Friday, August 2, 2013

Belated Thoughts on Switch it Up

With rare exceptions, I am not a timely blogger.  There have been occasions where I've reacted quickly to a current event or topic but I've usually regretted it.  I'd rather think something through before committing myself to a "side."  I've been offered jobs to blog for sites that cover hot topics, but I can't.  Writing is a sideline for me at best, and I can't drop the things I'm supposed to be doing to quickly dash off a post during the small window when people want an opinion on the outrage of the moment.  Besides, I'm not interested in fueling any fires.  I'd rather find ways to put them out if possible.

So here are my thoughts on a local story that briefly went national many weeks ago, now that nobody remembers or cares.  Because gender issues interest me, I do have an opinion unlike any of the ones I heard at the time, and I do find myself still thinking about it.

The elementary school a few blocks from our house had something called Switch It Up Day during their version of a spirit week.  Lots of schools have special dress up days.  My kids' school did an 80s day at one point, and I think a backwards day.  The thing I remember most from those kinds of dress up days when I was in high school was that at the end of the week we were supposed to be decked out in the school colors, but Ferndale High's colors were brown and white and that was just boring.

Anyway, the nearby school was getting reactions from all over the country about what was being called "Gender Bender Day" on the news.  The girls could dress as boys and the boys could dress as girls.  Nobody had to do anything, of course, it was supposed to be voluntary and fun, but apparently one parent got bent out of shape over it, and suddenly everyone had an opinion on whether or not this was harmless or something to do with the decay of society and gender norms.

I wouldn't lodge a formal protest if I were a parent of someone at that school, because that's not the hill I want to die on, but I do object to the idea of Switch It Up Day.  And probably not for the reasons others might.

I think drawing undo attention to what people wear in terms of what gender it somehow embodies is unnecessary at best and dangerous at worst.

Girls are granted more options than boys in terms of fashion, and are not particularly punished for what could be deemed cross dressing.  I often wear men's jeans and shirts because I'm tall and can't find things that fit me on the women's side of the store, but I don't look like I'm trying to dress like a man.  If a girl wants to wear super-hero themed shirts or more masculine shoes it's hard to find someone who cares.

Boys have more choices than at some times in the past, but there are limits that I don't think should exist.  If boys want to wear skirts or dresses I think they should feel free to do so.  No one should be afraid to wear any particular color.  It's disturbing to me that cross dressing toward typically feminine looks is a joke or taboo.

When my son was three he was excited to receive a particular pair of hand-me-down sneakers from his sister when she outgrew them.  They were white and lavender with holographic sparkles.  He thought they were beautiful.  He proudly wore them out to play and they made him very happy.  For about a week.  Then he wore them to school where other children in kindergarten asked if they were girl shoes.  I'm quite sure he wasn't teased because that's really not the way things play out at their Montessori school.  I'm positive it was just other three-year-olds asking blunt questions out of curiosity the way three-year-olds do.  But it made my son self-conscious.  And he never wore those shoes again.  That broke my heart.

Why should something that glitters only be assigned to one gender?  What difference does it make?  It's all so arbitrary.  This isn't to say that I don't think clothes are important.  They make a statement based on context.  But the specifics of what is considered normal or acceptable changes frequently, and I find our current standards too rigid.

So Switch It Up Day, in my opinion, far from breaking down gender boundaries in a playful manner, I think instead reinforces useless stereotypes.  It asks kids to assign a fixed gender to certain colors and articles of clothing as if that actually means something.  And I don't think it should.

Children's clothes available in most stores today are taking gender stereotypes to extremes.  It's hard to find anything neutral.  My son doesn't want pajamas with sports things on them but often that's all that's available.  The small boy clothes are covered with trucks and dinosaurs and basketballs, end of story.  As if girls don't play sports or like dinosaurs or a boy can't like something else?  And the girl clothes are a sea of pink and glitter and princesses.  What's wrong with pajamas that are simply blue or green?  My girls don't want anything with a princess on the front of it and all of my kids wonder why the color choices in their given parts of the store are so limited.  This is not the direction I think we should be heading.

In some sense, Switch It Up Day should be every day, everywhere.  We should have the freedom to wear what makes us happy without fear of ridicule based on the way others want to define us.  So until we reach a point where Switch It Up is rendered meaningless, no, I don't like it.  Better to stick with the school colors for spirit week.  (Even if those colors are only brown and white.)


  1. Quick check-in to tell you we were at the Brevard Music Camp yesterday listening to an Elgar cello concerto dress rehearsal. Thought of you. :-)