Apr 142007
 

but I didn’t buy them. And I feel like a bad mother for it.

It isn’t as if he had expressed a liking for pink and girlish things only yesterday when we went to buy new sandals. For weeks he has been saying that he only likes colors like pink and purple and that he wants pink sneakers or pink socks or whatever pinkish clothing caught his eyes in the supermarket.

I have been thinking about this for ages. Periodically he wants to be a girl or a woman. He then wants to be called like Leah instead of Leo and pretends that he is a female astronaut or the mother of his teddy who’s then called Kokolishba (he made that name up). Leah by the way is Brazilian. Kokolishba is her son, they are both visiting Germany and Kokolishba is four years old. Sometimes Leah is married to the child’s father whose name is Kokolishba too. Of course Leah wears skirts and dresses and likes to got to the spa, dye her hair and wears make-up. As a mother I can say that this Leah is much easier to bath than Leo. After a few weeks of pretending to be female my son always finds something else to play, reacts to his real name again and that’s it. Until the next time.

Of course at four he is the age when all children are thinking about gender roles and about what things are appropriate or not for men and women. It is the age of conventionality. We meet a man with long hair, my son starts laughing, “But men don’t have long hair!”, how ridiculous. I say, “But of course there are men with long hair. Just like women can have short hair. “But women have long hair!” So what about your grandmother and the kindergarten teacher and …

He come home one day and says that he only likes colors like black and brown nowadays. Because he’s a boy and boy only like dark colors. Like a good feminist mother I say, “But you can like all colors. Whichever you want.” “But only girls like pink and purple.” “But boys can like pink and purple too.” Obviously he took that to heart. When we went to the supermarket two weeks ago there was a display of children’s clothing up front. My son wanted to have pink, um, “Gymnastikschuhe” (the nearest would be ballet slippers I think but in Germany small kids wear those during gymnastics). I said that he already had some. He wanted pink socks. They were too big. I was relieved.

So yesterday I bought him new sandals since the old ones were too small. We entered the shop and looked at sandals in his size. “I want these.” he said, pointing to very, very girlish pink ones with flowers. “Or these.”, he said clutching those:


Well, if they were to be pink those would have been acceptable to me. But then what if the other children in preschool would laugh about him. “Look at Leo”, they’d say, he’s wearing girly shoes!” and then they’d laugh like my son laughed when he saw a man with a ponytail and then he wouldn’t want to wear them again. Shoes for 45 €. I tried to interest him in the same model in blue. No chance. A sales woman came. “But you can’t have pink shoes. You’re a boy.” and then to me “Is he in preschool?” “Yes.” “The other children would make fun of him. Children can be cruel.” In the end us two grown-ups showed him all the advantages of pretty blue and mud-colored sandals. Now he has a pair that is very suitable for jumping into puddles:

He’s very happy with his new shoes and claims that he can jump better and run faster with them. But I feel rotten. I never would have thought that I would discourage my son to follow his taste. Mind you, I wouldn’t want a girl to be dressed all in pink either but I’d tend towards brighter colors, more orange, yellow and red. Have you ever compared the boy and girl section of a clothing department? Well, I suppose you have. Rows and rows of bright and colorful girl’s clothes followed by about half the amount of things for boys. And then you can choose between blue, grey, and mud-colored. With pictures of trucks or skaters.

Why isn’t there more unisex clothing for at least the smaller children? Bright and cheerful colors? Why does everything for girls have to be pink and frilly? Why are horses girlish? Since when? Horses used to be for knights and warriors and work. Now they are girl stuff. Why does there have to be so much gender distinction? Why did my mother-in-law fear that my son would turn out gay when we gave him a doll for his first birthday? (And for his third another one?) Why aren’t there more male dolls?

I don’t know if I should have made a statement. Buy my son pink sandals. They would have looked mud-colored after a few weeks anyway because, seriously, white soles? Very funny. Are they machine-washable?

When I became a feminist at age 13 I never would have thought that 18 years later people would still say things like, “But everybody knows that men can’t iron.” “Men just can’t talk about feelings.” , “You know, I never can figure out computers, but that’s because I’m a woman.” Okay. So women don’t have brains and men don’t have feelings? A boy has to be interested in sports, computers, soccer and fighting and a girl has to be interested in dolls, horses, fashion and housework. Wow, I’m glad I figured that out.

