My Son Wants to Be Snow White for Halloween
One day early last fall, I returned from work and discovered my son in a dress. And not just any dress. A Snow White dress. I can’t say it was a complete shock. Luke had been telling my wife and me for more than a week that he wanted to be Snow White for Halloween. Whenever Melanie or I gently suggested an alternate costume, he would calmly respond, “No, I think I have to be Snow White. I dropped my bag and made what I hoped was a suitable fuss over the costume. My face still taut with manufactured glee.
I read about this man’s conundrum in salon.com several weeks ago. It reminded me of an episode from Roseanne when DJ wanted to be a witch for Halloween. His dad tried every which way to dissuade him and explain that girls are witches and boys are warlocks. But DJ wanted to be a witch.
Both of these dads felt threatened and worried that their sons might end up with bruises or black eyes for their choice of costume.
But the dads’ discomfort went beyond fear of bodily harm. Both were emotionally twisted into knots. Snow White’s dad wondered if his discomfort was due to seeing “the dress as a threat to my legacy, an insult to generations of men who fought wars and presided over propane grills?”
But as a progressive dad, he wondered why he was so troubled.
Girls can be tomboys but boys can’t be sissies
Why? It’s called “gender ranking.”
We value males and male things over females and female things. Boys are seen as devaluing themselves when they take on feminine accessories or behaviour. That’s why many women think back happily on a time when they were tomboys, but most men weren’t – or won’t admit they were – sissies.
If we valued males and females the same, a Snow White costume wouldn’t be a problem.
Actually, valuing males over females wouldn’t be a huge problem if it were just about guys in dresses. But devaluing the feminine leads to all sorts of problems that I will go into greater depth later: Women don’t expect as much for themselves, including pay. In societies and subcultures where masculine is valued over feminine we find high rates of rape, wife battering, gay bashing, and in the worst instances we find daughters-for-sale and female infanticide. STDs are more widely spread. Women’s sexuality becomes repressed. Even the feminine value of compassion is diminished in the face of masculine go-it-alone “personal responsibility.” The list goes on.
Dressing up like Snow White may seem petty, but ranking males over females is not trivial, at all.
This is a re-run. Quotes are edited for length. See original text at salon.com.
Posted on October 31, 2016, in gender, LGBTQ+, men, psychology and tagged costume, gender, Halloween, LGBTQ+, men, Snow White, transgender. Bookmark the permalink. 102 Comments.
Children should always be encouraged to lead their own path, and as societal values and norms become increasingly more complex, it is essential to allow children to attempt things and experience their own trial and errors. It was more than okay for this child to wear a snow white dress, as this is his life he is experiencing for himself. It goes without saying that you truly do not know if you never try. Additionally, if we valued males and females the same, it could also be said that boys and men have many things that they can learn from snow white that can valuably add to their development and maturity as a person. She is independent, she is strong, and she is clean/organized. There is nothing wrong with a boy learning to value those assets as well. It should be encouraged that every individual on this planet learns from each other, to be the best they can be.
This has always been interesting to me. I’m not sure if I agree with the idea that society views masculine women as more acceptable. I have presented myself as masculine, to the point that some actually see me as biologically male, for almost 5 years now. I have been verbally and physically harassed for my appearance and my ties to womanhood have been questioned. While strength and independence, which are usually associated with males, can be seen as good in females, too much masculinity in women is looked down upon. In our society, women are raised to value their femininity and relationship with men. Beauty standards are pushed onto them through media like fashion shows and makeup advertisements. When women reject these things, it is thought that they are rejecting their womanhood. If a woman does not subscribe to the things that the male-dominated society pushes upon them, they are not real women. In my experience, I have found that this is a threat to men because it questions their position of superiority. The disapproval that feminine men recieve is more about their lack of superiority, whereas disapproval of masculine women comes from a place of fragile masculinity.
The acceptance of what we call masculine traits in females compared to the acceptance of what we call feminine traits in males is relatively more acceptable for the former than for the latter. Women can take on many many so-called masculine traits and barely be noticed. If a guy takes on one feminine trait there can be hell to pay. That is both because we value, as a culture, the masculine and maleness over the feminine and femaleness and because it’s a threat to “male superiority.” And yes, if a biological female takes on “too many” masculine traits she will be punished because it is a threat to “male superiority.”
In the dad’s perspective of the story, he had nothing against his son dressing up as Snow White, but it was the fear of what others would think and what they might do. I have a cousin, who is practically like my brother, he’s 11 now, but when he was 8, I said I would take him trick or treating and we could go get him whatever costume he wanted. His heart was set on being Cinderella because it was his favorite movie at the time. I personally felt that there was nothing wrong with his costume choice and I was all for it. I think, me being part of Gen Z, didn’t realize the reactions that this would bring. It wasn’t until the night of halloween when a few of my friends and I actually took him trick or treating. I don’t think I will ever be able to forget the stares coming from parents with the kids and even the looks from the kids themselves. There is absolutely nothing wrong with a young boy dressing up as a princess or a witch, but society makes it seem as if it is something terrible and it shouldn’t be done. Like the blog said, society accepts girls as tomboys but is yet to truly accept that all guys don’t have be the ideal look of masculinity that is seen throughout the media.
This is a very interesting topic, I’ve thought all of the thoughts mentioned here when it comes to why the dads react the way they do when their sons choose a more feminine attire or characteristic. As I was reading this and thinking about other things that I’ve recently learned about others and myself, I wondered if these parents act the way that they do out of childhood /past trauma or a part of themselves that they keep hidden out of fear of rejection. It’s so true that males don’t speak about being or having the want to be more feminine and for those males, I almost want to take a deeper dive into the real reason for why and what their thought process is when seeing and thinking of these instances.
I am a sociologist who studies sociological social psychology. Our focus is: how does society get in our heads? What happens is that when a baby is born it doesn’t know anything but the mind looks for patterns and simplifies the world — Which is a source of stereotypes. So everyone learns what men are supposed to be like and what women are supposed to be like and everyone in the culture has already learned this and reinforces the ideas. And people tend to get uncomfortable uncomfortable when people stray from how things are “supposed to be.“ it rocks your world, but not in a good way. I hope this makes sense.
