Gender Bending

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Categories Toddlers
The following is a conversation I have a lot when out and about with my almost two-year-old twins:
“Your girls are so cute!”

“Thank you. This one is actually a boy. This is Riley, and that’s Maddie.”

“Oh. [pause, usually pretty long] He has such a sweet face, I just thought . . . “
Few people say what they are really thinking: Why is your boy wearing a pink/sparkly/flowered/all of the above outfit?
I let Maddie and Riley choose their own clothes. I’ve never separated their clothes into “boy” drawers and “girl” drawers, I simply put all the shirts together, all the pants together, etc. and let them choose a top and a bottom. They love to peer in and make their selection.
From the get-go, Riley has often chosen things that would be considered “girl clothes.” Throughout the winter, there was a long-sleeved flowered shirt that he wore any time is was clean, at least two days a week. The first time he picked it out, I’ll admit that my instinct was to say, “Riley, that’s Maddie’s shirt.” Luckily, I caught myself before that came out and instead said, “Riley, that shirt is so pretty! What a great choice!” Our daycare provider had to hide her amusement when she saw him, but luckily did not give him or me a hard time about it. 
At least two or three days a week, Riley steps out in girl clothes; this week’s most feminine choice was a brown and white checkered “bubble” outfit with pink ribbon bows at the shoulders from Gymboree. He looked stunning. I confess that, much to my surprise, it still gives me a little pause when he chooses such girly outfits, even though intellectually have have absolutely no problem with it. It’s amazing how deep-seated my own biases can be. Last week, I was buying new sandals for the kids at Target. I found a cute pair of Crocs-type Mary Janes for Maddie. I knew Riley would love them, too, yet I spent another fifteen minutes looking at “boy” shoes—knowing full well the styles and colors would hold less appeal to Riley. I finally left the store with two pair of Mary Janes, but with fifteen minutes of my life gone, time I wasted trying to force my child into a preconceived notion of being a boy, time I could never get back. Riley asks to wear those shoes every day now.
Here’s the thing: kids love sparkles, bright colors, and visually interesting patterns. They like textures and unusual shapes (I think that’s what drew Riley to the “bubble”). While Riley knows that he has a “pee-na” and Maddie has a “‘gina,” he does not know the difference between a boy and a girl, nor that the two genders have their own domains of dress and behavior, dictated by society. He simply knows what appeals to him; he has yet to learn to be self-conscious about it. The same holds true for Maddie. Last night she chose fire truck pajamas, and she’s been known to select “boy” outfits for school, too. Somehow, though, people aren’t affronted by a girl in boy’s clothes in the same way they are by a boy in girl’s clothes.
I want to preserve Maddie and Riley’s innocence about gender roles for as long as I can. In addition to encouraging them to wear what they want, I also encourage them to engage in all types of play. They both have dolls. They love to bang away on their Little Tikes workbench together. They build with blocks, make “tea,” carry purses, dig in the dirt, and play the xylophone. They do whatever they find fun, and as long as they are safe, it’s all OK with me.
Having boy/girl twins is like having a sociology lab in my own house. Having one of each, I have benefitted from receiving a variety of stereotypically “boy” and “girl” clothing and toys. If my multiples were of the same gender, I’d have to work harder to make sure they didn’t get gender pigeonholed too early. Clothing and toys are boy/girl categorized from the get-go. I like that our playroom is a gender-neutral zone, a mix of all that’s available, and I’m fortunate that I didn’t have to do much legwork to make that happen.
It’s beyond the scope of my thoughts here to get into nature v. nurture, or to discuss what—if any—inherent differences exist between the sexes. I will say that through their choices, even at this young age, Maddie and Riley have given me a chance for me to examine my own preconceived notions of gender roles and gender-specific play and dress. I’m proud to have a boy who happily wears sparkles and pink out in public, and bristle when the occasional forthright soul asks why my son is wearing girl clothes. Maddie and Riley have a whole lifetime to fight gender stereotypes. Let them enjoy the bliss of ignorance for as long as they can.
I’m honored to have been invited to write for this amazing group of moms of multiples. I’ll be posting here every other Tuesday. If you’d like to read more about me, Maddie, and Riley, visit my personal blog, Snickollet.
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21 thoughts on “Gender Bending”

  1. I admit, I totally do the gender stereotyped clothing choices for my kids. Though, because Rebecca is a size smaller than Daniel, I sometimes buy more “neutral” colors for him, so that she can wear them when he outgrows them. I think I just get annoyed when people go “oh, two boys?” Not that it should matter, and it happens even when she’s in head-to-toe pink, but alas, it’s pretty deeply-ingrained.

    I do hope to be pretty chill about things once they start making their own choices, though I’ll probably have separate dressers just because they’re different sizes. Ah, who knows… Definitely good food for thought, though!

