When your son asks to dress as a girl, it means you failed as a parent.

Posted on by Pastabagel and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

You read that right.

A question posed on one of the stupidest websites on the internet, Today.com, asks “Is it OK for little boys to dress up as girls?” This is the answer that ends the article:

“I applaud you for letting your child be unique, imaginative and free from the constraints of our closed society,” one poster wrote after Sarah’s appearance Monday on TODAY. “This is not a gender issue, this is not a gay or straight issue, this is a parenting issue and you have passed.”

No, actually, I’m pretty sure you failed. First, every child does this. The girls want to do boy things, and vice versa. When a child asks to dress in the clothes of the other gender, or simply declares they want to be the other gender, the child is not asking about or expressing sex or gender. They are doing what kids always do from the ages of 5-13, which is struggle to understand society’s often illogical social conventions, rules and boundaries.

And when they do things like this, they are testing to see how well the parent really understands those rules.

Gender, as the left is fond of pointing out, is a social construction. Boys get blue, girls get pink. It’s not biology that determines that, it’s just a social convention. In fact the rule is so arbitrary it used to be the opposite and through some clever marketing and accidents of history, it switched. Boys wear pants, and girls wear dresses. Girls wear their hair long, and boys who aren’t heshers wear theirs short. In elementary schools, there are boys’ bathrooms and girls’ bathrooms, even though hydraulically both bathrooms are configured exactly alike (the boy’s bathrooms lacking in urinals). Simply by historical and cultural tradition, we’ve decided that we do not want unrelated children of opposite sexes using the same bathrooms. The only reason we paint them different colors is to signal in the most obvious way possible “Hey kid, you’re in the wrong bathroom.” The rule isn’t logical, it can’t be explained rationally. It’s just a social convention. An arbitrary boundary. Boys shall not enter the pink room with plumbing, girls shall not enter the blue room with plumbing. Just because.

So when the girl says “I want to use the boys’ bathroom” or the boy says “I want to wear pink dresses” they aren’t revealing their gender identity or their sexual preference. They simply have encountered a social rule that they can’t understand rationally, and they are looking for you to explain it. That’s why in all these stories, the kid announces the gender-bending intent to the parents. It’s a challenge to the rule. It is exactly the same challenge as if the child announced they wanted to wear their underwear on the outside of their clothes, or better yet, as a hat. This is how the child asks “I understand that there is this social rule, but it makes no sense to me, so can I break it and see what happens?”

What matters is not that the child presented the challenge to the rule, what matters is the parent’s response. Is the parent going to enforce the rule, permit me to break the rule, or signal that in fact there is no rule at all. It’s not about permissiveness, it’s about acknowledging reality.

Where the parents in these stories always go wrong is that in an effort to make their child happy, they signal that the rather simple rule “Boys do X, girls do Y” is actually meaningless. They don’t allow the breach of the rule conspiratorially, ironically or humorously (“You look so silly, ha ha”). They respond in a way that communicates to the child that the parent doesn’t really think there’s a boundary there at all.

But it does exist. The rule may be stupid, anachronistic, archaic, or ridiculous, but it actually exists. Social boundaries, lines, and distinctions are very much a part of our reality, like gravity and the colors of the rainbow. The problem the parents have is that they don’t themselves understand the rule in this way. They see the rule as enforcing a sex/genetic distinction, and when challenged try unconvincingly to argue that the gender boundaries have some rational basis in biology, cleanliness, or personal safety, arguments which a child can easily invalidate. They don’t understand that these boundaries have from their inception been highly contextualized. In short, the parents who go wrong in these situations go wrong because they don’t understand their world or how society operates within it. That lack of understanding manifests as neurosis over their child’s happiness.

But where the child can experience and perceive physical reality in a way that allows their behavior to adapt to its constraints, they can’t perceive the social reality in this way. That has to be imposed by an external authority. This is operation of the formation of the superego. “I want to do this.” You can’t. “Why not?” Because that’s the rule.