Thank you for bringing up this important topic because I believe that there are lots of parents around the world, who push their children to behave in specific ways that are associated with masculinity and femininity. Even in such young ages, parents expect their children to be aware of those social norms and behave according to them. I find it very unjust. Children start to find out about their gender expressions at certain ages, even though they are not aware of it. I believe that it is the parents’ job to help them and direct them based on the way children feel. As it also mentioned in the post, it is socially acceptable for a girl to wear boy clothes, but not okay for a boy to wear girl clothes. I think people feel that way because they associate femininity with weakness and masculinity with power. They feel like it is even better if their daughter behaves like a boy because it shows that she is strong, and will not be dependent on someone. On the other hand, they feel like if their son wants to behave like a girl, it shows that he is weak and will need protection from others. They want their sons to be strong, as other men are. This idea is also related to gender norms. Because of those rules, children might have self-esteem and anxiety problems. I believe that parents should get rid of those ideas based on standards and stereotypes and raise their children away from those wrong ideas.
Reading the whole article “Is that my son wearing a dress?” by Matt Cheplic, I feel both confused and troubled. I am confused by Cheplic’s contradictory arguments, as he was clearly comfortable with the image of his son in a snow white costume yet only claiming to be a protective dad. His manifestation of the gender binary and stereotypes also troubles me that how much longer it would still take for people to embrace themselves for whatever they are and whoever they choose to become.
Not intending to call Cheplic a hypocrite, I simply find his words contradicting with his behaviors. Cheplic has clarified for his readers, “No, I honestly don’t believe that a 4-year-old’s Halloween costume has the power to cement his sexual identity for life….A far more immediate evil loomed in my magic mirror: children who mock other children.” Therefore, according to him, Cheplic does not fear for potential sexual identity issues for his son, Luke, but he only wants to protect Luke from potential tease and harm at school and in the society. However, Cheplic never tries to hide his discomfort that Luke wants to be a snow white for Halloween. “My face still taut with manufactured glee.” “My son was twirling.” “It was adorable, of course. It was also troubling.” He calls Luke whimsical, and equates him wearing a girl costume with “being the tiniest transvestite in town.” Besides protective parental instincts, Cheplic, the father himself, seems to have hidden agenda too; it seems to me that when he was trying to make Luke conform to the gender binary norms, he was not only protecting Luke but also protecting himself from not being the father of “the tiniest transvestite in town.”
Besides, I wonder what harms the kids more – gossips at school or unsupportive parents. “Once a child equates school with shame and alienation, it can be difficult, even impossible, to repair the damage.” What about bad relationship with their parents who they would spend way more time with? According to Cheplic, he and his wife decided to not to stop Luke from wanting to be snow white on Halloween. However, he also said they planned to “simply stall until he lost interest.” The parents also kept trying to “gently suggest” an alternate costume, and when they finally got Luke to agree on a Barney’s costume during school time, Cheplic was relieved – “womanly genius intervened.” I guess they did not stop Luke indeed if numerous interventions and talk-outs do not count. Quite obviously, the parents were never supportive of their son’s wish and maybe they thought they treated the issue gently, but honestly there was not much subtlety to me. If the parents genuinely believed they did a good thing for their son and protected him because “once he got some distance from the kids at school, he would feel less self-conscious”, how come they did not think their attitude towards the snow white costume would make their son self-conscious too?
I understand that changes take time. To get rid of the burden from having to conform to the binary norms, it takes efforts from generations to gradually understand and accept that there’s no shame of being different and wanting different things, whether someone is biologically male or female. It takes struggles for some parents to accept that their boy wants a dress costume or to teach their sons not to bully other kids for being not boyish enough, but change is needed. I understand where Cheplic values might come from and why he would consider a snow white costume “a deadly weapon” – after all he would also use the analogy of an innocent young girl on his wife (which seem infantilizing her) and say things like “What mother can say no” – but I genuinely hope that there will be more and more parents who would know they can never be protective enough and know that the better way is probably be supportive of their children against all the stereotypes that only limit the choices of their children.
Sometimes even loving parents feel conflicted, given unconscious internalized biases. Hopefully they will grow.
There are many people who have the same idea as the two fathers in this article. Many people think girls wear boys’ clothes, dress up like boys, and they like to look like boys like things, like playing basketball and repairing things, is a very cool thing. But a boy wearing like a girl, like to use lipstick, like makeup and Barbie, will be a lot of people contempt. For example, I went to the supermarket last weekend with a male friend, who asked me to recommend shampoo to him. I recommended him a rose-like shampoo, and he said with astonishment to me. “Rose is a girl’s ability to use, and if someone smelled the taste of me, it would definitely ridicule me Say that I’m girly. ”
In reality, a boy looks like a girl as a derogatory term. But I think this phenomenon will always change because in the past girls like boys are not allowed, but now more and more common. In Asia, there is also a group in Japan. Although they are boys, they like to dress like girls and they also like girls. And this group is being respected and has gradually become a trend. So I think in the future, the boundaries between men and women will certainly become increasingly blurred, to the last disappear.
I think we should change the saying “boys will be boys” to “boys can wear whatever they want.” For two reasons; firstly “boys will be boys” is commonly used as an excuse for bad behavior like sexually harassing women or being mean to them. When a woman is sexually harassed some people say “boys will be boys you should change the way you dress.” We should raise boys in a way that they respect women and give that saying a good meaning. Secondly masculinity is so important that we don’t give men options. They can’t show emotions which creates a lot of problems because every human being has feelings and everyone should freely show how they are feeling. Men also can’t dress how ever they want. They can’t take care of themselves however they want to. Weirdly enough gender ranking specifies that beauty products are only for women. Because of the social norms on masculinity men end up with bottled emotions and that causes a lot of problems.
Valuing male traits over female traits was something that always troubled me as a child. I thought of myself as superior to other girls for my tomboy demeanor even when it was just not taking care of my appearance (Like coming home from school covered in dirt from playing in the grass.) I remember my cousins trying to explain to me that girl’s things weren’t worse than boy’s things. And then in when I moved onto middle school I swung in the opposite direction, since I’d accepted that I liked girly things I decided that I couldn’t have liked boy’s things anymore and felt myself superior for the other reason that time, that I was fitting into my role better than the tomboyish girls. If gender ranking wasn’t a thing I would have never felt the need to be wholly one or the other and I could have enjoyed the boyish things I liked as a kid at the same time as the girlish things I liked as a young teen.