  2. It is interesting how as parents we have to hold back when it comes to “assigning” gender in terms of clothing selections or toy selection. My boys do dress in boys clothing (since the girl clothing in our house does not fit them) but they have an interest in playing with the “girl” toys. Last night there was a small dispute over a doll. My first instinct was to direct them to the two trucks in the corner (so they could each have one). Then I stopped myself, and got a second doll instead. They were both happy to cuddle their dolls. And I’m sure soon enough my daughter will be dressing them in dresses to play with her. And there is nothing wrong with that! I did it to my brother (to my father’s horror) and he was not damaged in any way; in fact, it made for a much better game of “house”. :-)

  3. Congrats on your new writing gig.

    I think it’s great that you let them choose their own clothes. I do think a lot of what people assume is “nature” is really parents imposing their own biases on kids.

    It was interesting when I worked in the co-op, to see the evolution of gender identity. At two they all played together, but around 3 or 3.5, they started hanging out in mostly all-boy or all-girl groups in separate areas of the classroom.

  4. I admire your ability to look beyond the average gender bias out there. I am not sure that I could do the same, and I could definitely understand how it would take you 15 minutes in a store to come to a conclusion on the issue! I wonder at what point your son will see other boys dressed in “boy” clothes and ask for the same. (Similar to how a toddler will refuse a food type until they see their buddies eating it). Or, perhaps his friends will be jealous of his cool clothes and ask their parents for similar clothing! He could be a trendsetter. :)

  5. Boy/Girl pairings do make for such fun observation from a sociological perspective, don’t they? Our son enjoyed numerous “My Little Pony” play session with his sister, and she liked “Thomas the Tank Engine” with equal (and occasionally surpassing) verve. On the clothing angle, we received lots of traditional blue & pink, but it was also great fun to receive the “anything but” options from folks, too!

    (My mom TAPED a bow to my bald baby head ’til I was upwards of two…She HATED the “what a cute little boy!” comments. Certainly nothing against my mom, but I think you are handling similar comments with greater aplomb, Snick.)

    So glad you’re here!

  6. At this age I think it’s great to just show them how to be individuals as best as possible. The end result being the important factor.

    I’m lucky to have two little girls but I have to admit I get very tired of pink. They, however, love pink and fight over all the pink clothes.

    Great post! Nice to see you here.


  7. Great post. I think about these issues a lot. But, you are a better mother than me because I admit, I have separate drawers for each of my 21 month old B/G twins. My daughter wears my son’s hand me downs (because she’s smaller, and because I find girl shorts way too short, and because she loves blue). But I still can’t really “let” my son go out in all of my daughter’s adorable girl clothes. I did forbid myself from buying any pink, though most of our girl hand me downs are indeed pink.

    I have no issues with going against stereotype when it comes to play. I love when my daughter plays with trucks and blocks and my son with dolls. Somehow, though, I can’t get past the physical appearance end of the clothing. Though I do let my son wear a barrette to daycare every day he requests it, which is most days.

  8. i have 16mon g/b twins. At my husbands request, we have not cut my sons hair yet. His hair is actually longer than his sisters. We get the occasional comment about “how cute your daughters are.” His sisters hair has taken longer to grow, thus, i just started putting bows in her hair. We may have issues with the bows because at this point, they share everything.

  9. with twin boys there is not a lot of sparkle around, but they love wrapping themselves in my flowered aprons and putting on the floppy sun hats. it must just feel good and they look so happy. i do plan on teaching them to knit and embroider if they want to.

    with two boys i figure they will get the exposure to all the other stuff, the bang bangs and the playing cowboy/robot/spaceman. i should let them try some of the other stuff if i can.

  10. I had every intent to maintain a gender neutral home, but my monozygotic daughters love all that is pink, purple, froofroo, frilly, and bow-covered.

    I struggled at first, and then realized that my anti-gender-stereotype prejudices were unfair to them.

  11. I have to admit that with two boys, there aren’t too many dolls or other “girl” toys around the house, and it’s something I haven’t worked hard at. All of our clothing is boy’s clothing–which, and I believe this is a generally accepted fact, is booooooring. No wonder Riley loves the bright, sparkly stuff.

    My boys are so not interested in picking out their own clothes. But they sure do love Mama’s shoes.

    Wonderful post. Nice to read you here, too!

  12. This was such an interesting post. I have g/g twins, so obviously gender issues between the two aren’t applicable. However, I have no problem with going “against the grain” in regards to the typical gener stereotypes. I revel in the fact that my girls love balls, trucks (they get excited every time they see one anywhere!), and a myriad of other “boy” toys. I love that they love bows, and shoes, and pretty clothes. To me, every child should love what they love, regardless of what gender they are.

  13. i L O V E that you let your kids pick their own clothes and express themselves regardless of what is deemed “girl” or “boy.” good for you (and them!). i have g/b twins, 19 months, and this has just started for us. my girl’s favorite shoes are the black chuck taylor converse high tops. my boy also has a great time pushing the doll stroller around the house. it is hard to be totally gender neutral, especially “out in the world” but i feel lucky having a girl and boy the same age who can benefit from each other’s stuff!

