The Boy in Pink Shoes

For a while, Graham has been asking for pink shoes. He has two pairs of sneakers, one white and one grey, but the velcro on both pairs isn’t quit working, which is causing him a lot of anxiety. Finally, I decided we had no choice but to get him a new pair and when we talked about that he said he wanted them to be pink.

As a parent who hates the idea of gender stereotypes and expectations, this warmed my heart.

Graham hasn’t shown much of a preference for colors until recently. Sure, he’d prefer shirts with trains on them, but he never cared much about color. Recently he’s taken more of an interest in color with a definite affinity for pink.

For days Graham talked about going to buy new pink shoes and on Sunday the big day came. We braved the crowds at Stride Rite (that place is always packed outside of school hours) and while we waited for our turn I brought over some shoes for him to look at.

I stuck to pink, as he requested, and pulled a variety of shoes off the shelves for him to examine. Pink with brown, pink with white, pink with grey. Pink as the main color, pink as a background color. Hot pink, light pink, inbetween pink. It became clear quickly that he had strong preferences. Pink had to be the main color and the brighter the better.

He ended up with the pinkest shoes in the place: hot pink Hello Kitty Keds with sequins and sparkles.

He also declared that his next shoes will be Spiderman. The kid knows no gender boundaries.

Graham was so excited about his shoes. He wore them out of the store. He talked about them all day. I used them as a threat at bedtime. (“If you don’t go to bed, you won’t get to wear your new shoes tomorrow…” I’m evil.) In the morning he wasn’t crazy about the idea of getting dressed until he remembered he’d get to put on his shoes.

He talked about them lovingly. “They’re so pretty.” “They’re so cool.” “I’m so fancy.” It was true love.

He’d also picked out some socks to go with them and before putting on his hot pink shoes he put on pink leopard print socks.

While we waited for the bus he talked about his shoes. I suggested he say hello to his bus driver, who is the nicest person ever and always says hi to Graham with no response. He wasn’t wild about the idea.

The bus came. Graham climbed on, and when the bus driver said hello, Graham pointed down and said, “Look at my new shoes.” Victory!

Of course, I knew it wasn’t all necessarily a win. I was sending him into the lion’s den even if the lions were just plain old kids.

Sure enough, when he came home, his shoes were the first thing he talked about.

“They’re girl shoes,” he said. I felt my stomach sink. Is it too much to ask that he have one day at school without someone telling him his shoes are wrong? I wondered.

It took me a while to pry the information out of him. He wasn’t upset. The comment had come from kids in the other Kindergarten class. I told him, “They’re not girl shoes or boy shoes. They’re just kid shoes.” He didn’t seem to take much notice.

While tweeting about Graham’s shoes, someone linked me to this wonderful statement from, of all people, Kanye West.

 It’s like a little kid, a little boy, looking at colors, and no one told him what colors are good, before somebody tells you you shouldn’t like pink because that’s for girls, or you’d instantly become a gay two-year-old. Why would anyone pick blue over pink? Pink is obviously a better color.

This has also got me thinking about myself. Sure, I’m thrilled that Graham is picking what he likes and getting pink shoes. But I realize that if Tessa wanted pink sparkly shoes I’d point her in a different direction so she wouldn’t be so girly. Which is completely hypocritical of me. I need to let my kids choose what they like as long as it’s how they really feel and not what they’re pressured into.

So Tessa, if you want to wear bright pink tutus, go for it.

And for that matter, the same goes for you, Graham.

 

Comments

  1. Lo the Phoenix says

    Now when you can find PINK SPIDERMAN SHOES, the world will be an OK place. Also? Tell me where, because I will want some.

    You’re a great momma and Graham is a great kid!

  2. says

    I think those shoes are perfect.
    And I think the more of us parents say “so what, he likes pink shoes” the more it will sink into our kids and someday it just won’t matter.

    Says the girl who only wore blue.
    Alysia recently posted..Girl on Fire

  3. Amanda says

    My 6yo son has a thing for pink and purple right now. My older son did too until he went to school and learned they were “girl colors.” Until school, he liked all colors. Who cares as long as our kids are happy?