But what if that external authority, i.e. the mom or dad, is inept or clueless? What if they second guess their responsibility for imposing the social rule and forming the child into a functional member of society? Then the superego forms dysfunctionally or unpredictably. But it will form. The article’s reference to a “closed society” is cluelessness. Society isn’t closed. Society exists nowhere but in the minds of its members, and every member of society has a superego. The parents can choose whether the child’s forms consistently or inconsistently with those of everyone else’s simply by choosing what boundaries to drawn and what rules to enforce. But it is the parents’ choice, not the child’s.

Notice carefully that I’m drawing a distinction between the child challenging the existence of this social reality during their formative years, and the child (adolescent, or adult) deliberately flaunting the rules to challenge the authority that enforces it. This person breaks the rule not to test the operation of the rule, but the test the authority behind it. And this is a fine attitude, in my opinion. Every child should have a healthy disrespect for authority.

Nor am I saying that whenever a child presents some gender role-breaching behavior that the parents must respond swiftly and decisively in the negative. But the parent should understand that how they respond to the child’s behavior reflects their own understanding and appreciation of the rules. The parent who lets their son wear a dress or their daughter use the boys’ room isn’t really doing it to make the child happy, they are doing it because of their own contempt for or incomprehension of the rule. But the parent should appreciate that while the construction of the superego is based on their choices, the consequences of its malformation are borne entirely by the child. The rest of the world isn’t right or wrong for enforcing these rules, just like they aren’t right or wrong for breaking free of them.

But the objective reality is that when you break society’s rules, society tends to punish the rulebreaker if for no other reason than to convince itself that the rule still exists. Right or wrong is irrelevant. It just is.

You want your son to wear dresses, knock yourself out. But at least give the kid the full story: “Normally boys don’t do this, only girls do. Everyone else thinks this is a rule, and you are breaking their rule, and they are going to want to punish you for it. I don’t think it is a rule, so I’m not going to punish you for breaking it, but someone else might. Are you sure you want to do this?” The child who says yes anyway at least does so with full information.

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  4. A Refresher Course in Ideology
  5. Why are all female characters in pop culture cliches?

68 Responses to When your son asks to dress as a girl, it means you failed as a parent.

  1. flurie says:

    Another overwrought Pastabagel post long on presumption and Freud and short on reality. I even agree with the conclusion to a point, but it’s so muddled in his egocentric theology that I feel he’s achieved little more than a broken clock. The greatest part is the “conversation” that makes it clear that Pastabagel doesn’t have a conversation with a six-year-old on a regular basis, because the other option is that he has no clue about their capacity for reason.

    • claudius says:

      Your snide sense of sarcasm coupled with ad hominums about the validity of an argument based on identity contributes nothing to this discussion. This is what is wrong with media, a lack of intelligent debate.

      If you disagree with PB, attack the rationality of his fundamental assumptions in this post. What about it is long on his presumption about Freud? What about it is “short on reality”? It’s not enough to make large sweeping statements without examples.

  2. rafaelmadeira says:

    > Boys get blue, girls get pink. It’s not biology that determines that, it’s just a social convention. In fact the rule is so arbitrary it used to be the opposite and through some clever marketing and accidents of history, it switched.

    This is only half the story. It used to be the opposite because “pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.” So if gender is about “attributes assigned to sex” (and colors are not attributes of sex just like tools and dolls are not attributes of sex), nothing has changed, since boys were still thought to be ‘stronger and more decided,’ and girls “delicate and dainty.” That this has been the case predates society.

    This would be a point about gender if people used to think boys were delicate and dainty, and girls stronger and more decided, and therefore they had to go with pink and blue, respectively. So the change about which sex goes with what color has more to do with people’s understanding of colors, not genders. This is the where clever marketing and accidents of history played a part.

