Gender socialization is a strong cultural force. Our young ones are learning scripted gender norms from the world around them (families, friends, books, movies, grocery stores…) whether we want them to or not. Gender socialization and gender stereotypes dictate restricted ideas of what females can do and what males can do. Gender socialization tells us that only half the population gets access to certain ways of being, expression, clothing, roles, behavior, occupations, etc., while the other half of the population gets access to a distinct set. They’re hard on all humans, putting us into boxes with little room to fully be and express ourselves.
If we want all children to have full access to their authentic self-expression, we need to confront gender stereotypes, expose our young ones to people who dare to step outside those norms and be in continual conversation with our children to help them think critically and act from expansiveness, kindness, and acceptance.
This week, we focus on two poignant books about children getting to choose what they wear even though they face serious social pressure NOT to wear their preferred garments.
In Annie’s Plaid Shirt, Annie has a favorite plaid shirt that she loves wearing, but when it’s time for her to attend a wedding, her mom expects her to wear a fancy, frilly dress. While some girls might be excited about donning a dress, Annie is definitely not. Annie’s brother has her back. Together they devise a plan for Annie to wear something she’s comfortable with while still honoring the societal expectations to dress up for a special occasion.
In Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress, Morris eagerly dresses up in tangerine dress at play time. His peers are quick to let him know their displeasure and discomfort, mirroring the rigid gender norms they’ve internalized. “Dresses are for girls.” Initially Morris’s classmates tease him and leave him out of their play. Luckily, Morris has solid support from his mom and some serious self-confidence. Ultimately, Morris’s playfulness and imagination win over his skeptical peers. Morris gets to wear the lovely dress he adores while having his friends at his side.
These two books provide a springboard from which to talk about self expression, gender norms, social pressure, teasing, and bullying. We can help open the door wider to allow freer, easier access for all people despite the oppressive forces at hand.
Note: HFP does not own the rights to these stories. Please support the official books. If you opt to purchase copies, we encourage you to do so via an independent bookstore.
Further Reading Suggestion: How Children Address Gender Assumptions and Try On Identities