  4. says

    LOVED this!! My youngest adored having his toenails painted, playing with purses, “fixing” his hair, all in the quest to imitate his Mommy. I took so much flack from everyone from my pediatrician, to my in-laws, to my dad, that it was ridiculous. The child wasn’t trying to be “gay,” he wanting to look “pretty.” I’m girly and love to paint my toenails.. my son’s favorite color to this day is pink. Who cares? It won’t damage him, promise.

  5. says

    I so relate to this. I let my 3-year-old experiment with all sorts of colours and ideas and I never say things like “that’s only for girls.” Hence, when I put bronzer on in the summer, he gets a couple of sweeps off my brush. I had to draw the line at mascara (mostly because I don’t want it getting in his eyes)but told him that he can have some when he’s older and in a rock band.

  6. says

    We’ve never distinguished between gender colors here in the house. However, my 4 year old boy already declares how he doesn’t like pink/purple because those are girl colors. He only likes “boy colors.” It’s crazy how early they pick up on it just from society/the outside world.
    Dollops of Diane recently posted..Smooth and Sleek Saturday

  7. says

    I love this post, my boys still love to dress up in their sister’s princess clothes and I hope to keep them from worrying about what others think for as long as I can. I think honoring our kids just as they are is the best thing we can do for them.

    • says

      Remember when the whole world wasn’t annoyed at Kanye?? Good times!
      And yeah, I think his pink shoes go well with his trains.

  8. says

    Wonderful post! We work so hard to steer our 4yo daughter away from gender stereotypes, but she’s already picking them up in preschool. She makes blanket statements about boys and girls, and we talk with her about them. I have explained to her why generalizations or stereotypes, be they about gender or other things, are not good. But it’s scary how much outside influences are coloring her perspective this early on.

    She is quite girly, loves the princesses and pink frilly things. She also loves dinosaurs and bugs and wants to play in the dirt. We believe in letting her be who she is and like what she likes. It scares me how strong and definite her ideas of what is “OK” for each gender are becoming. *sigh*

    • says

      I think talking it through with them is the best you can do. I just want Graham to like what he likes regardless of peer pressure. But man, peer pressure is crazy. It’s oddly lucky that Graham doesn’t pick up on that stuff yet.

  9. says

    I’m the mother of four…a 12 year old girl and then boys who are ages 9, 7, and 2. My boys have been wearing pink hand-me-downs forever. My older two are now “aware” of gender stereotypes and it breaks my heart. However, they still have been known to wear pink socks under their Batman costumes. As for the two year old…his birthday was last weekend and both sets of grandparents bought him pink pajamas. He loves them.
    Amy recently posted..5 Reasons Why I’m a Catch

  10. says

    I so love this! My 7 year old boy has always loved purple and pink. My favorite memory from last summer was walking behind him while he walked into our pool club (filled with kids from his school) wearing a lilac plush bathrobe. He looked happier and more confident than I had ever see him before. You are an awesome Mama, and Graham and Tessa are going to grow up strong and confident because they have the freedom to express themselves.
    Kristin recently posted..(Almost) Wordless Wednesday – How’s Your View?

  11. says

    Yeah! Hooray! Be proud of him and yourself. This IS great parenting, Jessica! A color is a color, and far be it to you or any of us to label that color to be liked and worn by a specific gender. The shoes are pretty darn cute; however, Graham is adorable and simultaneously making a wonderful statement for all of us. I love it. Great job.
    Nikki | Days With Us recently posted..CINNAMON AND EXHAUST: a smelly story

  12. says

    Out of all things gender-related, gender-associated colors (blue, pink, purple) are completely a construct of society. Liking pink says nothing about a child’s taste in colors. After all, I see grown men – lawyers at my husband’s firm – that wear pink and purple dress shirts…because it’s in style now! Your little boy shouldn’t have to wait for the day that society decides that it’s okay for a little boy to wear pink shoes; he should be able to express his preferences.

    And where were the teachers? His teachers should have used the experience as a lesson on diversity and individuality – that we all are different, but that’s okay! That wearing pink shoes should be celebrated just as much as anything else that makes us special.