This article brings up a crucial point when it comes to situations like this in which masculinity is “threatened,” and that’s the idea of the gender hierarchy. Throughout history, there is literary evidence of females being denoted as the “second” or “lesser” gender. Though we like to think that we are a progressive society moving forward, it will take a lot more than where we are right now to truly respect all genders and forms of gender expression equally. Look back at my choice of words – the fact that I used the word “threatened.” This isn’t something I made up – often times you can see the masculinity of a male being “threatened,” by both men and women alike. Yet, if you think of a tomboy, or a girl, you hardly ever think of the girl’s femininity being “threatened” if she likes “traditionally masculine” clothing or media. And this is precisely why women are still treated as the second gender. Being feminine is not inherently threatening – it’s the idea that because being feminine is equated with being lesser, a feminine boy is now viewed as below, lesser, as though his value has somehow decreased just because of what color of the rainbow he likes or what shoes or clothes he wants to wear.
I am an Asian and grew up outside of America, I, too, experienced the same things. We’ve been assigned to two sides when we were still an infant. Pink is for baby girls and blue is for boys. Nothing wrong with a girl wearing shorts, but there must be something wrong if a boy wearing skirts, etc. This cognition tends to make lots of men “pink-phobia” in adulthood.
I agree with the said of gender ranking. For instance, Snow White is described as vulnerable, and needs a brave prince to save her from misery. I am wondering that a patriarchal society which we live in is because men are afraid of losing power of dominating everything. For this reason, they devalue feminine in several aspects.
Some might say it was okay for kids wearing Snow White costume because they “lack the knowledge” to choose “right” costume for themselves. But who will be the one can teach them recognizing the “right way” to dress? Is “right way” a way that boys wouldn’t belittle themselves into a girly image? It could be an unconscious discrimination of feminine.
Thanks for Sharing your thoughts and experience with this.
Girls can be tomboys, but boys can’t be sissies. I feel that is unfair for boys, and we should change that gender perspective. Especially parents should not decide what kids want to wear. If kids had the experience which parent push their gender perspective, those kids would learn it, and they judge sissies boys or someone who against role. I’ve never seen boy wear princes’ or witches’ costumes in Halloween. That tells us how much boys are losing their status by crossing over. On the other hand, girls have more choice because they won’t lose their status by crossing over.
Yep. When we reach gender equality we won’t have that gender-crossing double standard.
Reading the story and your analysis really made me question why masculine traits are accepted and feminine traits aren’t. Growing up I was considered a “tomboy” and that was accepted amongst my peers and family because it was viewed as just a phase, but if I happened to be a boy who enjoyed playing with dolls, wearing dresses or skirts my family and friends’ reactions would have more than likely been different. I believe that societies male-dominated view is one of the reasons that having female traits is looked down upon if you are a male and puts women at a social disadvantage.
The little boy choosing to wear a snow white costume doesn’t make him less of a boy and shows how at such a young age he is content with defying gender norms. But I believe the dads opposition to him wearing the costume and push for something else will limit him mentally and emotionally. He may grow up seeing girl dresses in typical boys clothing and wonder why he can’t do the same and dress in typical girl’s clothing without receiving backlash.
Yeah, we seem to be more comfortable when girls take on “boy” traits because we value them more. A girl isn’t seen as demeaning herself. But a boy is seen as demeaning himself when he takes on the “other gender’s” traits or roles.
Growing up I was tomboyish and no one batted an eye (just as you see today), in fact it was encouraged by my dad because he didn’t want weak, sissy girly girls. We teased our older brother and called him princess and were scolded and told not to call him that as it will make people think he’s gay. My dad was one of those ‘macho’ men who often displayed his toughness and role as the head of the household. Luckily, my dad raised us to be ‘tough’ girls and our brothers were simply just raised.
Now that I am all grown and have 4 kids of my own (all girls) I try my best to let my kids decide who they want to be. I have 2 ‘normal’ girls who will wear anything, one that loves dresses, and one like me as a kid who will only wear ‘boy’ clothes with superheroes on it or red, black, and blue colors. My husband is not and does not feel emasculated being surrounded by his daughters and wife, nor does he feel threatened or fearful of his legacy continuing on. When people see him with his four girls the first thing they usually say is ‘wow four girls? I feel sorry for you!’ That is one of the worst things you can say. Our girls are being raised to stand out and to be unique, to embrace themselves of their attributes and not feel like they shouldn’t be allowed to do something based on their gender.
Clearly this is not what is happening in the above post, the boy isn’t choosing his gender, he probably just really likes snow white. Who knows? What I can say is we need to break this ‘gender ranking’ that is making young adolescents ashamed for acting the way they want to rather than the way they are supposed to. Men are no valuable than women and something as simple as a costume preference wont make the kid a ‘sissy.’ It’s unfair that tomboys are given leeway and boys are discouraged for acting like anything other than a boy.
That is so sad! “When people see him with his four girls the first thing they usually say is ‘wow four girls? I feel sorry for you!’ That is one of the worst things you can say.” really illustrates gender ranking.
There is nothing wrong with a young boy wearing a dress. As kids we don’t know rights from wrongs and little do we know about gender roles. Growing up you want to express yourself. You don’t know much differences. You don’t know the difference from a dress to jeans. Over the years you seem to grow into these things. You eventually find out whats girl like things over boy like things. As a kid you simply don’t. If I wanted to wear a baseball T and shorts, people would probably glance at me and move on. Where as a child with a dress on, it’s totally out of the ordinary. You don’t see much boys expressing themselves like this. This is why you find it rare. But in reality why take this away from a young child whom doesn’t know these things. The last thing they are going to worry about is what people think of them, at this age they don’t.
And knowing right from wrong is an interesting question here. There’s knowing right from wrong in terms of what society believes is correct gender expression. And then there is the moral standpoint which could take a completely different turn.
“There is nothing wrong with a young boy wearing a dress. As kids we don’t know rights from wrongs and little do we know about gender roles.”
That’s kinda like saying there is nothing wrong with little boys pulling the wings off bees because little boys don’t know right from wrong. It’s our job as parents (if we’re not delinquent parents) to guide children in socially acceptable behaviour.
Pulling wings off bees Is wrong because it causes harm. A boy wearing a dress doesn’t hurt anyone. And in some societies a dress is exactly what boys are expected to wear.
