I got a comment yesterday morning on my swimming suit post. It was not like the previous comments. At first I wasn’t sure I was going to publish it (because the name and email weren’t recognized, my blog held the comment for moderation), but then I decided that not only would I publish it, I’d respond to it in a post (thanks for the push T). Here is the comment, and below I respond:
In Judiasim,wearing the clothing of the opposite gender is explicitly forbidden by the Torah (Debarim 22:5).
It is also comsidered an abomination to God in Deuteronomy.
Why does everyone want to constantly teach their kids that “anything goes?” Do you also let kids eat candy whenever they want? Skip school because it feels right or better or more comfortable? Come on. Let’s be parents. Discipline, structure, and consistency are not bad words unless you are afraid to be a parent and more comfortable being your child’s friend.
So, where to begin?
First of all, I did not realize there is specific text in both the Torah and Bible that explicitly forbids wearing the clothing of the opposite gender, but I guess I’m not surprised. I’m not at all familiar with the Torah, but my limited recollection of the Old Testament involves all kinds of judgement, condemnation and hatred (and I believe much of the Old Testament is also part of the Torah?) So, not that surprising.
Second, I wonder how one even goes about determining what are, officially, “women’s clothes” and “men’s clothes.” As little as 100 years ago it was pretty rare for a woman to wear slacks, let alone casual pants. The very first humans were lucky to tie some vegetation or roughly woven cloth around their waists, which I’m sure looked more like a skirt than anything. Many indigenous cultures on pretty much every continent still wear clothing that is simply tied around the waste. In many other cultures long robes, that are very similar to dresses, are worm by men of great respect. What is considered “women’s” and “men’s” clothing varies incredibly from culture to culture, and even within those cultures, from era to era. Does that fluidity in the understanding of which clothes belong to which gender not suggest that the distinction in any culture at any time is somewhat arbitrary?
Having said that, I don’t argue that if given a pile of clothing and asked to sort it, most people (of a shared culture) would consider some clothes to belong exclusively in the “women’s” pile, and others in the “men’s,” probably with a rather large portion falling into a third “either/or” category.
Interestingly, most gender specific clothing are actually women specific. I can’t think of any piece of clothing that only men can wear, though most women’s versions of those clothes are cut differently when sold to women. (Except maybe bottoms as a swim suit (as in, topless), but that is more about our sexually-repressed Protestant founding and is not necessarily shared by other European cultures.) Yes women can wear pants, or t-shirts, or button downs or blazers, or boots, or anything a man can wear, ours are just more form fitting versions of their male counterparts. I always assume we, as a culture, are okay letting women where “men’s” clothing because men are considered the stronger, more dominant sex (and gender), and it’s okay for women to aspire to that strength. And for the same reason, I assume the opposite makes it LESS okay for boys or men to wear “girl’s or women’s” clothing (specifically dresses and skirts, or anything with pink, frills or with sparkles–of course make-up is also included) because we consider women the weaker sex and don’t support men or boys identifying with or wearing clothing that is attributed to, or a symbol of, that feminine weakness. (I could be totally wrong about this though, if you have another hypothesis please offer it).
Yes, the gendering of clothes seems, in many ways, to be just one more way of keeping women from being seen as equal to men, and for that reason alone I’m not interested in respecting those gender norms myself, or requiring my children–okay, let’s be perfectly honest, my son–to follow those guidelines.
Even if it weren’t the case that gender specific clothes are most distinctive for girls, I still wouldn’t require my daughter to wear clothes from the “girl’s” section or my son to wear clothes from the “boy’s.” I teach my children that they can be whatever they want to be, and express themselves in whatever way feels most genuine and authentic for them, as long as that expression does not hurt, disregard, or disrespect anyone else.
The thing is, I DO teach my kids the values that I cherish: I teach them to respect others, including all the many people who are different than they are; to love other human beings and tread lightly on the planet; to be grateful for what they have, and generous to others; to be open-minded, honest and helpful; to present and mindful; to have a strong work ethic, and to handle disappointment gracefully. I teach them to be curious and questioning; to be forgiving; to be assertive. I teach them to stand up for what is right. I teach them all of this in the hopes that they will some day be well-rounded, respectful, productive members of society, who will uphold the values of acceptance, empathy and understanding.
Have they learned all these lesson yet? No. They are works in progress, as am I. But I am absolutely doing the hard work of trying to teach them these values. I am certainly providing “discipline (I use the word here to connote its original meaning, which is “to teach”), structure and consistency, and I don’t as a general rule, try to be my children’s friend instead of their parent.
My parenting is intended to help my children be open minded, accepting citizens, who feel free to express themselves even if society is uncomfortable with that expression (again, as long as it is respectful), and does not force them to remain beholden to ancient texts that are, in many circumstances, misunderstood and misrepresented (or are just unapologetically 2000+ years old and prescribe stoning women to death for any number of reasons).
I believe it is hurtful to tell a child he or she can’t express him or herself in a certain way just because our society has decided that “that way” is only appropriate for the opposite gender. I am not interested in forcing gender norms on my children, especially when I am painfully aware that they will be force fed those gender norms from our society at large for the rest of their life. I want them to know that I LOVE THEM no matter what they want to wear, or how they want to style their hair, or what activities they want to participate in. If my daughter wants to pursue computer science, yes she can pursue computer science (of course, we don’t question that, at least not anymore). If my son wants to take ballet, he can take ballet. And he can wear a tutu when he goes, just like all the other ballerinas (and yes, I suspect the wearing of the tutu, if not simply attending ballet, would be questioned, even today). Of course, neither one of them will be allowed to play football, because we don’t think it’s safe, but that isn’t at all about what is expected of them based on their gender.
I think it’s sad that there are people in this world who would regard religious text (or simple societal pressures) over the self-expression and well being of their children. Sure, most little boys are interested in fairies and princesses, or want to paint their nails, because it is fun and not because of some emerging, not yet fully understood, understanding of self-identity. But for some kids, those early requests to venture outside their prescribed gender are tentative steps in the direction of who they really are, and when they are told those requests are inappropriate, they feel that they themselves are inappropriate too. My heart breaks for any kid, but especially the LGBTQ kids, who grow up in families where exploration of gender is shut down and self-worth is only granted when gender norms are explicitly followed. How devastating to not be accepted by the very people who are supposed to love you and protect you, no matter what.
My children are only six and three. They still don’t know who they are, and that is magical. I’m going to work really hard to make them feel accepted no matter how they want to express themselves, as long as that expression is accepting of, and respectful toward, others. I care more about protecting them and their feelings of self-worth, than following the sometimes antiquated, close-minded cultural norms of our society.
Thank you for being respectful in the comment section.