And I certainly didn’t know a morning would soon come when my son, wrapped up in a bath towel — his “princess dress,” he told me — would ask if I wanted lipstick to be beautiful like Elsa … and like him.
It turns out my wife (an editor at The New York Times) has no problem coating his lips with a neutral pink, or letting him stumble around her in heels, or buying him a proper Elsa dress, with lace flecked in snowy glitter.
I’m no villain. I don’t want to kill who this child is. I don’t care what he likes, or doesn’t like. He’s an enthralled boy.
He’s three. More:
I confess, though, my reaction has shocked me. Each time I see him slip into his dress — it has Elsa’s face on the bodice — I pray that she uses her magic to zap my tongue with frostbite.
I don’t want to tell him, “Dresses are for girls,” but I’ve had the impulse to do so. I suspect other straight dads besides me feel this way.
But dad realizes, in the end, that his little child is wise and good:
I now see the power of Elsa, too. To my son the imaginary world of “Frozen” is as real and normal as, well, him wearing a dress. I envy him for that.
Overton window, people. Overton window.
UPDATE: Reader C.L.H. Daniels writes:
There’s an article out in the Atlantic right now that ruminates on “stifling masculinity” in which the writer (a woman) also tells essentially the same story with respect to her own son, who’s a little older and starts wearing dresses to school.
I find the question it explores to be tendentious. Of course masculinity is stifling, as is femininity; all well-defined roles are, by definition, defined, and not everyone will be comfortable with every aspect of a given role. That does not mean that we can or should attempt to redefine what it means to be a man or a woman, masculine or feminine. Personally I think that both parents are doing their children a grave disservice. When you let a child define him or herself with no limits, you are abdicating the responsibility of any parent to shape and direct, and very likely setting that child up for many trials in their life, since the world has not changed. They’ll just learn the same lessons later, in a much harsher fashion that may prove damaging in the long run. You think this guy’s child is going to thank him for failing to teach him how to be a man? For setting him up to fail?
It’s equivalent to failing to teach your child any manners. The child will survive, but at the same time will suffer from not understanding the role of manners in the culture. They will inadvertently make people uncomfortable, give offense, suffer from a poor reputation, and generally have a difficult time in life until they learn what they need to know through harsh experience. Failing to teach your children what the world expects of men and women is no different, and will result in a great deal of social difficulty and difficulty adjusting to the world as it is. Why would you wish that for your children?
The fact is, the world, and the men and women in it, work a certain way, and wishing it were otherwise won’t change anything. The fact is, a man will be seen by the world as a man, and that comes with expectations. It’s no different for women. You can wish it would change all you want but it won’t, because gender roles are not arbitrary cultural constructs; they are based on real biological and psychological differences between the sexes. Attempting to deny this is a recipe for a life filled with bitterness and rejection, because at the end of the day men are men, and women are women, and they can’t be anything other than what they are.
I wish my father had been around when I was child. I wish I’d had someone to teach me what it meant to be a man in the world, how to relate to other men, and how men relate to women. I had to learn these things myself, the hard way, because no one was there to teach me. Certainly that is not something my mother could do for me. These poor kids have fathers who could do that for them, but they won’t, and they think they’re doing their kids a favor. They are not. In fact, they are doing them a grave disservice. The author ought to listen to himself, because his uncomfortable reaction is the same reaction other men will have to his boy wearing a dress, and that means his boy’s going to have problems relating to other boys and men for as long as he persists in that behavior.
Making men more like women (as the author of the Atlantic article seems to want to do) isn’t going to do anything other than make both men and women unhappy; the men because they’re discouraged from expressing their fundamental natures, and the women because at the end of the day they don’t want overly feminine men as mates, they want masculine ones.