2005_0102_172406AAWatching Liam and Caleb trying to pummel a snowbank into submission with their feet has started me thinking (again, still) about how we do—or do not—teach our kids about gender roles. Swivelheader wrote a lovely post wondering what her twins—a girl and a boy—would think about a sparkly princess dress that had been given to the little girl, which leads to the question: what do little boys think about the fact that there are so few sparkles in their lives?

And why, exactly, do we resist giving little boys sparkles and rhinestone tiaras? Are we afraid that they will be seduced by spangles into a life of cross-dressing and Tammie Faye eyelashes?  I mean, is anyone really “all boy” or “all girl”?  Don’t we all exist at different points along the continuum of gender and sexuality (whether or not we admit it, right Larry Craig?)

When Liam was 3 or 4, he fell in love with princesses. He played a lot with the daughter of a friend of mine, whose indulgent grandpa had gifted her all things princess: tiaras, handbags, sparkly shoes, and piles of poufy dresses. Her closet looked like a mini-Disney store. Liam begged for his own poufy princess outfit but we refused, mostly because the full Disney princess is a pricey operation. I did pony up for “glass” Cinderella slippers, however, and Liam happily crammed his feet into them and clomped up and down our hall. When he reported that the shoes pinched, I said hey gotta suffer for beauty, kid. Just ask RuPaul.

more after the jump

During Liam’s princess phase, I earned serious gender-equality cred at Jane’s Exchange, my favorite East Village consignment store, when I took Liam there to buy him a party dress. I figured all he wanted was a long fluffy dress; he didn’t care much about the provenance.  So I got my need-a-daughter yayas out and satisfied his cross-dressing needs with a lovely little taffeta-skirted number, complete with big sash and velvet bodice. Perfect And he wore it happily, accessorized with glass slippers  and sometimes a crown or sometimes a long plastic sword.

During this year or so of Princess Love, Liam spent a lot of time watching the old Disney movies – Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White—and when he acted out those stories, he was always the princess. I used to think it meant he was headed towards a career as a show-girl, but now I think it was just simple narcissism: all the action revolves around the princess.

(His re-tellings of Star Wars stories were equally gyno-centric: in his version, the Jedi were led by Princess Leia and an array of obscure female characters. When I remind him of this fact, he now turns 85 shades of red and tries to crawl under the furniture.)

Liam loved Snow White—something about the witch’s transformation, maybe, or all those dwarves—so one afternoon we concocted a Snow White outfit out of a blue t-shirt, a yellow crib blanket, some red construction paper and a red ribbon. One of my proudest mommy-craft moments, I have to say. (See pix at head of this post – and note Cinderella slippers peeping coyly from under said yellow crib blanket.)

Liam spent an hour or so, happily enacting Snow White for us: biting into the apple and announcing “now I swooooooonnnnnn” and crumpling to the floor.  (The swoon may have been caused by the fact that he’d never eaten an apple before. And only rarely since).  He bit and swooned, bit and swooned, and then we propped up baby Caleb as the prince to smooch Snow White awake.


Now, however, Liam would sooner be shot than put on a dress or glass slippers. And Caleb, the baby prince? Well, he loved “Sleeping Beauty,” too, particularly the battle between the prince and the dragon. When he wanted to play “Sleeping Beauty” with me, out of force of habit I would ask him if he wanted to be the princess.  But as if his babyhood role as Kissing Prince had been imprinted on his brain, he would look at me and in a voice dripping with condescension, would say “Mommy. I da prince. You da princess so you take a deep sleep.” Then he would swing his plastic sword wildly at the dragon and come charging to rescue me on his wobbly toddler legs. Caleb loves capes and crowns and masks…but poufy dresses? Absolutely not.  When he was just about three, he announced that he was a boy. I said yes, right, and why are you a boy, exactly?

He looked at me thoughtfully and said, “I have no idea.”


Liam as mashup Jedi: note long purple dress, brown cloak, belt, home-made mask