    • lilin says:

      “since boys were still thought to be ‘stronger and more decided,’ and girls “delicate and dainty.” That this has been the case predates society.”

      Not true. Plenty of cultures think, or thought, that women are willful, impetuous, and earthy while men are heavenly, light, and understand the subtle nuances of the spirit.

      In fact, if you look at some contemporary gay writers they talk about how women look so much more sturdy compared to the thin-hipped, flat-chested fragility of men.

      • rafaelmadeira says:

        > Plenty of cultures think, or thought, that women are willful, impetuous, and earthy while men are heavenly, light, and understand the subtle nuances of the spirit.

        None of those attributes contradict the ones mentioned in regards to the pink x blue issue.

        And what “some contemporary gay writers” say about what looks fragile or strong is hardly representative of what the human mind instinctively associates with these concepts, as gathered from countless studies done with adults and children on things such as associations with abstract shapes, etc.

  3. sunshinefiasco says:

    It seems like according to this analysis, there’s really no good answer as to what to do if you have a genderbending child.

    If you permit him (or her, just apply this parenthesis throughout) to dress differently without comment, you’re teaching him rules don’t matter. If you demand he “dress appropriately” you’re stifiling him. If you try to explain as PB did above, it seems like the message will be one of these:

    Either the kid dresses how “they aren’t supposed to”: society’s rules don’t matter/don’t apply to me, only my parent’s rulings dictate what is right and wrong — this message might result in a child who is obeys their parents, or in a brat who believes that as long as mom says it’s okay, who cares what their teacher says (on any issue, not just dress), or,
    the kid doesn’t dress that way, and recieves the message that parents are safe, not-parents are scary, and other people sometimes just punish you when they’re not supposed to.

    Those examples might be extreme, and this incident wouldn’t exist in a vacuum, but we’re talking about the underlying messages that parents unknowingly send, right?

    Also, this is a whole lot of agency for a little kid. If the kid is just bringing it up because they want to rebel, isn’t there a non-overkill way to defuse or distract until the kid gets a little older?

  4. AnonymousAtLarge says:

    You are so so wrong Pastabagel.

    Sometimes gender bending is boundary testing. This is the LUGs, the bicurious kids, girls who wear boys clothes in highschool, artistic boys who dress in an emo style until they grow up. This is all boundary testing and is inherently adolescent.

    Most of the time, however, when a child expresses a profound aversion to his gender role and is clearly fond of opposite sex activities and proclivities, there is a real biologial reason for that. It is NOT boundary testing. It is a medical condition, the brain is not typically developed and is markedly incongruent with biological sex, as brain studies of homosexual and transsexual people show.

    Since gender bending as boundary testing is relatively harmless, and since forcing a queer child into a gender role he is a poor fit for is probably psychologically harmful, the proper way to parent a child showing an interest in gender bending is to LET THEM DO IT. If it is just boundary testing, they will grow out of it. If it is a genuine expression of their queerness (i.e. sexually incongruent/atypically formed brain), then it is innate and they cannot stop doing it, and shaming them about it will just fuck them up psychologically.

    I don’t think there is a parent on this earth who is sane, who does not show children that gender boundaries exist. There is not a parent on this earth who would not PREFER if their child stayed within those boundaries, because they will have a better life if they do.

    Do you really think it is better parenting to force the child to stay in the boundaries, than it is to be tolerant of crossing them?

    Really?

    Sounds like you are just justifying an emotional reflex, since logically your line of thought is absolutely so full of shit. Yea, we all know queers are creepy. I hear this every single day from my straight coworkers. We all know it freaks you out and grosses you out to think of two men kissing or dykes on bikes, etc. Unfortunately these people are real and do exist and they can’t help that their brain developed in a sexually atypical way. Sorry they exist, sorry they were born, but they do, so get over it.

    If children start experimenting with gender, meh just let them do it. Most grow out of it, some are actually queer, and will be whatever they will be.