  14. Wow – great post. My b/g twins are only six weeks old, but I hope that we’ll also let them choose what they want to wear when they’re able. We’ve been inundated with girl hand me downs that are pinker than pink and for now we just put them in whatever’s closest. My husband recoils a bit at Matthew’s constant wearing o’ the pink, but he’s mostly kidding (I HOPE!).

    I definitely agree that boys clothes are universally a big ole drag, so I hope Matthew has the sense to delve into the fun sparkly clothes.

    Congrats on the new gig! I’m a fan of your blog and will look forward to your posts here.

  15. I think this concept is fabulous!! Since I have two boys most of our clothes are fairly ‘boy’ like, but our toy chest is a whole other story. I have no qualms about letting my boys play with dolls, baby items and other ‘girl’ toys. My in-laws tend to cringe when they come over to find my 4 year old son breast feeding his baby he calls “Roxie”…but hey! I applaud his choice in choosing breastmilk! LOL! We play babies as much as we play tractors and trucks!

    Great post!

  16. WOW! How FANTASTIC that you are able to really do this! I don’t think I have the nerve. I completely know where you are coming from and think it is wonderful, but I just don’t think I could personally deal with the comments.
    We do have a totally neutral playroom for our b/g twins and actually, just today my daughter was playing with dinosaurs and my son was playing with the tea set.
    I wil definitely pop on over to your private blog and have a peek.
    Great post!

  17. Wow Snickolette! What an interesting topic you picked for your first post! As a comment junkie, I wanted to add my two cents.

    I am going to have to go against the grain here…I am a mom of b/g twins, and I always dress Jonathan in his clothes, and Faith in hers. It will be interesting to see what happens as they get older, but I still plan on teaching them that X are sister’s clothes, and Y are brother’s.

    I was an absolute tomboy as a child, and could play football, GI Joes and Cops and Robbers with the best of them. But I also loved my baby dolls, my barbies and playing dress up. I see no problem with pretend play, after all, it is pretend!

    I do plan on teaching my son what it means to be a boy, and then a man. And my daughter a girl, and then a woman. I think a lot of it is instinctual, but a lot of our male and female characteristics and behaviors are learned. Of course I will focus more on the characteristics of interity, compassion and kindness than I will of physical appearance. But there will be a line drawn in my house, and if my son wants to paint his toenails or my daughter wants to shave her head, I am going to put my foot down.

  18. Great post and interesting follow-up comments. Since we have an older daughter in addition to b/g twins, by the time they were old enough to dress themselves we had a “girls room” and a “boys room.” My son never got the chance to choose girl clothes for everyday. He did, however, love to play dress-up with the girls, and enjoyed their doll house as much as Thomas the Tank Engine.

    Gender roles and stereotypes are very much on my mind these days as my son embraces his passion for ballet dancing. I have to look so hard at my own biases. Why was everything ok when both twins took gymnastics, and now so different when I have a boy and a girl doing ballet? They are very similar as artistic sports. My son is a very kinetic kid, and he’s discovered that ballet lets him move all the time, as opposed to gymnastics, where there is a lot of waiting around for brief bursts of activity.

    I applaud your open-mindedness and the freedom you give your son. I only worry about the times we will not be there to insulate our sons from others’ comments. Hopefully they will always be self-assured enough to handle them.

  19. I have never thought about it until right this minute, but I’ll bet the only reason all the other kids in the class aren’t choosing opposite gender-normative clothing is because they don’t have opposite-gender siblings of the same size (with the clothes around to choose from), and their parents have only bought gender-normative clothes.

    There is probably only a very short window of time between a child being old enough to choose his own clothes (and will choose a variety) and being socialized to the point where he or she will only choose gender-normative clothes. It’s kind of sad, I think, that we close down their options so effectively.

  20. I needed to comment to your post. I have been reading your personal blog for a while and love your writing. I have boy/girl twins who just recently turned 3. They share a closet and I have let them choose their cloths since they were 18 months or so. My husband and I agreed that, as long as it was weather appropriate (and we do stretch this definition sometimes) they could choose what they want to wear. It is very common that my son wants to wear a brightly colored “girl” shirt — he even went through a stage when he was wearing dresses quite a bit. I will be honest and say that we paused about the dresses but just could not bring ourselves to explain to him that only girls are suppose to wear these. He is VERY boy in many ways — high energy, athletic, likes to play with trucks, etc. — he just went through a stage where he did all of this in dresses. I honestly think if more parents offered the option to kids to choose their own cloths, we would see more of this. I personally would never want to dampen the little light that shines in our son’s face by telling him he can’t wear a pink shirt. He will be socialized soon enough…

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