And the other thing I never would have thought would be that nowadays it’s okay for a girl to play soccer but a boy still isn’t supposed to play with dolls. I’m really angry about this. I’d like to live in a world where everybody can wear what he or she wants. Pink, blue, high heels, sneakers, who cares.

But I’m not living in such a world and so I wonder: Should I have bought him pink sandals?

Oh, and later that day I went out and bought him pink socks. With horses. And hearts.

(There’s a follow-up to this post here.)

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  26 Responses to “My son wanted pink shoes”

  1. That’s a tough call. Probably he would have been made fun of. My gramma wore glasses frames that were very male-ish, and she loved watching wrestling and drinking beer. I always thought was awfully cool.

    Maybe yer son will have more opportunities to express himself once he has also learned the unfortunate reactionary reactions to his actions.

    My male best friend’s son had a doll. But my friend called it an “action figure” in mixed company.

  2. That’s a tough call. Probably he would have been made fun of. My gramma wore glasses frames that were very male-ish, and she loved watching wrestling and drinking beer. I always thought was awfully cool.

    Maybe yer son will have more opportunities to express himself once he has also learned the unfortunate reactionary reactions to his actions.

    My male best friend’s son had a doll. But my friend called it an “action figure” in mixed company.

  3. This is a tough one. As cool and accepting as we like to think we are, we also know something about reality, so we know the other kids will tease him. And that just feels too harsh to accept.

  4. This is a tough one. As cool and accepting as we like to think we are, we also know something about reality, so we know the other kids will tease him. And that just feels too harsh to accept.

  5. Fabulous post, and a very tough decision to make.

    Yay for pink socks with horsies and hearts!

    Do you know about Breyer and Schleich horses? They’re plastic and I’ve seen both boys and girls playing with them. Older kids, it’s mostly girls, but as long as you’re willing to let the horses get banged up a bit and even broken, they seem to be socially acceptable for younger kids of all genders. You can get nice used Breyers inexpensively on eBay.

  6. Fabulous post, and a very tough decision to make.

    Yay for pink socks with horsies and hearts!

    Do you know about Breyer and Schleich horses? They’re plastic and I’ve seen both boys and girls playing with them. Older kids, it’s mostly girls, but as long as you’re willing to let the horses get banged up a bit and even broken, they seem to be socially acceptable for younger kids of all genders. You can get nice used Breyers inexpensively on eBay.

  7. Part of our job as parents is to teach our children how to navigate the world in which we live. The real world, not the ideal world. To make sure they are not hurt, physically and emotionally, that they learn how to make and be a friend

    Another part of our job as parents is to make the world in which we live the best place it can be for our kids (and if other people benefit, that’s great, but seriously, it’s our kids that motivate us first).

    So, you weren’t a bad mother. You were thoughtful and realistic. There’s nothing wrong with being practical, especially at his age. When he’s a teenager and more able to make informed decisions about how he presents himself, and understand the consequences, that’s the time to permit self-expression.

    When it comes to kids shoes, I’m for practical because of the cost. And your son was happy in the end.
    (Those particular sandals would indeed survive machine washing.)

  8. Part of our job as parents is to teach our children how to navigate the world in which we live. The real world, not the ideal world. To make sure they are not hurt, physically and emotionally, that they learn how to make and be a friend

    Another part of our job as parents is to make the world in which we live the best place it can be for our kids (and if other people benefit, that’s great, but seriously, it’s our kids that motivate us first).

    So, you weren’t a bad mother. You were thoughtful and realistic. There’s nothing wrong with being practical, especially at his age. When he’s a teenager and more able to make informed decisions about how he presents himself, and understand the consequences, that’s the time to permit self-expression.

    When it comes to kids shoes, I’m for practical because of the cost. And your son was happy in the end.
    (Those particular sandals would indeed survive machine washing.)

  9. I agree that we should all live in a world where we can do anything we want (as long as no one is hurt). I have friends who have given their small sons dolls and pink things, which I think is great. I don’t know if the children’s friends harassed them or not. It is so hard to buck the system when bringing up a child. You can do all the right things, but all the other folks around you are more status quo and interfere with the good you are trying to do. It’s great you are pondering all of this!