    • ThomasR says:

      I don’t want to offer an opinion on your overall thesis that Pastabagel is a moron, but this statement is a bit problematic: “If it is just boundary testing, they will grow out of it.”

      This is almost definitionally false. A child will “grow out of” boundary testing, but they will certainly first discover either that there is a boundary or that there is no boundary. If parents say and do nothing, then children will believe that there is no boundary or they will be informed of the boundary by others. Do you really think that sending your children out into the world without any knowledge of social mores and prejudices is good parenting?

  5. AnonymousAtLarge says:

    I dont even see why we assume parents have a responsibility to interfere or comment when a child tests gender boundaries.

    Children are not stupid and they do not depend on their parents as a model to understand gender boundaries and rules. Parents are like 1/1000th as relevant to the world at large when it comes to informing a child’s understanding of sex and gender , as well as fashion and trends.

    When you were a child, who did you look up to and seek to model your appearance like:
    a) your mother/father
    b) your older sister/brother/nieces/nephews/cousins
    c) celebrities/models/rockstars/athletes
    d) friends

    I can tell you, having been a child, out of all those choices, choice A was like, 0.001% relevant to my identity and developing idea of sex and gender. When a very very small child, it plays a larger role, but very very small children are mostly asexual and do not understand gender beyond instruction: you are going to wear this dress / you are going to wear this baseball cap and sneakers / it is right to follow mom and daddy.

    Parents need to chill out. You can’t make a straight hetero person queer, and you can’t make a queer straight, so all in all the chips are going to fall where they will fall, things were already decided before the child was even born. You have no responsibility what so ever other than to love your children and be a stable normal functional self sufficient human being who is not wrought with anxieties and insecurities and excessive concern for others opinions.

    • TheDevastator says:

      I don’t think Pastabagel is saying what you’re accusing him of saying — this essay isn’t anti-genderbending at all. In particular, the approach put forward in the last paragraph seems good to me. What do you find wrong with it?

    • sunshinefiasco says:

      Also, if you read the OP, we’re talking about kids ages 5-13, not 13-18. Parents have a much, much stronger influence on what a kid has/wears at that age than what you’re indicating.

      12-13 year olds might buy 1 or 2 pieces of clothing by themselves, maybe a 10-11 year old cares a little about what they’re wearing, but before that, at those ages, it’s more likely that mom decides whether he’s wearing a button-down or a tank top, and mom and dad (mom) decide what clothes get bought and what ones aren’t allowed in the house.

      • AnonymousAtLarge says:

        What difference does it even make if it is a phase tiny children grow out of by 13 years old?

        • TheDevastator says:

          Because other people don’t think it’s okay. This essay isn’t saying not to let your son wear dresses, it’s saying to let him do it, but also to let him know discuss with him before hand why other people might have a problem with it:

          Nor am I saying that whenever a child presents some gender role-breaching behavior that the parents must respond swiftly and decisively in the negative.

          You want your son to wear dresses, knock yourself out. But at least give the kid the full story: “Normally boys don’t do this, only girls do. Everyone else thinks this is a rule, and you are breaking their rule, and they are going to want to punish you for it. I don’t think it is a rule, so I’m not going to punish you for breaking it, but someone else might. Are you sure you want to do this?” The child who says yes anyway at least does so with full information.

          Sounds good to me. What is your objection, exactly?

        • sunshinefiasco says:

          It doesn’t matter to me, but the reason people get crazy about it being younger children is that it speaks to when and how gender and sexuality develop and evolve.

          The people who get upset tend to believe that homosexuality/non-normative gender are easily-changed choices, not part of a deeper identity and orientation.

    • rapscallione says:

      Oh hey guys, don’t mind me here, just another post about myself again.

      • sunshinefiasco says:

        I can tell you, having been a child,

        …unlike the rest of us.

        Remember this turn of phrase, and look for it again when we talk about adult gender/sexuality (HINT: instead of child,it says woman).