An alternate view:
If Gender’s Learned, Why Do You Feel You’re Born in the Wrong Body?
I’ll be doing a whole series on this eventually because people don’t always get what I’m saying here. Maybe you won’t either.
I have heard many parents force their children to like dark color. In Japan, we have culture that elementary school child have a special backpack which is called “randoseru.” We used to have only two colors, black and red, black is for boys and red is for girl. Now there are many bright colors and it is becoming more fashionable. Before children enters to elementary schools, they are going to choose randoserus. However, when parents find their son wants to have red, pink, orange…the color which are regarded as girl’s color randoseru, parents are screaming. One mother posted “Finally, I succeeded to persuade my son who wanted to have a red randoseru to have a black randoseru. I and my husband told him ‘You are going to be bullied if you have ladies’ randoseru.’” She was proud of her persuasion. Boys are criticized what they like and forced to be manly.
It’s so interesting to hear about other cultures. Thank you.
I think that children at that age, and people of all ages for that matter, should be able to wear whatever they want. I think that teaching kids at a young age that it is acceptable for you to wear whatever you’re comfortable in is a very important topic. What i never understood is why people get so upset about what someone ELSE wears. Not only does it not affect you in any way, shape, or form, but it makes the reason wearing the clothes happy, so why not? I like how this post is relating it back to the value of males and male things over females and female things. Men are always seen as being the stronger and superior between the two, where as women come in second place in just about every aspect of life. So why would a boy want to be seen as coming in “second best” if you will. Boys are especially taught that you should always be the best, strongest, and toughest, so of course when a boy wants to do things out of the social norm, its seen as an immediate issue. I agree that if we change the standards and values of men vs. women, many other issues will no longer become issues, but this is going to take a very long time and a lot of people needing to “come out of their ways”.
Yes, it will take a lot of time and a lot of work.
“Not only does it not affect you in any way, shape, or form, but it makes the reason wearing the clothes happy, so why not?”
Why not? Because kids are little barbarians. Always were and always will be. Do you want to send your kid to school with a tee shirt saying “kick me”? Because not conforming to the pack, this is what you are doing. When you’re an adult, fine, wear whatever you want. But be real about the state of the children’s playground, for their sake.
This always happens with children but we might see it more with boys,or notice it more, dressing up in girls accessories than the opposite way. I have a daughter and a son and my daughter was always a very feminine girl and my son who is the youngest,now 5 yrs old,tends to put on my shoes (heels, flats, slippers,anything) way more than my daughter ever slipped into my husbands shoes. It could be that it happens more with boys than with girls because the mother is almost always around her children (in cases where you have both mom and dad around) and they are the nurturing figure of the family. I just think it’s a stage that they pop in and out from as they are growing and honestly as a mother I don’t to concerned over it however I know my husband and my father do but again we have to just trust that we are teaching them right and allow them to explore on their own.
Plus women’s clothing is way more interesting and boys haven’t yet learned gender, or that they are “demeaning themselves” by slipping into so-called women’s clothing. So-called because in different times and places men have worn heels, lace, ruffles…
When taking a Child Development class about a year ago, I was introduced to gender norms and gender strereotypes. A fasvinating thing that I learned was that at an age as young as a preschooler is taught that girls and boys should act certain ways to fit the “norms” of society. Teachers, elders, and parents teach their children about the ways of being male or female. Females should be playing house and with Barbie dolls, while males should be playing with toy trucks and be getting messy in the dirt. May the laws of society as we know ot forbid that an innocent child want to stray away from these “rules” of living.
An example we were given was that a little boy who was a youngin’ in preschool wanted to wear these specific shoes because they were pretty. He decided to wear pink zebra flats, which he was so excited to wear based off the picture his mother posted of him. You see him smiling and proud to be who he is. His sibling states that he received many compliments on his shoes at school. How funny, right? These young children didn’t care, yet many adults began to talk badly to his mother because this didn’t fit with the norms of society and it was her fault for letting her boy go out in those shoes which they had deemed to be unacceptable for a boy.
It’s funny how adults, who should be teaching their children to be open about their views and options in life, are the ones who put down children for their innocent and pure choices, turning them into monsters who develop these thoughts that boys aren’t allowed to wear pink flats or a Snow White dress.
Yep. Gender socialization begins at birth. And most parents don’t realize how much they do it. Plus, they don’t raise their children in a hermetically sealed environment, so the kids are exposed to gender norms from their classmates, television, billboards… It’s no wonder that feminist parents don’t raise gender-neutral children.
I think it’s very true men and women are not valued the same, and that femininity has negative connotations while masculinity is praised and admired. This is apparent in many things, such as how tomboys are viewed vs. how “sissies” are viewed, as you pointed out in this post (tomboys are more socially acceptable and perhaps even admired). I think it’s true girls who were once tomboys look back upon it as a positive thing. When I was in elementary school, I was a tomboy for a while, and found the experience empowering. I also had some internalized misogyny, as I felt this made me superior to other girls who were more traditionally feminine. It all stems from the idea that men are superior to women, and that masculinity is superior to femininity.
This post reminded me of my cousin a few years ago, who wanted to be Elsa for Halloween. His mother, like the father of the boy who wanted to be Snow White, tried to gently persuade him to pick a different costume. I was present when this happened, and was supportive of his desire to be Elsa. My aunt came up with an excuse for why he couldn’t be Elsa. I was disappointed she wasn’t more supportive. In the end my cousin didn’t dress as Elsa.
I feel it’s very important that boys should be encouraged to do what they want, regardless of whether or not it aligns with gender roles. They should be free to express themselves how they want. To be associated with anything feminine should no longer be considered insulting or demeaning.
Thanks for sharing your personal experience with this.:-)
This blog response was very interesting because it reminded me of when I was in elementary school. I remember when I use to play with the boys, and didn’t have many girl friends. I remember always playing marbles in the dirt with the boys and always trying to show off my collection of marbles while the girls would always play on the monkey bars and play hopscotch. Not sure if my love for sports and outdoors is what made me more or less a tom boy in elementary school, but I connected easily with the boys than with the girls. I think today, having gender roles flipped, having your son want to take on a female character for Halloween is easier to grasp than it was 5-6 years ago. I think this idea was because of the idea that our generation was so young, and that we weren’t able to speak out against “gender ranking” and how it wasn’t right. I also thought it was interesting how the article mentioned how fathers would feel this type of behavior would “threaten their legacy”. I can understand how some fathers would feel that way, but I think I would be proud of my son/daughter to follow what they believe/feel, even if actions were to step out of the box or defy the social norms.
