Children, eh? The apples of our eyes, the owners of the Kingdom of Heaven (for the little ones anyway). For parents, they’re a reason to exist. For a woman in her mid-twenties who has no maternal urges (so, that’s me then), they are totally inexplicable.
Where do they come from? What’s with the Balamory obsession? How can they create entire universes with only a Barbie and a shoebox? And why is blue a colour reserved only for the boys?
Fundamentally, boys and girls are not so different from one another. Until puberty hits, they are virtually identical. If all boys and girls aged ten and under were dressed in the same outfit and given the same haircut, we would have trouble positively identifying gender.
Clothing is possibly the only positive marker to designate a child as a boy or a girl. Unfortunately, it can be limiting for some boys and girls. Many is the Christmas that my sisters and I spent stuffed into tight-collared itchy green velvet dresses while the male cousins tootled around comfortably in their shirts and trousers.
We like to think that we’ve become more modern in our thinking, but parents and guardians don’t take into account just how much people love to dress each other up. We express that through fashion magazines, though developing personal style, through watching Off The Rails ad nauseum. But we seem to forget the joy that can be gleaned by forcing a fidgety child into a party frock.
By no means do I, a childless person whose most recent experience of children was being one myself, think that this is a bad thing. Gender divides exist for a reason. If that reason doesn’t discriminate against others or make people feel uncomfortable with themselves, it’s all to the good.
But stripping a child of his or her choice of clothing can be detrimental to their wellbeing. I was in a shop the other day when a man came in with his daughter. She wanted a pair of plain grey sweatpants. She pointed out a pair that she liked. The father examined the tags and said no. Those sweatpants were for boys, he said. Not for her. They left the shop, sans pants. The daughter looked as if she had been slapped in the face.
It’s a look that children do so well because part of growing up is learning to mask it – the look of being disappointed by something that is completely and illogically unfair.
What did it matter that the tag said ‘boys’? It wasn’t as if an alarm was going to go off the minute she put them on. She wasn’t going to suddenly develop a deep voice and a love of Xbox shoot-em-ups as a result of wearing a pair of truly unremarkable trousers (and even if that did happen, it probably wouldn’t be a direct result of wearing said trousers).
The irony is that, once the gender divides have been cemented and the child steps into adulthood, gender-bending becomes fashionable. Think about it. Brogues, shirts, sharp tailoring, androgynous trouser suits – it’s so masculine, it’s feminine.
He really should have let her get those sweatpants.