Not long ago, my five-year-old son came home with a new pair of bright pink Crocs. “Didn’t you want to get blue or black instead,” I asked him. (He always announces that black is his favorite color.) “No, I really wanted pink,” he replied. I groaned. Intellectually, I understand that associating color with gender is socially constructed and in plenty of cultures, pink is considered “masculine.” Yet emotionally, I was still bothered by the idea that other people might make judgments about my son wearing pink shoes. When I was growing up, boys in my circle were strongly discouraged from wearing colors like pink and purple.
I also worried about what other people would think when my three-year-old son clamored to wear the mermaid costume at the Children’s Museum. While helping him put on the outfit, I thought to myself, “I wish you’d wear the astronaut or the firefighter costume instead.” When I asked him why he wanted to dress up in the mermaid outfit, his response was simply that he liked it. In fact, he seemed puzzled by the question. It’s as if I had inquired why he liked riding the rollercoaster or pretending to fish.
At the Children’s Museum, we encourage children to make their own choices and parents to support their decisions. However, I sometimes still struggle when my own children’s choices don’t conform to my notion of what boys should or shouldn’t do. I’m trying to resolve that by focusing on how happy my sons are wearing pink crocs or mermaid costumes instead of worrying about what other people might think.