Whooda Thunkit?

Since I first blogged on this blog a few days ago, the thing has gone somewhat viral.  Not my commentary on it, but the original blog post itself – the mom of the boy who dressed up as Daphne from Scooby Doo for Halloween and how ticked off she was (the mom, not the boy pretending to be Daphne) that anyone might find it odd.  I’ve seen this popping up in all sorts of places.  Not surprising – it pushes all the right buttons.  Moral outrage and indignation.  Allegations of bullying.  Gender/sexuality issues (perceived or otherwise).  And of course, someone willing to stand up and tell the world to go to hell because nobody could possibly have anything to say or contribute to her or her son beyond what she has decided to provide him.

So I’ve been thinking more about it, and wondering what else ought to be said.  
If my daughter had dressed as Batman, no one would have thought about it twice.  No one.  
This sounds like a pretty compelling argument at surface level.  If my daughter wanted to dress as Batman or Spiderman or Superman, what would I say?  Would I have as big an issue about it as if my son wanted to dress up as Daphne?  No.  Why?  Because they’re not the same issue.
First off, there are female equivalents for pretty much every male superhero.  There’s a Batgirl.  And a Supergirl.  There’s probably a Spidergirl but I’m afraid to Google that.  So if my daughter was interested in dressing as a superhero (which she isn’t), there are plenty of female options to choose from.  But let’s say she really wanted to go as Batman instead of Batgirl, since the costumes are decidedly different.  Would that cause me concern?  No.  Is this inconsistent with disagreeing with encouraging the blogger’s son to dress up as a girl for Halloween?  No.  
Yes Batman is a man, but his masculinity isn’t the core issue that Batman has going on.  It’s not so much about being a man, as it is about being a masked person with all sorts of cool abilities and tools at your disposal with which to whack bad guys.  That’s appealing, and the appeal isn’t necessarily gender specific.  Hence there can be a Batgirl who has many of the same characteristics as Batman, only with better hair.  Daphne is a young woman.  Her character is totally feminine.  She isn’t pretending to be anything else.  There could not be a male version of Daphne.  A male version of Daphne would be a regular guy with nice hair.  
A boy wishing to dress up as a girl, simply because she’s a girl, is not the same thing as a girl who might want to dress up as a masked superhero because the mask and the costume and the gadgets and everything else are cool.  In doing so, she wouldn’t really be dressing up as a man per se, but as a character with all these amazing gadgets and the ability to fight crime.  What she would want to be emulating, in other words, is not being a man, but being a superhero with cool skills.  If my daughter wanted to dress as Batman, I’d encourage her to consider the female alternatives.  If she were insistent, I wouldn’t have a problem with it.
If she wanted to dress up as Bruce Wayne, I’d have a problem.  
If you think that me allowing my son to be a female character for Halloween is somehow going to ‘make’ him gay then you are an idiot. Firstly, what a ridiculous concept.

I tend to agree with this.  I don’t think isolated cross dressing in young children is a sign of sexual confusion necessarily.  But let’s be clear here – it’s obvious from this mother’s blog that she isn’t really concerned about this issue at all.  Because even if it is linked to gender confusion or problems with sexual identity, she sees no need for alarm.  Whatever happens, happens.  She loves her child regardless.  I commend her love.  I don’t commend her laissez faire approach to the issue or her rejection of anyone who might possibly disagree.  

It seems clear from her description of her son’s behavior that there is some confusion on his part – and that’s only natural and normal.  His best friends and most regular companions are all female.  Of course he would be inclined to want to emulate them at some level.  Of course if his best friend suggests he might want to wear the same costume as her, he would find that a reasonable idea.  And yet, despite of all this reinforcement for his decision, he begins to have second thoughts.  The author doesn’t describe why this might be.  But it seems clear that either all on his own, or through the comments of others, he began to realize that perhaps his initial logic was flawed.  Maybe it wasn’t an appropriate costume for him.  He’s trying to sort out the gender confusion.  It would have been an ideal moment to offer some male costume options (Shaggy?  Fred?  Even Scooby?).  

My job as his mother is not to stifle that man that he will be, but to help him along his way. Mine is not to dictate what is ‘normal’ and what is not, but to help him become a good person.

You can’t “help someone along the way” without providing assistance that may, in one form or another, stifle one aspect of a person or accentuate and help another aspect to flourish.  Yes, you do help your son learn what is normal, because you have lived in the world a lot longer than he has and know what is normal.  

You know, for instance, that you don’t allow your child to play with feral rats.  Or to gnaw on roadkill.  You know that you don’t allow your child to jump up and down on the table at the restaurant you’re eating at.  You know that you don’t allow your child to roam the streets naked because he’s so inclined to do that regularly.  Why?  Because these things are not normal – and while your child may be too young to know that, you are not, and you are responsible for helping him learn.  A “good person” after all is someone that acts in ways that are generally conceded to be good based on some definition.  That requires that you help teach your son (or daughter) what those ways are.  Your son or daughter is not free to arbitrarily decide for themselves what constitutes good or bad.  

Earlier in the essay the mother mentions other cross-dressing situations that are not considered taboo or inappropriate (well, fraternity brothers and football players).  Why aren’t they taboo?  Because they’re older, somewhat more mature people who clearly understand what the difference is between the genders.  They are not cross-dressing out of confusion, but specifically because such cross-dressing is widely considered to be inappropriate outside of an attempt (however poor is not the question here) at humor.  They are demonstrating the humor that the vast majority of people find in a situation where someone is pretending to be something they are not.
This is not the same as a small child attempting to learn what are appropriate dress-up options.  This is not the same as encouraging the child to continue in a path of behavior even though the child recognizes that they may have been in error on the matter.  This is not the same as utilizing your child as the lightning rod for you to wield your righteous indignation.  
I have no doubt this woman loves her child.  It’s unfortunate that she rejects so completely the idea that anyone willing to sit her down and express concerns with her might be attempting to love her – and her child – as well.  If the measure of love is the willingness of everyone else around us to patently agree to whatever we decide to do or say, it’s not worth much, as love goes.  I hope this mother has the chance to think further about this situation.  Beyond her defensiveness and protectiveness (both understandable, to an extent).  But based on a lot of the reactions people seem to be having to her post (affirming it), that’s probably not going to happen.  
Ultimately, that’s a shame for all of us – not just this woman and her son.  

2 Responses to “Whooda Thunkit?”

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