Sunday, February 10, 2008

Somebody buy that kid a football

My 4-year-old, CM, went to her first dance class a few days ago. It's not a serious class or anything, just some basics of modern dance, ballet, tap, and so on for 3-to-5-year-olds. When we walked in, there were about 10 children in the class, all little girls as far as we could see. They were dressed in all sorts of outfits -- lots of tutus and ballet slippers, but also plenty of sweatpants and a couple pairs of jeans.

At the beginning of the class, the kids sat on the floor in a little semi-circle and the teacher asked them their names. Some of the 3-year-olds had a little trouble saying their names intelligibly, which was kind of cute, but nothing particularly interesting happened until the 7th kid in the circle answered "Christopher Robin."

Christopher Robin had long blond hair tied back in a ponytail -- the longest hair in the class -- and was wearing a charcoal gray tank top with red shorts, black tights, and black ballet slippers. Christopher Robin's Mom detached herself from the row of parents at the side of the room. "Say your real name," she said. Christopher Robin mumbled something. When the teacher just looked blank, Mom said, "His name is Francis. Yes, he is a boy."

Oh. Could have fooled me -- did fool me -- along with everyone else in the room.

And I've been thinking about why that bothered me a little bit. I'm kind of hyper-masculine in appearance myself, but I really couldn't care much less about traditional gender roles or how people dress or cut their hair, so that's not it. Nor do I have anything against male dancers -- I think they're pretty cool, actually -- so that's not it either.

No, I think my problem is that I wonder how much the hair and the clothes and the looking like a girl and the dancing are little Francis's idea, and how much they're Mom's. I mean, if he actually prefers "feminine" stuff, that's fine. It's nice that his Mom is supportive.

But if it's his Mom who's making those choices, that's something else altogether. What bothered me is the possibility that she's somehow suppressing his boyness, trying to force him into some sort of idealized stereotype-free existence rather than just letting him be the boy that he is. That would be imposing her own values onto his core being instead of allowing him to be himself, and that would be an awful thing to do to a kid.

1 comment:

  1. I actually ran into this same dilemma when I taught at a headstart preschool several years ago.

    "Boxer" was 3, with a mohawk and a pierced ear. I was unsettled by it, because I know it was mom's doing. Later in the year we had to convince her why it wasn't a great idea to give her son a "mom" tattoo on his arm.

    At least Francis can cut his hair and trade the ballet slippers for tennis shoes. Francis's mother should teach Francis that there are places and times that it is OK to look like he did, and there are times we need to dress differently for school. She is not preparing Francis for society in my opinion by allowing him to dress that way.

    Just my two cents.


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