Gorilla Girl has a box of “princess” dress up clothes that we bought for Christmas, and she has been recently wearing the various princess outfits over her own clothing. Monkey Man has been an observer to these events, but this weekend, he took an active part in the play acting. On Saturday, he wore a bright yellow flouncy princess shirt over his clothes. Joyce giggled about it, and then, when we went grocery shopping, she tried to talk Monkey Man into ditching the shirt, but he was insistent. She warmed to it, but still, it seemed that she worried about how folks would react. I did pause to consider where we were — in the heartland where my kids already stand out for their race, their clear lack of biological connection to me, and Monkey Man’s leg braces. No skin off his nose — he happily pushed my shopping cart through the store while we loaded up on beer, wine, cheese, chocolate milk and vegetables — all of our staples. Whatever glances we got were buried in our giggles.
On Sunday, Monkey Man and Gorilla Girl took dress up to a new level, outfitting themselves in both skirts and tops, right over their jammies. When we finally got around to changing into day-time clothes, the outfits went right back over the regular stuff. We went to the Children’s Museum, beach, playground, and out for dinner, regaling the crowds we met everywhere with our spectacle.
For the most part, Monkey Man’s attire was met with quizzical looks, but often, he was greeted fondly with versions of, “Let kids experiment.” It was a far cry from the stifling response of society in the movie Ma Vie En Rose! However, Monkey Man is four, and cute, and perhaps if he was seven or eight, folks might not be so kind and accepting of kids being kids. At what point must boys conform? When do we begin to enforce the code of boy/girl world?
I have to admit that when it comes to “boy” and “girl” clothing, we fit the bill of traditional parents. It is mostly out of exasperation with Gorilla Girl, but Monkey Man’s clothes are hand-me-downs from my sister, more traditional when it comes to boy/girl toys and clothes. For better of worse, Monkey Man has spent his first four years in blues, browns, and greens adorned with animals, trains, and various types of sporting equipment. Gorilla Girl’s pink sparkly clothes hold little interest for Monkey Man, but after spending a whole day dressed as Cinderella, Monkey Man has a new playful attitude about his imaginative interactions with Gorilla Girl — and the potential for fun with winged princess costumes. Monkey Man and Gorilla Girl quite happily engaged in story-making about Snow White and Cinderella along new lines (that included rescues, pandas, mommies and daddies, digging, feeding sea gulls, making boats, and finding treasure).
My 7th grade class is reading A Raisin in the Sun, and we’ve been discussing Beneatha’s resistance to traditionally defined gender roles. Because Gorilla Girl and Monkey Man can play together in ways that might give them courage in the future to resist the many lines, fences, and walls that attempt to enclose how we are to behave as men and women, perhaps they will have more choices when the time comes.
Ed told me, coincidentally, about an ad in which a mom is painting her young son’s toenails pink. Apparently, on the sports radio talk shows that he listens to, people (men) were quite upset about this ad and its insidious attack on masculinity. (Okay, I am sure they didn’t put it quite that way, but from what I could gather, that was the gist of the complaint — that and “oh how hard it is to be a real man in today’s world.”)
Between Monkey Man’s experimentation, Gorilla Girl’s foray into the notion that Not All Princesses Dress In Pink, and my own questioning of gender roles and the narrowness of experience they seem to allow, I hope that Monkey Man and Gorilla Girl will at the very least grow up questioning, wondering, and continuing to experiment with who they are and how they define themselves.