        • AnonymousAtLarge says:

          What a bunch of morons I am dealing with.

          Yes, you’re right, anyone who disagrees with you is a narcissist just like TLP taught you, good boy.

          No, I am not ‘talking about myself” as I am not a tranny and never asked to dress like a boy and enjoy dressing like a girl and love girly things. Actually while responding to you, and feeling frustrated with your stupidity (and oh my is it stupid) I am in the middle of painting my nails.

          I enjoy these gender issues for reasons only slightly related to myself… mostly because gender queers and transexuals represent one of the last groups left where it is somewhat acceptable to repress, mock, be openly and unapologetically prejudiced against.

          This slop by pastabagel is yet another example of such a line of thought.

          But oh, pastabagel isn’t a narcissist because his writings are TLP approved and clearly understands the universe and its secrets for that reason.

          • xiphoidmaneuver says:

            A@Large, my condolences – you seem to be ganged up on here. This is just a discussion forum with relatively anonymous people who don’t have to be any more a part of your life than you let them. So no sweat.

            If you practice the restraint not to call people morons or their work slop online – no matter what you think of them or how right you are – that grace will carry over to your offline life and you’ll be happier.

          • AnonymousAtLarge says:

            Why bother with restraint when none is ever shown to me?

            You know I’m tired of the ugly, miserable, roof top shooter disgruntled angst and hate that spews from this blog … clearly populated by the powerless who wish to be powerful, they go around analyzing as a substitute for acting. It’s actually pathetic, I venture to guess the majority of people here would have been oppressors brutes and bullies if only they had the real world intelligence, charisma or strength to pull it off.

            Majority readership of TLP (and yes, everyone here is from TLP) is a bunch of failed alpha males and glad handers, seeking a father and a leader to give them power, and the pathetic irony is they are the first to accuse YOU of narcissism.

            I suspect thats why so many intolerant posts are directed towards gays and trannies on this blog… the failed alpha male does not have the courage to challenge other groups, the risk of criticism and ostracism is too high, so he targets a group no one cares about. You’ll never see a post on this forum about the merits of middle class children dressing up like latino or black gangsters, but you WILL see post, after post, after post, about how gender bending is a problem and more along the lines.
            Because ultimately the poster is a coward looking for power wherever he can get it.

            I have no idea why I even come here, it’s like dealing with annoying children.

          • sunshinefiasco says:

            I didn’t call you a narcissist, a tranny, or a cross-dresser, I just think it’s hilarious that you’re claiming authority on a topic based on the fact that you were a child once, which is one of the only things that we can be positive that every poster has experienced.

            Also, your willingness to speak for all children based on your cred as a former child parallels your willingness to speak for all women based on your cred as a woman.

        • AnonymousAtLarge says:

          Hi loser. Right on time.

          • operator says:

            You’ll note how no one else seems to feel the need to call you names – you’re either trolling or in need of some kind of help.

            Let me help you troll better?

          • Pastabagel says:

            How much do you want to get banned? Quit the name calling.

          • claudius says:

            AAL, I understand what you’re saying, and there are lots of reasons to be angry. We’re writing here to better understand what’s going on in the world. Sometimes posters may be correct, sometimes they may be incorrect. The readership can post about the flaws in an argument – without making it personal.

            Sometimes they do make it personal. But then, there’s an excellent opportunity to find out why they made it personal. We can’t assume. There’s some reason why they’re doing it, it’s not just blind hatred. The only thing they can base their assumptions on is what the poster has individually written.

            We leave imprints when we write, no matter how sterile and detached we attempt to do it. These imprints are a reflection of ourselves at a particular time or place. Through understanding these past imprints and reflections, we can change our behavior and modify ideas to make ourselves – and the world – better.

            The best part about it here is it’s all done anonymously, so people are going to say what is actually on their minds based on what you’ve said. In real life, how many of our friends or relatives can give us this sort of feedback? So really, all of this criticism is a gift.