    I also look at this in the eyes of an autism mama. My little boy is days away from turning 4. He is minimally verbal and doesn’t make “preferences” known. If he asked for pink shoes tomorrow, guess what…he’s getting every pair of pink shoes I can get my hands on. I would be doing everything I could to support and encourage my son making his desires known, which I think is exactly what you were doing.

    To heck with everyone else…he let you know what he liked and you – being a good mama – supported it. If only all parents were like that.
    Reinventing Mommy recently posted..Setting Yourself Up for a Good IEP

    • says

      I don’t actually know what the involvement was with the teachers and if they were around. He’s not a man of many words, my Graham. But I’m hopefully going to be able to ask them about it soon. I do know it wasn’t in his class, so that’s good.

  13. Jen says

    This is great! I’m not going to lie, I’m not sure what I would have done if this were me. I’d like to think i’d go out and by my child whatever shoes they wanted. Even though I’m not sure, I am definitely taking this as a lesson to teach my girls- colors are not “boy” or “girl” related. Colors are colors. And no matter our gender we can like them all! Thanks for the reminder!

    • says

      Yes. It was helpful for me to remember to let them embrace whatever, if it conforms or not. I tend to be so anti-girly… unless it’s a boy. Go figure. 🙂

  14. says

    I loved this. My son loves many Disney themes like Minnie’s Bowtique and Doc McStuffins. Pinks and purples abound..and it brings him such joy. I love your son’s shoes. My own son said they were like Doc’s as he glanced over my shoulder. If it makes them happy, it shouldn’t matter.
    Lisa recently posted..Schedule Mayhem

  15. says

    Jessica, I love you. You are the exact kind of parent I want to be- completely accepting and constantly looking at how to become better. I had a hard time when my girl got so girly and into tutus, dresses, and sparkles. But, it’s what she wants and that girls works so hard to just be, that she deserves every damn sequin she can get her hands on!

    xoxo
    Dani G recently posted..*This Moment*

  16. says

    Yeah, I went through this crisis when Owl became obsessed with wearing the princess dress at his daycare. Not because I thought he’d be teased – the other boys wear it sometimes too – but because I would be horrified in a girl, but was quite pleased in a boy.

    That being said, if anyone dares say anything to him about it, you can be sure to point out to him big tough football men wearing pink:

    http://wac.450f.edgecastcdn.net/80450F/1045theteam.com/files/2012/10/153209921.jpg

    Cowboys in pink
    http://www.smssgazette.com/photos/Real%20Men%20can%20wear%20pink.jpg

    Astronauts in pink
    http://rookery.s3.amazonaws.com/761500/761643_ae67_625x1000.jpg

    Hell, even the president wears pink

    http://assets.nydailynews.com/polopoly_fs/1.1189858!/img/httpImage/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/landscape_635/obama-pink-bracelet.jpg

    So why on earth should a little boy not wear pink? Take that, bullies of the world.
    If By Yes recently posted..Best Parenting Book Ever

  17. Karen says

    I don’t like Kanye or Kimye, for that matter, but I LOVE that quote. I love it; it’s perfect. Just let kids be who they want to be.

  18. says

    Very insightful post. My son could have cared less what color he wore, until he got to preschool and got the idea from other kids that certain colors were “girly.” Outside influences can be strong. I didn’t comment one way or the other on his choices, I just let him take the lead on what he was comfortable wearing. Same with my girls. I have one that loves pink, one that hates it.
    Lisa recently posted..Make Sure You’re Upwind

  19. says

    awesome, I love it! I have all girls and I *hate* pink so I’ve never steered my girls toward any particular color. My oldest LOVES pink, the next loves green, and the next really couldn’t care what color is involved as long as she gets a soft, squishy, stuffed animal to hug. But – my oldest *is* getting a giant dose of “pink is a girl color, blue is a boy color” from the other kids in Kindergarten. My husband and I argue with that every single time with, “no, all colors are for everyone” and we point to 10 examples immediately in the room showing different colors all together. But – it’s an uphill battle.
    The Next Step recently posted..Don’t Judge Me – It’s been a rough week

    • says

      I’m really relieved that we had the boy-who-loves-pink before having a girl-who-loves-pink because I have been known to purposely steer away from that stuff when it comes to girl stuff. It’s been really eye-opening.

