I first noticed the problem the week my son was born and
clothes began coming in from well-meaning friends and family members. There
were onesies with basketballs, footballs, soccer balls and tennis balls.
Sometimes, the onesies had all five balls. In lieu of balls, there were monkeys
or tigers. But mostly there were monkeys and phrases like, "Mommy's Handsome
"Paging Dr. Freud" was the best joke I could come
up with in those early postpartum days. Now, my son is 3 and we still have
the same problem. All clothes either come with penile references, like balls or
monkeys, or an array of superheroes. Sometimes we get lucky and just have
Mickey Mouse, but even the mouse is usually carrying a ball or a bat.
I'm not opposed to a game of baseball or even Captain
America. But after having a daughter, the disparity in fashion between boys and
girls is even more evident.
are baby boys' clothes so ugly?" and you come up with a wealth of mothers
lamenting dinos and trucks and balls, and offering tips on how to avoid
dressing your baby like an old man in sweaters and sneakers or like some sort
of Freudian kid's cartoon (in sports paraphernalia and declarations of his love
for mommy dearest).
Boys can only ever be one thing: a boy ... who wears dinosaurs and balls and trucks.
If baby girls are little dollies to be trussed up in tutus
and sparkles, then little boys are almost an afterthought in the world of
fashion. After all, no one seems to get
up in arms and demand that
Target or Old Navy recall little boys' shirts. Why would would we care about the
phallic imagery of a bat and ball on onesies? We hand-wring over whether girls' clothes are
too fluffy, too glittery or not glittery enough. And under that intense
scrutiny, littl- girl fashion has fractured into many pieces.
When my daughter was 6 months old, we received a sleeper that had five
different patterns and three kinds of ruffles, as if Liberace had a baby with
Lady Gaga and that baby designed some pretty shitty sleepers. The sleeper was
the perfect embodiment of everything fashion believes signifies baby girl—and yes, it
even had glitter and the word "Diva" embroidered on the chest.
But boys? Well. Here's a shirt declaring your son a "little
sport," now shut up and put it on him.
In our hyper-vigilance and over-policing of the clothing of
women, even in their baby forms, we teach women to objectify themselves from an
early age. Clothes for girls are
fashion. For little boys, they are not more than function.
"Oh who cares about his clothes? Just let him
play," a well-meaning relative told me when I lamented that I could find
no cute shoes for my son for school.
It's a lack of options that is both stifling and freeing. In
his lack of clothing choices, my son gets to be more than the ballsy T-shirt
that he is wearing. But he also has a limited range of trying on different
versions of who he can be. Girls can be tomboys or girly-girls, or something new
each day. But boys can only ever be one thing: a boy, and not just a boy, but a
Western idea of a boy, who wears dinosaurs and balls and trucks. This limits
their potential to see themselves in new ways and also sends a clear message
that devalues the things that are more feminine.
A byproduct of limiting the fashion of little boys is that
we only ever teach boys to value the masculine. In the clothing section of a
major retailer, any little girl can be Wonder Woman or Superman. Girls who
dress in boyish clothes are strong little women. But boys can only ever be "a
boy." And the result of these confines is that we never push them to identify
outside of themselves. No, we insist, that even as a young age, women come to
them. Articles where parents defend their decision to let their sons dress as
asdefensive; they are parents
grappling with the worry and fear that come from allowing their boy to drape
himself in female vulnerability. When it comes to clothing, little girls keep
striving, while boys stay comfortable.
I don't want to put my son in clothes he doesn't want to
wear, but I do wish I could offer him more choices, more options and
eventually, one day, a whole new vision of who he could be—a vision that
stretches beyond gender and into the heart of whoever it is that he will