Gendering children, birthday parties, costumes

 I just had an amazingly traumatic experience, at a 4 yr olds’ birthday party.

The kids were great – although mine was tired & cranky and a little ill-behaved.

No, my problem was with adults involved – not even all of those.

It was a princess theme – it was never gonna be my bag. But the way it was enacted  was that two princesses (Cinderella and Rapunzel, if you must know) came to the party. First they sang every DisneyTM song in the book, while insisting all children present hold hangs and sing along. (See an embedded assumption already?) When trying to decide which of the songs from Tangled TM to sing first, Rapunzel asked if the 4 yr old bday girl wanted the “romantic one” or the “fun one” first. The question was never answered because, see, your average 4 yr old isn’t tuned in to “romantic” as useful organizing concept.

Round about this time – Simon tuned out. As did a couple of the girls, one of whom was repeatedly told by her grandmother to go sit with the girls (in the circle, observing entertainers) rather than play with Simon. She refused.

Then they moved on to face painting – HERE Simon was happy. He was shown the page of “boys designs” from which he happily chose Spiderman.

By this point, I’m feeling vaguely nauseous about the whole thing, but ok, tolerable.

Then after getting his AWESOME spidey face on, he goes to the other side of the table, where my friend Rapunzel is painting fingernails. He asks for paint, she freezes. I tell her it’s ok, she says – AND I QUOTE – “I don’t paint boys nails.” I don’t know how to explain just how terrible this is, to me. I didn’t argue – I didn’t make a fuss, it’s not the fault of the kid whose party it is – so I didn’t want to muss uip her bday party.

When I think about it, I cry. Each time.

Costumes, dress up is supposed to be about imagination, about dreams, about trying on different personalities and experiences and for god’s sake having pretend adventures.

Yet it is SO THREATENING to SOMETHING that a little boy wants nail polish that was just can’t do it. HE doesn’t get to pretend wildly if it coincides too closely with training girls on how to be appropriately beautiful and fancy.  Nor does he get to wear his leotard to gymnastics without us worrying how he will be received, because only girls where those kinds of costumes.

And it’s not just him. I’ve seen Zoey experience the other end of this too. I’ve watched them both go, at the age of 3-4 from wanted to be frogs or dinosaurs when they grow up to expressing the desire to be only gender appropriate things – race car drivers and princesses. Hey, both are fine (except I think a princess needs a job too, or at least a good strong hobby) – but it is no coincidence that their preschool – probably all preschools – produce these aspirations.

And I KNOW that the key thing is that both our kids are happy, and healthy, and believe they can be whatever they want to be. This is the mantra Andy and I have been chanting to each other for years now.

But I think the little stuff DOES matter, too.

But I am sick. Literally sick about this. I am disgusted both with our society, writ large, and with our daily actions that contribute to making society writ large such a monstrouslygender-constricting thing.

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