Jenny, who recently started blogging at The Big Cheesy, talks about her feelings around dressing her daughter in frilly clothes — sometimes — and her reluctance to dress any probably-boy child (should there ever be any) in the same.
On Dressing a Daughter…and a Theoretical Son.
Two things about me have almost always been true: I’m a girly-girl, and I’m a feminist. There are more of us out there than you might imagine. We are the women who adore pink, want lace trim on everything, and think the heel could always be higher. But we’re also always striving to achieve everything we might want, without thinking for a moment that our sex limits us. Feminists like me are the fierce, unstoppable, eternally equal women who have a lot of fun with our lipstick and ball gowns. We’re not unlike drag queens in that way.
But like a drag queen, I don’t live in my uber-girly outfits. Although I do have a closet stocked with stilettos, mountains of beads, pounds of makeup, and enough lacy lingerie to outfit a proper brothel, I usually don’t wear that stuff. Often enough (okay, 9 out of every 10 days), I wear my hair in a bun done without looking, no makeup whatsoever, the same unisex jeans I’ve had for years, and a loose-fitting tee shirt (most likely purchased at a thrift shop). The same frayed brown flip-flops are on my feet. My fingernails haven’t been painted in almost two years. I’m not wearing perfume, or even lotion. And I don’t feel like any less of a woman than I do in my tight turquoise satin D&G minidress.
Because, as I’m sure I don’t need to explain to a feminist audience, my woman-ness has almost nothing to do my costume. Whether I’m in fishnets or my husband’s sweatshirt, I’m a Woman, with every strength and capability than Man has to offer. Being a woman is not about dress, or scent, or mannerisms (or even genitalia, frankly). It’s because I’m so confident in this, my female identity, that I can switch from dressing in a very gendered way to dressing in a very un-gendered way. To be honest, I never think about it. I don’t divide my days into Girly or Unisex. I’m just me, transitioning from one costume to another without thought.
But what of the female child I bore almost 2 years ago? How do I dress her on any normal day, given my penchant for the frills and the froth? To be sure, her closet is stuffed with elaborate dresses and blouses and pretty little coats, things on which I spent too much money. There are so many of them that she outgrows them before the tags come off, usually. Which is probably because she spends her days, like her mom, in jeans and t-shirts. And it’s not that I’m making a statement, gearing her up to be a feminist. I imagine she, like all the intelligent women I know, will be a feminist all on her own (but that’s her choice, not mine). I dress her in the comfortable stuff every day because…it’s comfortable. She is a toddler. All she wants to do is run, jump, climb, and smear herself with avocado. I don’t think either of us would enjoy that exuberance all swaddled in a lacy sundress with matching bloomers. So she wears clothing that could belong to either a girl or a boy–indeed, much of it is purchased in the Boys’ section. I’m not so much of a girly-girl that I think one’s corduroy pants should be pink.
To be totally honest, though, I also buy my daughter boys’ clothes because I want to be able to re-use them, should I have a son. And as a feminist, and a person fiercely devoted to gender-identity freedom, it’s hard for me to accept that I wouldn’t put a baby son in a dress. Why not, really? How is it different from putting my daughter in brown work boots designed for little male feet? Somehow, to me, it is. That bothers me, but I’m not going to wrap my son in lace just to confront my own issues. As much as I dislike our society’s rigid gender expectations, and as much as I flout them myself, it’s much harder for men and boys to do so, and I’m not going to make that decision for any son I might have. If he asks me, at any point, to wear a dress, you can believe that I will happily oblige. I just won’t be leading the campaign, as troubling as that is to me sometimes (since I will essentially be dictating his ultimate gender performance for him, making it not an issue of choice at all).
As my daughter grows, I get sad about her frilly little outfits. To think that I may not have another daughter to wear them again, and knowing that I won’t put them on a son who doesn’t request them, makes me very sad. And it’s probably not because I love them more than I love her other clothes. It’s probably because I hardly ever put her in the girly stuff. Just as I find it easier to go about my day in a more unisex garb, I want the same freedom for her. Yes, I have a blast when I’m all tarted up, and I love to see her that way, too. But it’s not real life. It’s not the daily experience for a woman who has things she must DO. I probably could run a marathon in high heels, but I wouldn’t want to do so. So the dresses inevitably stay on their hangers, and then get packed away for some Maybe Later child. It’s hard, but I recognize it’s a product of the choices I make. As a feminist, i believe that a woman (or a man) should be able to wear WHATEVER she (or he) likes, whenever, wherever. It is because I believe in my absolute equality and power that I can wear pink lip gloss one day and a man’s shirt the next and not feel any different–even if I have been called “sir” a few times. I intend that freedom for my daughter, and I hope I embrace it for my son, too. As a parent I strive to put my ideals into practice, even as it challenges me sometimes. I put the dresses aside for my daughter, and may pull them out for my son. Who knows? On any given day, I just want all of us to be comfortable–in our clothes, and most definitely in our skin.
Jenny lives in Los Angeles with her small family of humans and large family of animals. Although an attorney by trade, lately Jenny is taking time to smell the bread rising, and to watch her daughter grow.