            I hope one day you feel less angry about what’s going on here.

          • AnonymousAtLarge says:

            @pastabagel

            Operator has been harrasing me since it registered an account.

            Clearly you are suffering from a moderator power trip, because you don’t appreciate that I criticized your post(s).

            Please do ban my account, this “discussion forum” is a joke and I am suffering some kind of posting OCD.

          • inarticulateinthecity says:

            I’m a woman, I’ve been reading TLP for a few years now and Partial Objects since it began, and I’ve also followed the comments on both websites.

            AnonymousAtLarge strikes me as a neurotic, obnoxious woman – at least online. Maybe she’s adorable offline, but if it’s the same thing, oh boy.

            Sorry, lady, you started with the name-calling. I just think someone needed to confront you directly. Not to use sarcasm, not to hint ever so slightly that you’re a bit of a short fuse; no, I just wanna say right away that you are totally obnoxious in the way that you write and, IF YOU HAVEN’T NOTICED, this is counterproductive to the way people receive your ideas.

            I hope this helps you.

        • AnonymousAtLarge says:

          Another example of the powerless seeking power and control.

          Go ahead and ban me, meanwhile your sycophants can continue to applaud you.

          But I’m the narcissist, remember that.

          • operator says:

            No need to make things up – the facts are there if you’re looking for them. March 13th, 2011 versus whenever you got here.

            It’s nothing personal – just came here to discuss things other than your opinions (which tend to take up a lot of real estate, rarely include cited facts, and seem to trend toward incivility).

          • inarticulateinthecity says:

            Why the hell do you come here for then?

            Troll.

          • cliche says:

            Calling people narcissists isn’t the point.
            Obviously, part of the point is realizing the narcissistic traits within others, but more-so within yourself…and then putting a stop to them.

            In this particular post, the parent’s narcissism has lead them to put being “perfect”, politically correct parents, ahead of helping their child navigate a wonderfully confusing world.

          • philtrum says:

            In this particular post, the parent’s narcissism has lead them to put being “perfect”, politically correct parents, ahead of helping their child navigate a wonderfully confusing world.

            But why would a parent think that “perfect” parenting is “politically correct”? What would lead someone to think that in the first place?

            It doesn’t come out of nowhere. There are reasons to think that it’s okay for your son to want to wear a tutu. Maybe you don’t like those reasons or think they are valid. But they are reasons.

            It sounds as if a lot of people who sneer at liberal parents think that those liberal parents are really conservatives at heart, who are just pretending to be liberal for the benefit of other liberals…who are also really conservatives, so there is no actual, authentic liberalism. “I’m right, and everyone really does agree with me, they just won’t admit it.”

  6. Pingback: "When your son asks to dress as a girl, it means you failed as a parent." | Pink and Blue | Scoop.it

  7. sdenheyer says:

    What is the operational definition of a super-ego? How do I tell a well-formed from a malformed one? Why should I (as a parent) care – that is, what long-term life outcomes result from a malformed super-ego? Greater chance of divorce? Incarceration?

    Basically, I want to know if you’re talking about something real, or are you being normative?

    I want my own girls to be good at math. If I succeed, there’s a significant chance they’ll be socially punished – they’ll be “nerds” – apparently, there’s an inexplicable but real social rule that people should be bad at math. I’m doing it anyway, because of other positive outcomes – not just better career choices, but a deeper appreciation for the structure of reality. Am I wrong to do this? Is there a similar concern with other outcomes in the minds of parents who are lax about gender rules?

    • Comus says:

      In my shallow understanding, the operation of the superego is, not merely to limit and accuse, but also to protect the person by making it possible to anticipate the reactions of others (in this it constricts the id, which is somewhat an solipsistic, asocial construct). An overdeveloped superego makes a person to act more cautious and leads self-blame and restriction. You can say the superego is malformed when it causes recurring problems in the persons daily life. If the superego is underdeveloped the person has not internalized the rules; has not achieved self-consciousness, and his or hers actions cause trouble in the persons life by creating adverse reactions in the surroundings.

