In the last five years the girl empowerment revolution has made amazing progress. Dinosaurs and space themes can be found at most mainstream clothing stores. Our "Forget Princess, Call Me Princess, Call Me President” shirt is mega popular. #STEMgirls is a trending hashtag on Instagram. Girls play all the sports. They’re breaking the glass ceiling everywhere, from baseball to football. And slowly but surely, they're getting the clothing options to help them express their passions.
Stand up and cheer, friends, because the revolution is female, and it will not be turned back. If a boy can do it, a girl can do it. Our kids are proving it over and over and over and over. We may not have a Madam President yet, but girls do run the student council in many of the high schools and colleges in America -- and one day, this generation will see one seated in the White House.
"Forget Princess, Call me President" by Free to Be Kids
Yes, the days of "Too cute to do homework" and "I hate math" slogan tees are slowly but surely fading. But not all kids are benefiting from the empowering clothing revolution.
We need to talk about boys.
Boys, too, should be able to choose ways of being a boy that fall outside the bounds of the the traditionally masculine, into-masculine-pursuits, sports-and-Nerf-and-action-figures circle of "boys' boys." They should have options other than high-and-tight haircuts, blue-and-green-and-gray-and-black color schemes, and muddy shoelaces trailing in the dirt.
"Boys Will Be Good Humans" by Free to Be Kids
There is nothing wrong with the stereotypical ways of being "boyish." We cherish these sons of ours. There are, after all, lots of ways to be a boys, and wearing short hair and blue sports t-shirts is one of them. It should be celebrated.
But other boys should be able to choose to wear long hair without being called “she” and “her”. They should be able to wear nail polish without being looked at askance. They should be able to rock leggings (like my son, and David Bowie and Luke Skywalker did before him) without being asked why. And skirts and dresses too, for that matter.
"I'm A Cat Guy" by Free to Be Kids
We celebrate tough, smart girls as much as princess-y ones, and we must learn to equally celebrate boys who seize on fairy wings and sparkles, kittens and bunnies.
Right now we don't celebrate boys who color outside the lines. The empowering clothing revolution is leaving boys in the dust.
I have a friend whose three long-haired boys wear nail polish and play with fairy wings while staging elaborate battles with their toy soldiers. They are regularly mistaken for girls, especially the youngest, with hair below his shoulders. The middle son cut his hair short because he got sick of it, and his mother cried: not for the loss of his beautiful hair, but because she knew that his choice wasn’t truly his own.
Another friend's son adores all things sparkly, and his mother bought him shoes with sparkles, bought him skirts. Her in-laws stole the skirts and threw them out. People told her she was going to make him gay (as if an article of clothing can change something inborn like sexuality). People told her she better teach him how to fight, because he was going to get beat up.
Sparkly gold "Robot Friends" by Free to Be Kids
When our sparkly superhero began school, the questions started. Other kids made fun of his unicorn folder. “Mama,” he asked, “Why are unicorns for girls?” He asked for a new folder, this one with monster trucks. Because he wanted to fit in. Because he wanted to fit that certain mold of “boy” everyone told him that he needed to fit, and it didn’t include things like wearing nail polish --- or loving unicorns, kittens or bunnies. Or liking flowers. Oh, boys can pick flowers for their mamas; that’s chivalry. But they can’t love flowers for themselves. Can’t draw them. Can’t decorate their notebooks with them, or with cats, or with unicorns, or with hearts.
"Unicorns Rule, Bro" by Free to Be Kids
These darling, daring boys are getting the different squashed out of them, every single day. With every single comment, and with everything missing on their side of the clothing store. Because those glaring absences speak volumes. Boys don't get shirts that say "love" on them; they get Daddy's MVP, Second Place is First Loser, and Tough Guy. Boys don’t wear butterfly graphic tees. Boys don’t wear pink or purple. Boys don’t celebrate kindness or gentleness.
"Super Kind" by Free to Be Kids
We reject that. We reject that the same way we reject the notion that every girl is a princess, that girls can’t love science, that sports and dinosaurs belong only to boys. There are lots of ways of being a boy. Some of them are wearing black dinosaur shirts. Some of them are wearing pink cat shirts. Some of them are wearing short hair and jeans; some of them are rocking long hair and fairy wings, kitty shirts and purple baseball tees. These things don’t make boys any less masculine, less straight, or less cisgendered. They are simply what the boy in question likes. And people should be allowed to like whatever they want.
"Good Listener Bunny" by Free to Be Kids
We all let -- even encourage -- girls to embrace things traditionally considered masculine. It’s time we do the same for boys with the traditionally feminine. Let them bake in play (or real) kitchens. Let them paint their nails in sparkles and fall in love with scented glitter gel pens. Let them love sweet, fuzzy baby animals even more than big roaring aggressive ones.
We need to let our boys be themselves, however that expresses itself. And we need to embrace their full selves - not just their "boyish" sides - with love.