Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The Boy in the Skirt

Across the street from my in-laws is a house that we refer to not-so-affectionately as "the Baby Factory." The family there has four or five children (I'm never sure), and they aren't what I would call "well-behaved." At least one new child was born since they moved in, and the parents constantly look harried and on the verge of an apoplectic fit.

One boy, Richard (whom we are not allowed to call "Richie" or "Rick"), sometimes runs around naked. This is not an alarming behavior for a two-year-old, but Richard is about five or six. When not running around naked, or cowering from his nasty seven-year-old sister, Richard delights in riding his tricycle in the street or playing with a bucket and pail--wearing a blue tutu.

The blue tutu is the subject of varying opinions in our family. Nate is of the school of thought that it shouldn't be encouraged, and the reasons given are of the "He should dress like a boy" type. Nate's dad is of the "he looks like an idiot" school of thought. Nate's brother regards this as a great source of amusement. I have varying ideas, sometimes conflicting. But I tend to phrase my questions about the topic to myself as, "if he were your son, would you let him do that?"

The topic came to mind this morning as I read Rutu Modan's "Queen of the Scottish Fairies" sketch. In the comic, Rutu's son goes through a phase in which he wants to wear a pink tutu. I found myself agreeing with Rutu's position of "if he wants to wear that, let him." But a part of me would worry if I had a son who wanted to wear a tutu in public. I would worry that people would make fun of him. I would worry that people wouldn't take him seriously, and would discount him as "strange" or having "developmental problems."

It's a strange double standard; if I had a daughter I wouldn't care if she wore a football jersey (although the pacifist in me would draw the line at cammo-wear). I would think that was a brave move, showing her strength. But a boy in a tutu... why isn't society ready to recognize that? It really speaks to the fact that "womanly" traits are still seen as deficient. What does the tutu symbolize? A longing to dance? A search for comfort (a skirt can be infinitely more comfortable than pants)?

I hope that if I do have a son someday, and he decides that he wants to wear a tutu, that I will be brave enough to let him.

Updated: I just have to add this article from Marci Riseman, also about a boy who wants to be a fairy.

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