” having your son want to take on a female character for Halloween is easier to grasp than it was 5-6 years ago. ”
We are gaining in gender equality. 🙂
This article recalls back to me the topic discussed in class on how a woman could float from one gender to another in apparel but the same wasn’t true for men. I don’t think a woman dressing up as Rambo would get as much grief as men dressing up as Tinker bell. Even the latter image is accompanied by the imminent hearing of derisive laughter. That observation holds true in this case if Halloween costume choices.
The ridicule would be even worse with people who are older, and not like an 5-year old, which might be found be some as cute. Perhaps it is a sign that in our culture it is always good to be masculine… But then again that theory isn’t true. Mannish women are looked down upon on any day, when they aren’t dressing up as Rambo for Halloween temporarily.
Another point is that there might be some newer pressure in the light of trends appearing today. It is a treasured opportunity, by both men and women, for women to dress up with provocation. While coming to a party dressed as Tupac might be a fun choice for women, it doesn’t check off the ‘hot’ box that seems to be more prevalently checked for female party-goers.
Yes, because we value men and masculinity over women and femininity, a girl who dresses at Rambo probably won’t get teased, But a boy dressed as Tinker Bell surely will.
At the same time gender blending can be threatening to male dominance, too. So if a woman took it too seriously, becoming Rambo, that’s also frowned upon.
And women are valued for their sexual appeal to men, So there you have it again.
From the moment that a baby is born, they are introduced to gender norms through clothing, toys, and how people act toward them. Especially for men, what they have to be is so narrow, that women have more freedom to be who they are. The idea that girls can be “tomboys” but boys can’t be “sissies” makes the point that men have a higher ranking, meaning they have a higher responsibility to be a “man.” Because the masculine is valued more than the feminine, girls can act like boys and it isn’t looked down upon, whereas if a boy were to act feminine, it would be discouraged. I think the little boy has a right to dress however he wants.
Yup. Good analysis.
I wonder if the fear is rooted from fear of a boy being gay from a father or the fear of him being bullied because of being gay? This still happens and a lot of harassment the gay community can face especially boys who are gay. I think it’s more the latter as more people are becoming accepting or father’s and I’m sure while tough, he would accept his son and love him if gay. I wonder if the real issue and what makes this complicated and this can be in relation to women too is not that a young 7 year old boy or young boys would want to wear a dress or go with their feminine side, but more so of how to handle or what to do if the boy grows to like to dress in women’s clothes, and be feminine but is still straight? I think that’s where the complication comes from as in how to handle this. As a father whose son dresses up, but is gay, well some gay men or it’s easier to accept feminine tendencies from a gay male right? Than one who is still heterosexual. And it might be harder because of acceptance. Like how does this boy fit in?
If he’s gay, there are other feminine, flamboyant males who are gay and when he’s older and becomes an adult would attractive and vice versa. But a straight male who likes to cross dress but is straight? You talk about how our culture is internalized by everyone and therefore women, even feminist women can absorb it too. So that;s the complication. A straight male who is very feminine or wants to cross dress and does, would turn off or maybe freak out many straight women, unlike a gay male doing so and trying to attract gay men. Because of the expectation people have and even women have on men and are attracted too. We still have roles and even women who maybe be strong, and independent, I’ve seen say things how they like “handy men”, so attracted to the masculine male role of men being able to do things interesting enough women think they can;t do or don’t want to do. As handy men can fix things, house repair, car repair, dish washer, you know tools and strength and knowledge of such fixer upper stuff, you know seen as masculine useful duties a man can do. So you can still have feminists but them attracted to that and women say how they aren;t attracted to men who spend as much time as they do on their appearance or time on the bathroom working on their appearance and attracted to the opposite of what is a woman’s thing and like that opposite masculine stuff.
Fear of the feminine, whether it’s mere femininity or our stereotypes about gays or the fact that gay men act like women. When you rank men over women, blurring the lines between the two becomes threatening to male dominance.
When I read comments like this, I just have to laugh and wonder at how far feminism is detached from reality. The idea that men are going around being worried about the state of male dominance is ludicrous. If there’s a reason Trump won, it’s got to be a lot to do with people being tired of having to listen to such nonsense from the left.
“The idea that men are going around being worried about the state of male dominance is ludicrous”
I’m not sure exactly what you mean here. But given the number of comments you and other men write stressing male dominance it seems like a lot of men are pretty preoccupied with this concern.
When I read this article, I felt so weird because I can understand why people judge male who wore costumes of female characters. I realized, however, I didn’t see my male friends in that kind of costume before on Halloween or whatever even though many of my female friends had costumes such as Peter Pan. I can see this situation even as discrimination, I think. It’s just a costume for Halloween, and he doesn’t say he wants to wear a skirt like a princess in his daily life, so his parents should have accepted his suggestion on his costume.
Gender ranking males > females.
“It’s just a costume for Halloween, and he doesn’t say he wants to wear a skirt like a princess in his daily life”.
Yup, but does the boy understand this?
By coincidence a car club I’m in had a 30th anniversary dinner the other day, and as part of the entertainment, one of the members dressed up as a woman and did a bit of ad lib acting. Needless to say, a big burly hairy guy prancing around as a woman was funny and everybody laughed. It is in fact socially acceptable for a male to dress up as a woman if he wants to be a clown or a freak for entertainment.
But does this boy realise that this is what is going on? He’s not striking a blow for gender equality, or the rights of transvestites or men getting in touch with their feminine side. He’s dressed up to be a freak and a clown. And that’s fine on Halloween I guess where you dress up as the most awful and bizarre thing you can possibly think up. But does this boy realise that is what he is doing, or is he being misled?
