Would you let your little boy be a princess for Halloween? Would you let your daughter be Spider-Man? ABC's What Would You Do sent a mom to the costume store with a couple of kids (all actors). Each kid insisted on a costume that was utterly non-traditional for their gender: Quentin picked out a Belle dress while Joli picked out a Spider-Man costume. Hidden cameras caught how other shoppers would react.
No surprise. Several grownups felt it their duty to inform the kids that they needed to choose a more appropriate costume. "You really can't be a princess," other moms told the boy. Nip that cross-dressing tendency in the bud! I mean, it's just a phase, of course, but what if ...?
The other parents at the store were clearly uncomfortable with the whole idea of little boys in sweet, shiny princess dresses. One mom had a very kind-hearted explanation. She just wanted to save the boy from bullies. "Kids are cruel. I don't want him to get picked on at school, that's all." But I still think the nervousness about boys in princess gowns goes even deeper than that.
It's not quite as bad for girls who want "boy" costumes. They do make "girl" versions of some superhero outfits, after all. But still ... When Joli tried on the Spider-Man costume, grownups at the costume store again went out of their way to try and talk her into something girlier. "Maybe she wants to be like a disco-type girl?" another mom helpfully suggested, pointing to this gem.
Ugh, I think I would pick muscular Spider-Man over that, too! But then: Like a ray of light, in comes a young woman named Sally for some "Free to Be Me" positive affirmation!
"What encourages her to do Spider-Man is that she likes the feeling of saving people. It shows that she wants to be a strong woman," Sally tells the mother. I'm a total sap for this kind of thing, but I just love that. When Jolie's pretend mom wanders off, Sally tells Jolie, "She's just worried that other people won't accept you. But if you are strong and you know who you are, and you know what you want, people will respect you for it." What a beautiful message for any kid to hear!
Now ... how do we turn that around for boys who want to dress up as a princess? Would the same idea work for them? What appeals to a little boy about that kind of costume: The vibrancy of the colors, the shimmer, the softness. Can a boy be soft enough to embrace his "feminine" side but still strong enough to stand up for himself if other kids don't accept that? I think that's a harder question for boys than for girls.
I can confidently say that if my son wanted to be a princess for Halloween, I'd be fine with it. But I live in an extremely liberal, accepting community. (Hell, I'd get high-fives from the other parents, for real.) I don't think that it's such a safe option for boys who live elsewhere. Maybe the real question we should be asking is: are we strong enough to stand up for our kids and make this a world where they can be their most authentic selves?
What would you do if your kid wanted a cross-gender costume for Halloween?
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