Cinderella ate my child… And I am perfectly OK with it. The difference, Ms. Orenstein, is that my child is a boy. That is I was OK, until he started wearing Cinderella panties.
I introduced M-man, then two years old, to Cinderella out of desperation. My cousin was getting married and we faced 16 hours of family togetherness, in a car, with a two year old. Desperate to entertain and constrain an active two year old, I turned to my old favorite – Disney movies. Only little M-Man was going through some tough nightmares at this time, so whatever he watched could not have a scary bad guy, any monsters, or really sad parts. That means: no Toy Story (I mean, really, Sid is one scary kid), Monsters’ Inc. (a funny monster is still a monster), and definitely no Lion King (Mufasa. Sniff.). I landed on Cinderella, thinking the mice and animals could be fun. He LOVED it! He loved the funny mice and birds, he loved the bibbity, bobbity, booing Fairy God-Mother, he even loved Lucifer the evil step-cat! But mostly he loved Cinderella and Prince Charming. He watched Cinderella countless times. His stuffed animals attended royal balls, drawings of castles filled the gallery wall, and dress up always included a prince element. Then we visited Disney World and he met “the real” Cinderella. It. Was. Love. Pure love. After meeting her, he was so aw-struck he literally could not talk for a solid 5 minutes, which, as anyone who’s ever had a two year old knows, is a significant amount of time.
I thought it was wonderful. We talked about optimism and the power of hope and the importance of dreams as Cinderella sang about her dreaming heart. We talked about kindness. Love, different types of families, how men should treat women… I covered all of them with my two-year-old boy within the story of Cinderella. Then came potty training. As a reward for doing such a good job with his potty training, I let him pick out a new pack of underwear. He studied each pack intently. This was a serious decision and not to be taken lightly. Then, eyes shining, he turned to me and proudly showed me his selection. Cinderella panties. White with powder blue and purple trim and a picture of Cinderella on the front. My hand froze. Watching the movie was one thing, but wearing Cinderella panties? In what I believe was a defining parenting moment, I swallowed the no in my throat and said, “Those look great, dear,” and carried on shopping.
M-Man is now four and still wears Cinderella underwear. One time recently he wanted to wear a Cinderella pair instead of a Spiderman paid I had grabbed. I asked him why. He very plainly said that he likes the Cinderella ones better because they do not have a “penis pocket”. This means the picture is on the front instead of the back (or butt) and he can see it better. Though this moment did crystallize why he insists on wearing his all of his other underwear backwards, I felt sick at the thought that someone would tease him as school. Still, I dropped him off at school with his Spiderman shirt and Cinderella panties.
Yesterday The Boston Globe Magazine ran an article about the problem with separate toys for boys and girls. Not surprisingly, it’s negative. Boys stop playing with girls earlier than developmentally appropriate, thereby strengthening gender stereotypes and deepening gender inequalities. It is natural for boys and girls to play together. Through this play, children gain a foundation of respect for the opposite gender because they realize that the other sex really isn’t all that different from them. Playing together teaches that everyone likes to play, and is therefore equal. From this equality comes respect.
As a mom of two boys, it is extremely important that my sons respect women. I want my sons to value strength, independence, and kindness in girls and later in women. But our children live in a blue and pink world. So it is up to us as parents to get our boys and girls to play together. It is up to us to teach them to see that blue and pink are simply colors. When Mother Nature creates a rainbow or paints a flower she doesn’t let the color dictate where it goes. Neither should the color of the toy aisle dictate what toys my child plays with. Neither should a cartoon picture on a pair of underwear lead me to discourage my son from wearing them.
So I am going to let my son wear Cinderella underwear as long as he wants. I am going to set up play dates with boys and girls. I am going to buy toys based on his interests, not aisles. I am going to model that certain colors do not belong to one gender or another (“Yes, Mommy wears blue shirts. And Daddy wears pink shirts.) I am going to ask him which girls in his class are strong, fast runners, and funny; helping him create concrete examples. And I vow to keep doing this, even when girls become gross and then not gross again. I will talk with, listen to, and observe my son. I will remember how I act around “boy things” and “girl things” matters. Because when he is in college and at a frat party, I want to know he will respect the girls there. I want him to date girls who are smart, interesting, and adventurous. I want one day for him to find his Cinderella, and for him to be one heck of a Prince Charming.
Until that day, I want him to wear Cinderella underwear.