I think everyone should be entitled to wear or do anything they want without judgement but unfortunately society doesn’t always agree. Especially children should be able to play with whatever they want, they shouldn’t have to worry about their parents getting mad for not dressing or playing with the “right” toys or clothes. Although I have three sisters, they are older so I am used to living with two of my brothers. I think for that reason I have always felt more like a tomboy, getting bored very easily with dolls and preferring sports, made me apart from my sisters. I tried to play dolls with them because I had no one else but they would always tell me they couldn’t because they were boys and ” boys shouldn’t be playing with dolls.” So instead they would teach me how to throw a football or play sports and I think that has made me be like a tomboy sometimes. I admit sometimes I do dress like a boy with jeans and a t shirt with my hair all messed up but I do it because it’s warm and comfortable. My sister always gives me a hard time by saying I need to dress more like a girl, nicer and less lazy but I choose comfortable anytime.
Good for you.
I don’t think that people can choose or change sex, but we can change our gender. It depends on our gene and the growing environment. So we should accept this behavior instead of rejecting or trying to correct it. And also, comparing that boys dress like girls, it seems more acceptable that girls wear like a boy. Like a “double standard”. I think this is unfair from the gender-equal perspective. Boys and girls should have equal rights o choose what they want to wear without judgment. As this article said:”if we valued males and females the same, a Snow White costume wouldn’t be a problem.”
Dressing up like Snow White, at beginning I just think it might be a funny story, but when I finished this passage it makes me recall something that I never thought deeply before. I have seen a picture that in a special sports competition, boys who joined must wearing women’s clothing. What a ridiculous picture. I don’t know why I laugh at that picture, think carefully，I found that the idea of “gender ranking” has already rooted into my mind. That’s why I felt uncomfortable when I see some man speaking or acting like a girl, but differently, when I see some girls doing the male behavior, I don’t feel uncomfortable and sometimes I think the girls are very handsome. We live under the oppression that we even not recognized that. And when I think about the effect of gender ranking, I totally agree that “ranking males over females is not trivial, at all.”
I’m glad you got the central message of this piece. 🙂
Last year I was working for a family who had a 3 year old girl. Before I meet this little girl I was a bit confused if she was a boy or a girl. Her room was a mixture of toys. Such as Batman figures, cars, barbies, boy clothing. Etc. Later I discovered that the parents, who I was working for, were very open to anything their daughter wanted as toys or clothing.
That was the first time I had seen a different family, other than my parents, that had that freedom with their children.
Which I think is perfectly fine because it bring children closer to their parents. The communication is more trusty.
For me and my siblings my dad was always more worried we would be lesbians, we are all girls.
Interesting. Thanks for sharing.
Its hard for me to speak on this topic because I do not have kids but I think it comes down to acceptance. He is your child regardless of what he wants to dress up as for Halloween. He’s young and just exploring his options. This happened to a friend of mine. He son wanted to be a princess for Halloween on year and they spent a few weeks trying to convince him with any other costume that they could, it didn’t work. So they allowed him to dress up as a princess and it turned out he didn’t like it as much as he thought he would. He has never asked or tried to dress up in a dress since then. This is just one example and maybe all boys aren’t the same. But if you allow him to dress up like a girl and he likes it you have to be willing to support him. There is going to be bullies and people making fun of him and that’s when he’s going to need the support the most. Let him find himself and accept whatever it is he chooses to wear.
Thanks for your thoughts.
In my opinion, there is nothing wrong with a boy dressing as snow white for Halloween. First off, Halloween is a holiday where in fact you are supposed to dress out of the ordinary and/ or wear a costume. A boy in a simple princess dress shouldn’t be a problem, if letting kids use violent props with their costumes such as knives and/ or guns isn’t. Today, gay marriage is legal, sex change is legal, and there are gender neutral bathrooms almost everywhere that you go. These facts indicate that society is evolving very rapidly in becoming more accepting towards homosexuality. I’m not saying that the kid will turn out to become gay, rather he should be able express his self and dress in a way that is comfortable for him. By him dressing like this for Halloween and going to school, I believe that he is actually setting an example for other children and parents that we must stop “gender ranking” and look at each other with respect and equality. The tradition of boys dressing like superheroes and girls dressing like princesses is getting old. Not only children, but people in general should be able to express their true selves without getting bullied or told that it is wrong. Now if this boy were to get bullied, his parents should be the ones to tell him that the way he is dressed is fine and comfort him rather than telling him that he is in the wrong for expressing himself. If being a tomboy is okay for a girl to do as she is younger, than being a “sissy”
I totally see the concept of gender ranking everyday especially in my job where I work with kids in an after school day care. In the kids free play time, theres a section whith all sorts of things to play dress up. I always see the girls only put on princess crowns or long skirts or dresses to seem like a princess. Never would they put on the police hat or fireman jacket for its seen as “a boy thing”. This whole idea of how women and men need to act and look like I feel has been socially constructed into society and therefore when someone goes out of the norm, its seen as crazy or ridiculous for seeing a boy in a dress is socially unacceptable which shouldn’t be the case at all.
Thanks for the example. But it’s really more one of social construction than gender ranking. The kids are conforming to their expected gender roles. Gender ranking comes in when it’s more okay for girls to crossover and do boy things because male things have higher status– So she is raising her status by crossing over (if anything). But boys are seen as demeaning themselves if they dress like a girl.
Like I saw some excitement about girls dressing as ninja turtles this year.
I think that people cannot choose or change sex,but we can change our gender and sexual orientation. It depends on our gene and the growing enviroment. So we should accept this behavior instead of rejecting or trying to correct it. And also, comparing that boys dress like girls, it’s seems more acceptable that girls wear like boy. Like a “double standard”. I think this is unfair from the gender equal perspective. Boys and girls should have equal rights to choose what they want to wear without judgement. As this article said:”If we valued males and females the same, a Snow White costume wouldn’t be a problem.”
“but we can change our gender and sexual orientation…. So we should accept this behavior”
Strange, people usually say we must accept things that we can’t change, on the logical basis that we can’t change them, not the ones we can change.
There are so many consequences that occur from this issue – beginning at very young ages. Someone very close to me is in their 30’s and just now addressing shame they have carried around for almost their entire lives. The shame rooted itself in their lives at a very young age, from parents deciding their child’s behavior was unacceptable. Anything he did could be interpreted as too feminine, and therefore, bad. The consequences of parental and societal influences such as these can be detrimental. It communicates to children that something is wrong with them. If a boy wants to wear a dress and is told he shouldn’t want to wear a dress, what is the child to think? He knows what he wants. I’m so glad you wrote about this topic. I wish all parents would have the chance to participate in this conversation instead of going with the flow of societal expectations.