      I hope we as parents can keep pushing but it’s rough with the peer pressure coming on so early.

  20. says

    I love this post. I went through it with my now 7-yo boy. He loved pink and bright girly colors. All of his socks had to be the bright ones from the girls rack at Gymboree. I didn’t care, but I homeschool. I applaud you for letting him go to school like that, I wish more kids grew up without the gender stereotypes. My son had an awesome pink button up dress shirt last summer that looked so awesome on him, his cousin said pink is for girls. And the end. It didn’t matter how many times I pointed out a man in a pink shirt. We were done 🙁
    Jen recently posted..Sensory Processing Disorder Can Be Funny Too

  21. Nora says

    I wonder though – knowing the reactions he’d get from other kids at school, you still purchased him those pink shoes. I’m all for breaking stupid color/gender stereotypes, but did you not worry about having him be upset by reactions at school?

    • says

      I’m glad you brought this up, Nora. When a friend of mine shared this post, a parent responded by saying it was cruel of me to send him to school in pink shoes and her co-workers all agreed. I brought the question up on Facebook to see what people’s responses were. (You can see the thread here: http://www.facebook.com/dontmindthemess/posts/588717081140341 )

      My favorite response was this from Shannon: “What would be cruel is to tell him that he can’t wear what makes him happy because someone else may may not approve. What would be cruel is to make him feel like something is wrong with him for liking the things he does. What would be cruel is to prevent him from being the wonderful person he is.”

      And that is what it comes down to. If I say no to him I make him upset, too. I either tell him he should be someone different than who he is or I let him be and figure it out himself. Generally, my parenting philosophy is the latter.

      The final thought I have on this is that if my kid wears pink shoes to school, eventually the kids will get used to it. And maybe it’s possible that another kid will decide it’s okay for them to wear a different color, too. And maybe just maybe we make a little progress.

  22. says

    i totally hear ya on this! my eldest kid LOVES pink things, hearts, sparkly rainbows and what have you. it’s tricky because he’s a boy and, while i don’t care about what he wears, society at large does. my MIL is worried i’m making my son gay. really?!
    truth be told, i encourage my son to wear what he likes, regardless of it being “girls” or “boys” (and who decided these things anyway???). unfortunately, he’s slowly losing his courage and now that he is school and exposed to the very rigid gender rules, i know he will stop wearing pink and sparkles.
    mama lola recently posted..easter garland.

  23. Rebecca W says

    I am so happy that he wasn’t swayed by the other kid’s reactions. I also was trying to keep my daughter from being too girly because I was never girly. I hated dresses and tights. I wanted to wear pants. She loves her skirts and tights. I realized I was trying to make her into me and I stopped asking her to wear pants. I let her go nuts over pretty outfits. She is who she is and I’m not going to stop her.

  24. says

    What an awesome kid you have!! It shouldn’t matter what color they are! It’s a COLOR for pete’s sake! For another 5 year old to say that to him is super sad. When I have kids they will be allowed to wear WHATEVER color they want and play with whatever toys they want (except for guns….I’m opposed to that). Graham, you are an awesome kid! Keep it up!
    Check out my friends facebook page for some awesome gender neutral awesomeness.

    https://www.facebook.com/PigtailPals?ref=ts&fref=ts

  25. Kelly says

    I LOVE this post!! I love that you made a choice that many wishes they would make but might be too fearful!
    Congrats-this was a great parenting moment and showed your son unconditional support & love 🙂

  26. Leslie says

    Thank you for this!!! My 5yo son is going into kindergarten and has no concept of gender based marketing. Wants the pink backpack w a butterfly on it. I am struggling with how to handle it… I never thought I’d have a tough time with that… Clearly we don’t focus on traditional gender roles in our home. My fear is that I either ignore the societal norm, say nothing and risk him finding it all out as it is being negatively directed at him (aka being teased, being unprepared to respond when he hears its for girls) or talk about what other people might think, and inadvertently send the message to play it safe, pick blue and don’t be yourself. Or a third scenario, he understands, still picks pink, but is self conscious about it (he’s already a shy kid).

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