  10. I agree that we should all live in a world where we can do anything we want (as long as no one is hurt). I have friends who have given their small sons dolls and pink things, which I think is great. I don’t know if the children’s friends harassed them or not. It is so hard to buck the system when bringing up a child. You can do all the right things, but all the other folks around you are more status quo and interfere with the good you are trying to do. It’s great you are pondering all of this!

  11. A friend of mine’s preschool son wanted to go to the school’s Halloween party as a princess. Not a prince. A princess: golden crown, sceptre, pink glittery tutu-ed dress, and magical shoes. It was a hard call; sure just for the duration of an afternoon, but nevertheless children can be cruel, can’t they? Since he was not to be dissuaded, the parents asked the preschool teachers to have a talk with the children about using their imagination to choose funny and fun characters. The teachers even suggested to the children that it is fun sometimes for girls to dress up as Harry Potter or Merlin the Magician and boys to come as witches, or Pippi Longstocking. In this one case little boy dressing up as a princess worked fine. The boy came back from the Halloween party bright-cheeked after having a great time.

    Yet, this doesn’t really apply to your story because the princess outing occurred over a short period of time in a private setting.

    My mother (truly) hated dangling earrings. Unfortunately, when I was a young teenager, longlong dangly earrings were the rave. Gosh, the things were so long and heavy; they even ripped the holes in some of the girls’ ears. But, one has got to make sacrifices for fashion!

    In order to discourage me from wearing dangly earrings my mother told me, when I asked her whether she liked a certain pair of earrings, “Oh, yes, they’re quite nice. It’s such a shame they make you look short”. Horizontal stripes make you look fat. Dangly earrings make you look short. End of history of dangly earrings.

    Later in life, when I finally realised how conniving, how smart my mother was I didn’t know whether to be angry or cry in frustration. I decided to laugh instead. Still, deep down, there is a thirteen year old inside of me that rather resents the fact that her mother ended her dangly earring career before it even started.

  12. A friend of mine’s preschool son wanted to go to the school’s Halloween party as a princess. Not a prince. A princess: golden crown, sceptre, pink glittery tutu-ed dress, and magical shoes. It was a hard call; sure just for the duration of an afternoon, but nevertheless children can be cruel, can’t they? Since he was not to be dissuaded, the parents asked the preschool teachers to have a talk with the children about using their imagination to choose funny and fun characters. The teachers even suggested to the children that it is fun sometimes for girls to dress up as Harry Potter or Merlin the Magician and boys to come as witches, or Pippi Longstocking. In this one case little boy dressing up as a princess worked fine. The boy came back from the Halloween party bright-cheeked after having a great time.

    Yet, this doesn’t really apply to your story because the princess outing occurred over a short period of time in a private setting.

    My mother (truly) hated dangling earrings. Unfortunately, when I was a young teenager, longlong dangly earrings were the rave. Gosh, the things were so long and heavy; they even ripped the holes in some of the girls’ ears. But, one has got to make sacrifices for fashion!

    In order to discourage me from wearing dangly earrings my mother told me, when I asked her whether she liked a certain pair of earrings, “Oh, yes, they’re quite nice. It’s such a shame they make you look short”. Horizontal stripes make you look fat. Dangly earrings make you look short. End of history of dangly earrings.

    Later in life, when I finally realised how conniving, how smart my mother was I didn’t know whether to be angry or cry in frustration. I decided to laugh instead. Still, deep down, there is a thirteen year old inside of me that rather resents the fact that her mother ended her dangly earring career before it even started.

  13. It’s particularly hard to be raising a boy in this situation. While girls have it harder in a lot of ways, they do have more flexibility when it comes to gender performance. The poor little guy.

  14. It’s particularly hard to be raising a boy in this situation. While girls have it harder in a lot of ways, they do have more flexibility when it comes to gender performance. The poor little guy.

  15. This is really interesting. I think if I were in the same situation, I would do the same. It’s true that girls have it easier. I could easily buy my daughter those brown and blue sandals.

    Great post.

  16. This is really interesting. I think if I were in the same situation, I would do the same. It’s true that girls have it easier. I could easily buy my daughter those brown and blue sandals.

    Great post.

  17. My husband and I are in the same boat. Pink shoes, pink bike, pink anything. We took wise counsel from a good, oldschool feminist friend who, when faced with the same issue with her son, said “you can have the pink, no problem. But other children might make fun of you. It’s your choice, but I’m just telling you what I think might happen.” Her son was able to make decisions with all of the information. That’s what we are doing now and it’s working well.