      Superego is socially a more relevant construct than the id, and is essential in the ascent of moral thinking. Because it is so much embedded in social interactions it is by definition also normative. This does not make it “not real”, in a sense it is more real in that it is not isolated from reality but is formed and continuously interacting in the interpersonal daily life.

      In your question on the teaching of maths, you might have to distinguish correlation from causation. People rarely are called nerds, because they are good at maths, but because of the other characteristic that overlap within the Venn diagram of “good at maths” and “nerd”.

      If one goes the route of “you’re not supposed to like this, because it is socially frowned upon”, you teach the kid that what others think is more important than his or her desires and wants. This leads to what constructivist think of as an outward-oriented organization of meaning, where one sees the true self by reflection of others (as he has learned that the others thinking is more valid than him- or herself). This is not more or less right than growing up an inward-oriented child, but it makes the person more susceptible to other types of problems, like eating disorders or OCD (like inwards higher tendency to depression or phobias).

      The thing is we cannot see the future, and we cannot protect the child from all the projected stereotypes by anticipation (why is nerd a bad thing in 2022?), so I think that it’s just better to reinforce the things the child is interested in and make him aware of the importance of social structures. Basically, don’t stress and overthink it.

      • sdenheyer says:

        Thanks for elucidating. In this context, by “real” I mean, stable in definition and verifiable. There’s no test (that I’m aware of) that tells you whether a person has a malformed superego – it’s all (from what I can tell) up to clinical judgment and post hoc reasoning. Which makes it hard to assess whether the theory has any predictive power or not. (Ie. You don’t think there’s heritable traits that could be responsible for both strict parenting and OCD?)

        None of which really matters, in the course of informal discussion, but it seems here it’s being used as a cognitive stop-sign.

        Re: math – Yes, that’s a fair criticism. I hope you’re right.

  8. JohnJ says:

    It’s become common for parents to believe that when their child questions the rule, that they are somehow expressing a need. Thus, some parents, believing they are fighting for their child’s need, actually encourage them to continue pushing that particular boundary. But that says more about the parent’s neuroses than the child’s actual needs.

    • TheDevastator says:

      The question then becomes, what’s the default? If I don’t know if my son really needs to wear girl’s clothes or he’s just pushing boundaries, how do I respond? There’s something to be said for always assuming the kid is expressing a genuine need. If they’re not, little or no harm done. If they are, then enforcing the boundaries could be very harmful.

      • Sfon says:

        Children have a need for boundaries. Lack of boundaries can be very harmful. There are no simple rules that can make up for the ability and willingness to connect with one’s children and respond to them thoughtfully.

        • philtrum says:

          Well, sure; but no one is suggesting otherwise, as suicism has indicated more than once. We’re arguing over whether one particular kind of rule or boundary is worth enforcing.

      • suicism says:

        I think it depends on what you consider a boundary, no? If you–as a parent or member of society–see no reason to place boundaries on whether or not (say) a boy wears a skirt, or a girl picks out a pair of pants, then there are no boundaries for the child to test. As long as you have firm boundaries on the things that do matter to you, I don’t see why permissiveness around gendered clothing is an issue.

        Also, keep in mind that a recent J Crew catalog (if my memory serves me correctly) featured a little boy getting his toenails painted. Even if you look at consumer culture, there’s quite a bit of leeway around kids playing in this fashion. It seems silly to me to enforce such rules because certain, more conservative groups think it’s dangerous.

  9. thecobrasnose says:

    Proper and thorough socialization is a vital duty of parents, especially of young children. As Hank Hill said in quashing his son’s new found interest in magick, “I’m afraid of you getting your ass kicked every day for the rest of your life because you found a new way to act like a nerd.” Knowing and appreciating customs of dress is a pretty basic survival skill that a person can later play with or flout when he or she is old and independent enough to appreciate the risks involved.

