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my princess boy

A common misconception about feminism is that it only concerns itself with prejudice against women. However, the wide exploration of sex and gender over the past few decades has revealed that men are also often constrained by the macho/hunter/whatever stereotypes so prevalent in the Western world.

Cheryl Kilodavis, an American mother of two boys, recently self-published a picture book titled My Princess Boy, based on her younger son’s preference for tutus and glitter and others’ reactions to him. And now, of course, just about everyone in the United States is weighing in with their two cents.

Some think it’s the parents’ responsibility to keep a five year old in gender-appropriate clothing and that Kilodavis is making her son an outcast by allowing him to dress up in this manner. Others are commending her for being so liberal.

Casting aside my reservations as to how damaging being labelled a ‘princess boy’ in a book published by his mother might eventually be for Kilodavis’s son, Dyson, once he is a little older (we all know how cruel kids can be), this nonetheless raises an imperative point as to a problem with gender-narrowing that seems to now affect boys more so than it does girls.

In a Women’s Studies tutorial some years ago, one of my classmates told us that her young daughter loved Spiderman but far from being criticised for favouring clothing resembling that of her favourite superhero, she was thought adorable by just about everyone. Thinking critically about gender issues, however, had made this woman wonder whether she would feel as comfortable if it had been her son dressing up as a ballerina.

One needn’t look very far to find a multitude of examples where girls can be tomboys without warranting a second glance, while boys are, at best, considered gay if they take an interest in activities typically reserved for girls. And yet, this is a domain that has largely been overlooked in our plight for equality. While women were demanding that they be accepted into male-dominated work industries, men did not want to risk being emasculated by their wanting to be primary school teachers or nurses. But fortunately, things are changing.

As Lukas Freer, a 21-year old nursing student, puts it:

‘The roles of both males and females are being freely exchanged within the health care system, where once it was expected that nursing staff were predominantly female and medical staff male. There are still some “old school” folk around who believe that the old way is the only way, however I am happy to say that those people are pretty rare and hard to find.

‘As one of five males in a course of 70 people, it is easy to see that the system still has a way to go, however I do think that it is headed in the right direction. All the females I have worked with have been happy to have a male around as we can offer (in some cases) greater physical strength and a different way of looking at things.

‘I have had no negative feedback at all with regard to how others perceive what I am doing. I think that underlying this is the better community understanding of what nursing is today and how it differs to what nursing used to be perhaps 50 years ago.’

There is no denying, however, that prejudices do still exist in the workplace. A problem in countries such as Australia is that it is often some sense of social decency that conceals discrimination, as many people are aware of what can be publicly said without fear of condemnation. But this is merely an example of adaptation to an environment (ie. one that penalises overt discrimination in the workplace) rather than necessarily a change in attitudes. Nonetheless, Freer’s experiences with his colleagues show that we (or some industries, at least) are moving in the right direction.

But this isn’t helpful right now to Dyson and other boys who want to dress up as princesses. The main concern in this case, really, is that his mother has taken it upon herself to place his style preferences in a public forum. A picture book such as this one have been used to ease prejudice just as easily if it were fiction-based, but as it stands, ridicule might be following Dyson around for the rest of his life, out of a decision someone else (albeit someone who probably had the best of intentions) made for him.

What do you think?

(Image credits: 1.)

One thought on “my princess boy

  1. I think that, before one criticizes the book, they really should take the time to read it, or at a minimum at least look at the illustrations. It is illustrated with painted, faceless pictures, not actual photographs of Dyson. His face does not appear in the book. And, yes, he has appeared on one television show with his mother, where his brother, sister, psychologist, teacher, grandmother and other friends and family were in the audience. The topic was greater than Dyson’s play-clothes choices. The message was about acceptance, regardless of Dyson’s play-clothes choices. Both of Dyson’s parents embraced their son for who he is now and who he may choose to become in the future. The emphasized and unequivocally recognized that this may be a fleeting fancy that he might look back on later in life and smile about. If you watch the Today Show or the New Day broadcasts regarding this subject, you will see that Dyson’s parents have gone out of their way to NOT label their son as anything other than their son. It was Dyson who coined the phrase “Princess Boy,” not his mother.

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