A zebra of any gender is stylish: Part 2
September 7th, 2015
Last week, I wrote a bit about my four-year-old son’s taste in clothing and his tendencies toward gender bending in the name of fashion. His choice in apparel lately has included zebra leggings, a dance leotard with skirt, and a racerback dress.
When we left our hero last week, he had worn his zebra leggings to school for the first time. Perhaps unsurprisingly – but definitely disappointingly – he came home with the news that a boy in his class had called him a girl because he wore leggings.
I heroically fought back the impulse to track down the child in question and give him a swirly, and my son and I talked it through. How did he feel when the boy called him a girl? (Mad.) Did wearing the leggings make him become a girl? (No.) Did he feel like a girl when he wore the leggings? (No.) Did he want to wear them tomorrow? (Yes.)
According to his teacher, my son marched into the room the next day and announced loudly to the entire class – “You cannot call me a girl just because I wear leggings. I like them!”
I’ve never been more proud of him.
I wish I knew where that spunky resiliency came from. I’d love to claim credit and pat myself on the back for being a super mom, but honestly I think a lot of it is just his hardwired personality. His big sister (whom, at least theoretically, has had similar levels of support from her mother) is a very sensitive soul, easily wounded by careless words and frequently reduced to tears by the mere suspicion that someone might be laughing at her.
My son, on the other hand, laughs right back, and it’s a good thing, too, because his affection for feminine dress has continued. Last week, in preparation for his first dance class of the year, he donned his leotard and skirt in the school bathroom. When he emerged, there was a general outbreak of preschool hilarity until his best friend asked (not unkindly, but with deep puzzlement) – “Why are you wearing a dress?” My son didn’t miss a beat. He laughed and replied, “It’s not a dress, it’s a leotard!” with a rueful shake of his head that made it clear he pitied his woefully uninformed peers.
Even the strongest armor sometimes has chinks, though, and I think the words of some older classmates stung. As we walked outside, several older boys began singing a song of their own composition whose primary lyrics were “you’re a girlie girl.” Although my son responded with a good-natured growl and an affectionate punch (at least I think it was affectionate), when we got to the car, he asked to change into shorts for dance class.
It broke my heart a little bit. He loves that leotard. I hate that our cultural gender norms are so rigid – and that their enforcement begins so young. But lest you fear that his fashionable instincts were crushed by this exchange, my son insisted on wearing his leggings the next day.
The zebra stripe ones.