    There was a great article in Brain, Child awhile back called something like “If my daughter can be a Tomboy, why can’t my son be a Janegirl?” I loved it. Catch it if you can.

  18. My husband and I are in the same boat. Pink shoes, pink bike, pink anything. We took wise counsel from a good, oldschool feminist friend who, when faced with the same issue with her son, said “you can have the pink, no problem. But other children might make fun of you. It’s your choice, but I’m just telling you what I think might happen.” Her son was able to make decisions with all of the information. That’s what we are doing now and it’s working well.

    There was a great article in Brain, Child awhile back called something like “If my daughter can be a Tomboy, why can’t my son be a Janegirl?” I loved it. Catch it if you can.

  19. i don’t know how i missed this the first time. but wow. what a great post. what a complicated situation.

    and above all, how lucky he is to have you.

  20. i don’t know how i missed this the first time. but wow. what a great post. what a complicated situation.

    and above all, how lucky he is to have you.

  21. Well, my boy wouldn’t have gotten the pink sandals because I tend to pick up such things without him in tow. Easier that way.

    But I hear you on the gender thing…girls do get a lot more flexibility in these areas it seems.

    With that being said, however, we otherwise let MF do what he wants: he pushes dolls around in toy pushchairs at playgroups; he likes tea parties; he dresses up in my hats and scarves and shoes; he likes to wear my hair bands when I’m drying my hair; he likes to use lotion on his cheeks when I’m using lotion post-shower; and I dress him in lots of bright colors which he loves (orange and yellow and red). And my husband and I are fine with all this. It probably helps that my husband’s brother is gay, so we already know that we don’t care what people think, and our boy absolutely adores him.

  22. Well, my boy wouldn’t have gotten the pink sandals because I tend to pick up such things without him in tow. Easier that way.

    But I hear you on the gender thing…girls do get a lot more flexibility in these areas it seems.

    With that being said, however, we otherwise let MF do what he wants: he pushes dolls around in toy pushchairs at playgroups; he likes tea parties; he dresses up in my hats and scarves and shoes; he likes to wear my hair bands when I’m drying my hair; he likes to use lotion on his cheeks when I’m using lotion post-shower; and I dress him in lots of bright colors which he loves (orange and yellow and red). And my husband and I are fine with all this. It probably helps that my husband’s brother is gay, so we already know that we don’t care what people think, and our boy absolutely adores him.

  23. Here fromt he Just Posts…

    you know, you make a good point with the cot factor, really. it might make a nice balance to have bought a pink pair if they were cheap, and then if he changed his mind, it wouldn’t have made such a dent. Pink socks are probably just about the right level of pocketbook commitment to letting him express himself! (and yes, I’m noticing my girl’s wardrobe getting pinker, even though I buy her clothes, because that’s what out there. I try to temper it with lots of green and blue and red where I can, but…)

  24. Here fromt he Just Posts…

    you know, you make a good point with the cot factor, really. it might make a nice balance to have bought a pink pair if they were cheap, and then if he changed his mind, it wouldn’t have made such a dent. Pink socks are probably just about the right level of pocketbook commitment to letting him express himself! (and yes, I’m noticing my girl’s wardrobe getting pinker, even though I buy her clothes, because that’s what out there. I try to temper it with lots of green and blue and red where I can, but…)

  25. I came here from the just posts a week and a half ago, but didn’t know what to say. Your post has stuck with me ever since, especially since the very next day I took my son to buy his first hard-soled shoes. And I noticed all the bright girls’ sandals and the dull boys’ sandals. I have a post generating here.

    My first thought was we would do well to buy our kids pink sandals if that’s what they want (although my son is not at the age of choosing his own clothes yet) but your point about cost is valid, as is concerns about kids’ teasing.

    It’s much more complex than I first thought…

  26. I came here from the just posts a week and a half ago, but didn’t know what to say. Your post has stuck with me ever since, especially since the very next day I took my son to buy his first hard-soled shoes. And I noticed all the bright girls’ sandals and the dull boys’ sandals. I have a post generating here.

    My first thought was we would do well to buy our kids pink sandals if that’s what they want (although my son is not at the age of choosing his own clothes yet) but your point about cost is valid, as is concerns about kids’ teasing.

    It’s much more complex than I first thought…

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