As I was clicking through the various ads to check my email, one caught my attention. A video experiment where a ten year old boy wants to be a princess for Hallowe'en and his mom is refusing. The situation was played out in a mall and passers-by were engaged to get their reactions.
It made me think. What would I do as a parent if my son wanted to be a princess? (Leaving aside the social connotations of the importance of appearance over substance and focusing strictly on the gender role issue.)
To quote the ever-awesome Madonna: "it's okay for a girl to dress like a boy but for a boy to dress like a girl is degrading." It's also a mainstay of British comedy. Neither of those is exactly a ringing endorsement of acceptance from society.
I've had a little taste of this already. When Nathan went to pick out his first backpack, he wanted a Dora one. All of the Dora backpacks were pink. I hemmed, I hawed, I offered a nifty Spider-man alternative but he wanted the Dora one.
If he had been a girl wanting a boy's backpack, no question, no hesitation. So I had to ask myself, why was it so much worse for a boy to want a girl's backpack? The truth is, there is no reason. But the other side of the truth is that those kinds of decisions are the ones which can follow kids throughout their school careers and make their lives into bully-laden nightmares.
In the end, I got the Dora backpack and I'm proud of myself for doing so. But I justified it to myself by saying it was just preschool and none of the kids cared yet. By the time a child is ten, they and their peers definitely care about gender roles.
So would I let my ten year old son be a princess? I like to think I would ... but I'd probably have a Spider-man costume standing by.
Just in case.