Thank you. It would be nice if we could all get out of our straitjackets.
I liked this article mainly because it talks about “gender ranking,” and with that said it lets us know that there is still some biases in clothing, and it’s true that some girls aren’t seen in the most horrible way when they decide to be batman, or superman, but guys are seen as such girls, a.k.a “gays” when they wear princesses clothing, and I think it’s because over all, pants are for both genders, unlike dresses, they’re only seen as a feminine clothing not male! And in my opinion, I think society needs to teach guys, to stop being so prideful if whether they’re guys or not, because at a young age, little boys are being taught to be tough, and emotionless, and like the article mentioned, that is why there’s a higher rank of rape, violence, because guys are being taught to be superior than women at a young age! I say that boys should enjoy life, just like girls do, and it’s not fair for boys to grow up with rules. Kids should be kids, and once they grow they could make their own decisions.
Pretty sad that kids are taught so early about gender inequality, which unconsciously gets embedded in their brains. That early, unconscious learning really learning makes it hard to change.
Now that Halloween is done with, what exactly he went with. Maybe he needs a bit of your piece of mind?
Maybe so. Ha, ha.
as always, you make me think…!
Girls can be tomboys but boys can’t be sissies!
True. We condemn a ‘girly’ behaviour from a boy but often a tomboyish girl is praised in the early years.There too, the girls in their teens are not encouraged to continue with the tomboyish look.
Yes, when girls grow up we expect them to adhere more closely to gender roles. But in the US even that is changing in that so-called masculine traits are often valued and girls: being active, showing leadership, being self-sufficient… those are all good traits. But we need to encourage men to take on traits that are considered feminine (but which of course are actually human): nurturing, being in touch with one’s emotions and able to express them, for instance.
As women get older, masculine traits are still encouraged… For example, many professional women that have broken the ‘glass ceiling’ in the executive suite wear suits that are often styled based upon a female interpretation of a man’s suit. Many women wear men’s hats. On the other hand, what type of gossip would occur if a male executive wore a suit to work styled upon feminine fashion, ie. a suit with some ruffles or lace for example… or if a man wore a hat styled after a woman’s hat?
While being a total ‘tomboy’ is discouraged (I believe because of a fear that it implies that the woman is a lesbian), woman are still encouraged to adapt some aspects of ‘maleness’ in order to succeed. So you have an executive woman wearing a male inspired suit, but she is wearing make-up at the same time, and maybe her blouse has a few feminine touches. If you want to see male inspired women’s clothing, just visit the women’s section of any ‘Brook’s Bros.’ store.
In essence, many women feel that in order to succeed in business, they need to adapt what I would call ‘feminine maleness’. Hillary’s Clinton’s famous pant suits (and hawkishness) are another example.
I agree that as women get older, masculine traits are still encouraged but a total ‘tomboy’ is discouraged.
How much that is harms depends on your natural personality. If a woman naturally has a masculine personality she can feel pressured to stuff herself into an unnatural box.
Otherwise, it can seem that she is being encouraged to develop both sides of her personality — feminine and masculine. Yet they’re still seems to be a box. Feminine in terms of her looks. But don’t bring out that emotional or nurturing side — like finding a better life-work balance.
These days a lot of guys would like a better life-work balance, too!
This one was near and dear to me. I have two little boys. I remember one time, my husband scoffed at the fact that I was “letting” our son watch a show called, Princess Sophia, on Disney. He told me it was a little girl show. I asked how he would feel if one day we had a daughter and she wanted to watch Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, to which he replied, no big deal. This is absolutely a thing. It’s not only a jab at women, but it’s teaching our boys such a wrong message. As a society, we should allow both genders to explore different roles, embrace their curiosity and just be kids. We need to show them that it’s okay to dress as Snow White, she was fierce! We need to more women figures to be portrayed as super heroes or courageous instead of always seeming like they always need help. Either way, it’s such demeaning message to boys and to women.
Yes, we need to value the positive in “masculine” and “feminine” and encourage us all to develop our full selves!
I don’t understand why men would avoid the feminine. For example, must people would consider getting pedicures or facials to be a feminine activity, and most men wouldn’t be caught dead getting a pedicure or facial at the local day spa (day spas in themselves being seen a destinations for women), but pedicures and facials are relaxing and pampering… So why not?
I never had a pedicure until my wife encouraged me to, and now I’ve learned that it’s not so bad to pamper yourself (even at the risk of ‘enjoying’ a feminine activity)
There are a lot of things that are called feminine that are pretty wonderful.
It is only because we rank males and masculinity above females and femininity that the feminine became devalued and even demeaned. You don’t find this in non-patriarchal cultures.
I agree that there are plenty of pretty wonderful things that are considered feminine… Maybe the key would be promoting those things to men more actively… So that they would see clear advantages to femininity and feminine activities…
As the amount of feminine activities that a man does increases, it’s pretty hard for men to condemn or denigrate femininity…
Sounds like a plan. 🙂
I’ve discussed the “why is it ok to be a tomboy but not a sissy” question a few times and reached the same conclusion that you have, that we (as a society; I’m sure everyone here is an exception) still hold all things feminine at a lesser value than those which represent the masculine. So a man wanting to take on (allegedly) female traits is seen as degrading himself, which is bad, but a woman wanting to take on (allegedly) masculine traits is seen as elevating herself to a higher status, which is good.
Never mind getting society to value feminine traits equally with masculine traits — how about we stop branding particular behaviors as inherently masculine or feminine? Right, I won’t hold my breath.
By the way, as of 10/31/16 the link to the original 2010 Salon article is still broken, but you can reach it through archive.org here:
Thanks for this new link. Hope it works.
“how about we stop branding particular behaviors as inherently masculine or feminine?”
Totally agree. First step is valuing what we call feminine so that men will stop avoiding it.
I’ve never understood why masculine traits should be valued more than feminine traits, when feminine traits are the ones that tend to make society better (nurturing, cooperation, community, etc.) and masculine traits tend to be a source of societal problems (aggression, self-interest, power, etc.). Maybe it’s time for women (especially feminists) to encourage and promote feminine values (or least emphasize their importance and equal status) to their sons. Wouldn’t it be nice if at Halloween, parents would encourage their sons to be a feminine character by telling them this is one day per year in which they should celebrate ‘princess’ values?
