This originally appeared on The Mamafesto. Republished here with permission.
I just read Randi Zuckerberg’s HuffPo piece, “My Son Wears Pink: To Share or Not To Share?” and it took me a bit to figure out why it didn’t sit quite well with me. Zuckerberg takes on the question of whether or not it’s in our children’s best interest to publicly share photos of them that fall outside the “norm.”
Childhood is a time to experiment, to make mistakes, to be silly and creative, and to use your imagination. I know there are a lot of things I did in my childhood that are (thankfully) in a photo album somewhere in my parents’ basement, instead of permanently cached online. For example, I wore a full-body Darth Vader Halloween costume when I was just a little too old for it to still be cute. A great memory, but looking back, I’m glad it’s not part of my online identity.
And fair enough. We all have embarrassing photos we’d prefer never saw the light of day. However, it’s Zuckerberg’s presumption over what we should protect our children from that is the issue. Zuckerberg is specifically referencing a post about a woman who shares pictures of her 6-year-old son dressed up in tutus, makeup, nail polish, and dresses. She wonders whether this mother is thinking about the potential ramifications these pictures may have on her son later in life.
I, on the other hand, am thinking about the potential ramifications of not sharing them.
Before I get into this further, I’d be remiss if I didn’t note that the 6-year-old boy in question is referred to as a “cross-dresser” throughout Zuckerberg’s post as well as the one she links to (note: the mother of the child did not refer to her son as such). It seems completely out of place to ascribe this adult term to a child who likes to play dress up. Kids—amazingly—enjoy playing dress up. Whether that means a young girl dressing up like Captain Hook (is she a cross-dresser?) or another child dressing up like Lotso Huggin Bear from Toy Story 3 (should we start labeling those kids “Furries?”)—it’s all just dress up. It’s fun! It’s silly! It’s creative! It’s childhood! So, can we please lose the labels? That would be a great place to start.
If we didn’t have such strict and stringent gender codification in our society, then pictures like this would be as innocuous as the mom who posts pictures of her son playing soccer or her daughter playing with dolls. It’s only because these pictures step outside the norm that they become questioned.
Maybe—and just hear me out—instead of suggesting that we don’t share these pictures over fear that it will damage our children somehow, we actually share more of them in hopes of normalizing and accepting these types of things. So much pressure is put on the whole “BUT WHAT DOES IT MEAN” part when a child happens to travel outside his or her traditional gender box. Sometimes it could mean a lot. It could possibly mean that the child in question is challenging their gender identity and there is truly something deeper going on. But for many children who step outside these incredibly rigid gender lines, it just means they enjoy bold, beautiful colors, or sparkles, or being fancy, or materials that feel nice and special.
Being a “pink boy” doesn’t have to mean anything beyond being a boy who happens to love pink. It’s adults who put the larger significance on it. When Zuckerberg lumps dressing up outside gender norms along with “making mistakes” of childhood, she’s placing a (negative) value on it, when it is simply just another part of a child’s life, along with digging in the dirt, reading books, playing sports, etc…
Zuckerberg says, “It’s a fantastic thing to be proud of your child. We should always love and support our children no matter what, and we should applaud parents who bravely support their child in the face of society telling them otherwise. But it’s one thing to capture an adorable moment and send it to a few close friends and family. It’s another thing entirely to send it out into the void of the Internet, without thought of future repercussions.”
Would she say the same thing to the mother who posts a picture of her little girl dressed up for a ballet recital?
I’m thinking of “future repercussions.” I’m thinking that posting pictures like these—showing kids having fun and being creative—sets a precedent that children have the ability to express themselves freely. These pictures also help challenge the status quo, so that the next time a little boy happens to paint his nails or wear pink, it isn’t cause to stop the presses, make a huge deal of it, and question the child or the parents. It would be just another kid, doing things that some kids just happen to do.
So, I say: Share! I’m not advocating sharing anything that would embarrass your kid, of course. But I also don’t agree that stepping outside gender norms is embarrassing or troubling at all. So share your child being his or her self—whether that be knee-deep in dirt or waist-high in tutus (or rocking pink Crocs and a purple hoodie while walking down the street with his dad… as the case may be).
Photo courtesy of the author
Avital Norman Nathman is a play-at-home-mama, feminist, wife, writer, and activist (in no particular order). Her work has been featured in Bitch magazine (and website), Ms. Blog, Bamboo Family Magazine, Gender Across Borders and more. When she’s not hosting dance parties in her kitchen, she’s knee-deep in dirt in her teensy urban garden, nose deep in some young adult lit, or off in search of the perfect cup of Chai. You can follow Avital on Twitter at @TheMamafesto.