  10. suicism says:

    Hm. I’m no parent, but I humbly disagree. I think our culture is still terribly homophobic, and worse when it comes to transgenderedness. As someone who’d love to see a less heternormative and more genderfluid society, I think happily affirming the kid’s interest in youthful cross-dressing–without the “someone else might punish you” caveat–is hands down the right approach. What if it were a racial issue? “Well, I don’t mind if you go play with the black boy across the street, but just so you know… other people think it’s won’t be okay, so they might punish you for it.” To me this implies that there’s something wrong about cross-dressing, but that the parents don’t really care; inverting things–that is, giving the message that cross-dressing is fine, and that if people have a problem with it, they’re the ones with the issue–coheres more to my own values.

    Assuming that the parents enforce other social rules (no, you can’t scream in a restaurant; you can’t take things that don’t belong to you; you need to be in bed by such-and-such a time), I don’t understand why normalizing cross-dressing / genderfluidity is a problem.

    • Fifi says:

      Suicism, excellent point and very well made. Another thing I’d like to point out is that it used to be unacceptable for women or girls to wear pants but few people get their knickers in a twist about a girl wearing pants these days. Doesn’t it make more sense for the adult to deal with their own gender and social anxiety as an adult instead of trying to use their child as a proxy or offload the responsibility onto their child? This seems to me like using the child as an object to resolve an adult neurosis/anxiety about sexuality and a personal and cultural anxiety about changing gender roles.

    • philtrum says:

      Agreed. Another thing I find perplexing here is that I can’t tell what age of child we’re talking about, it seems to vary from comment to comment, and when we’re talking about forming a gender identity, the age of the child makes an enormous difference.

      I’m also not clear on why we’re singling out gendered behaviour (as has been done repeatedly on this blog) when children police each other’s behaviour on all sorts of things. School-aged kids spend enormous amounts of time trying to figure out what the rules are and enforce them on each other. So yeah, other kids might say something mean to your kid because he asked to have his toenails painted pink; but they also might say something to him because they think the sandwich you packed for him is gross, or because he reads a lot, or because he has crooked handwriting, or for some other reason you didn’t anticipate. Hell, some of the social norms you as a parent try to impose on your kid can backfire, because what’s normal kid behaviour in your memory isn’t the standard now, or because the skills a kid needs to get along with adults aren’t the same as the ones required to get along with other kids.

      • vprime says:

        “I’m also not clear on why we’re singling out gendered behaviour (as has been done repeatedly on this blog) when children police each other’s behaviour on all sorts of things.”

        Excellent points all: yours, Fifi’s and Suicism’s. As for why these topics surface so often here, I wonder how many posters on this board have a heavy investment in keeping the “traditional” gendered order operating as part of their psyches. When cross-gender behavior is singled out so often as The. Most. Damaging. thing that could happen to a child while development of basic empathy, civility and cooperation with others (one would think that with all the hand-wringing over narcissism, these qualities would be emphasized on this site) is ignored, I wonder what the real issue is here.

        Many of the comments seem focused on making sure a child understands that others will despise or misunderstand them for not fitting it. In other words, the child needs to be aware that his/her life is under constant judgement and must prioritize conforming to these outsider opinions over his/her own desires?

  11. nick says:

    There is no “rule” that boys can’t wear dresses that exists anywhere other than the neurotic minds of prissy types like yourself. Now stop with the hysterical shrieking disguised as hectoring moralism. Heaven forbid your son ever want to try on a dress! Although it might do him good to spend some time away from a father whose churning out this cod lacanian cosmo bullshit. You do have a son don’t you? “If your child asks this question, you failed as a parent.” Step back and reread that sensationalist garbage dressed up as some shocking revelation of truth, because you actually just said it.

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