter carries a sword and fights like a super hero, she is encouraged. But girl things still carry the stink of pink.

My daughter can wear pink and so can my son. My son can play swords and so can my daughter. My kids and choose to be who they want to be.

When my daughter was born, I was determined to keep princesses out of our home and I did. I even dressed her as gender neutral as I could. But when she turned 2, she pranced down the stairs in scarves stolen from my closet and declared herself a princess. Two years later, and the princess streak isn't cooling off anytime soon.

It took me a while to chill the hell out about princesses. Because yes, there are stereotypes and problematic representations of female. But in the end, it’s about choice. If my daughter is choosing pink and sparkles and royalty, who am I to look at her and tell her those choices are wrong? Isn’t that just as wrong as telling her she’s wrong to build with Legos or pretend she’s a superhero?

In the end, I want my kids to be the people they want to be, no matter what that looks like. But as a parent, I also understand that these people will change and evolve. My daughter can wear pink and so can my son. My son can play swords and so can my daughter. My kids and choose to be who they want to be. The only thing that makes a toy or article of clothing appropriate for a boy or a girl is whether a boy or a girl wants to play with it. Nothing else.

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I know I can’t protect my kids forever from the pressures to conform to societal expectations. Soon enough my son will eschew the things of his sister for his own things. But I also know that my kids will take a cue from me. And when someone criticizes their choices, I hope that they always feel bold enough to be who they want to be: fabulous.

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