Any young boys want to be Wonder Woman?
I agree that we would be so much better off if we valued feminine traits because they are the among best part of our humanity. There is a type of feminism called cultural feminism that specifically focuses on celebrating the feminine! We all lose out when that which we call feminine becomes devalued — as it does in patriarchies.
Cultural feminism sounds intriguing. I’ve never heard of it before, but the premise sounds fascinating… I hope you will write more on the subject.
I love this! When my little brother looks up to his sisters and wants to put on what they do, we do not know how to react. We make quite a fuss! But its true that we do not actually know why we just know it is not done. This explanation makes complete sense why a girl can dress up like a boy but a boy can not dress up like a girl!
And when things go the other way people often think it’s great. If a girl decides to put on a costume that’s more masculine people often celebrate her move outside the feminine box. But the truth is that we all need to get outside of our confining boxes. We would all be happier and healthier.
Well, you know, being a tomboy involves a general lack of care for overt femininity rather than an overt attempt to acquire masculinity. And when it comes to dress, typical male behaviour is lack of care about attire rather than acquiring a specific fashion. Typical males dress for convenience and for practicality. Typical women dress for fashion, get their hair done to look nice, put on makeup to look feminine. The tomboy has the male psychology of dressing for comfort, and the male psychology of being interested in pursuits of a practical nature, like perhaps working on cars or whatever. But when it comes to dressing for the prom, a tomboy goes and gets a nice dress, she doesn’t get a tuxedo.. at least not unless she is trying to make some kind of political statement.
That’s not what’s going on here. This boy is not merely taking part in so-called feminine activities, he is actually taking on what society considers female traits by dressing like a female character. This would be considered abnormal except that he is seems too young to understand. A responsible parent would try a bit harder to explain to him that little boys should dress as male characters. Or do you want to eliminate all gender differences? Force boys to put on make-up, or prevent girls from doing so?
BTW, your story link is broken.
I fixed the link.
Having worn both dresses and pants I can tell you that neither one is inherently easier to put on. It depends on the dress for the pants. Dresses are usually super easy to slip on. If you have an elastic waistband you don’t even have to do any zipping, tying, buttoning…
Also, Guys don’t realize what an emotional straitjacket they are put in from the time they’re little. Nora Vincent spent 18 months passing as a man (Self Made Man) and living among men. She talked about how difficult it was to constantly reign in your emotions. And she watched as men taught their boys to reign in their emotions: be tough, tough it out, boys don’t cry… And purposely insulting boys just to toughen them up.
It’s not difficult to let boys develop their whole humanity, including their feminine side. We do a lot of work to squelch it out of boys and men.
We definitely encourage male traits because we value masculinity over femininity. Here’s some more posts.
It’s Ok To Be A Tomboy But Not A Sissy. Why?
Men Who Wear Frocks
Women Get All The Good Emotions, Says Cross-Dresser
Men Wearing Dresses to Feel Whole
And again, here are some of the problems of devaluing women and the feminine (i.e., traits associated with females): In societies and subcultures where masculine is valued over feminine we find high rates of rape, wife battering, gay bashing, and in the worst instances we find daughters-for-sale and female infanticide. STDs are more widely spread. Women’s sexuality becomes repressed. Even the feminine value of compassion is diminished
” neither one is inherently easier to put on.”
Sure, but pants are easier to do stuff in. That’s why men wear them and why tomboys would wear them. You can’t run easily in a dress, you can’t climb a tree, you’ll scratch your legs wandering in the forest. Look at women doing who do things like rock climbing, hunting, skiing, etc, you won’t see them doing it in a frock.
“And she watched as men taught their boys to reign in their emotions:”
Nobody ever did that with me in any shape or form. I guess it happens in some circles, but not most of them, I don’t think.
Men’s emotions don’t want to get out. They say autism is caused by elevated testosterone in the womb. If you’re autistic, you don’t by nature engage in social interaction and emotions and that sort of thing. Most men are on the edge of autism, because we have testosterone. We have emotions going on in our heads, but it’s happy to stay inside.
“It’s not difficult to let boys develop their whole humanity,”
Nonsense. It’s just as hard as getting someone with autism to express their emotions and appear like other people, which is to say, damned difficult requiring many years of intensive therapy.
Pants are easier to do stuff in. Sure. But in many times and places men wore dresses/skirts: Ancient Greeks, Romans, Jesus, Scots, Arabs, Popes… judges, scholars…
We aren’t aware of much of our socialization. You see it in cross-cultural studies.
And if men were naturally masculine we wouldn’t need do so much to encourage it, and discourage femininity. Like getting upset when boys play with dolls, cry, etc.
“But in many times and places men wore dresses/skirts”
Sure. So what? There’s a difference between wearing a garment because it is practical, and/or it is socially acceptable, and engaging in cross dressing. A child of this young age is far too young to be encouraged to become a transvestite.
Cross-dressing isn’t the point of my post.
Men who cross-dress have a strong sense of themselves as men but feel like they cannot get in touch with their feminine side. So they do something that actors do. Putting on the costume helps you to get in touch with the personality you are trying to express.
If men weren’t so cut off from half their humanity — what we call their feminine traits — these men actually wouldn’t feel a need to cross-dress.
So you might say “but because of testosterone men are naturally” this way or that.”
And yet if you look historically men’s personalities mold to the culture they live in. My grandfather wasn’t at all nurturing to his children because “Men don’t do that.” My dad was much more nurturing. And my brother is probably even more nurturing than his wife is. That’s because our culture has increasingly allowed men to express nurture towards their children. If a man loses his wife and ends up with full custody of his children he also becomes just as nurturing as moms are.
In some cultures is perfectly fine for men to cry. Or to be very expressive and nurturing with their male friends.
You wouldn’t find these cultural patterns if it were just testosterone.
Testosterone is associated with aggression. But so is estrogen. When mice were bred to lose their estrogen they lost their aggression too. (Think of aggressive Mouse mom defending her baby mice.)
Plus, men can have high levels of testosterone yet still be very nurturing.
We make too much of things like hormones. See these:
Women Are Passive? Think Again
Testosterone Damages Verbal Skill. Yet We Have Shakespeare
Girls = Boys in Math
Scientists = Men, Say Biased Scientists