Mama, Why Don’t You Wear Dresses Every Day?
Fighting the patriarchy, one pant leg at a time.
“Mama, why don’t you wear dresses every day?” my 4-year-old daughter asks me, as we cuddle on our ripped-up couch, reading a picture book full of bunnies in tutus.
I used to wear more dresses. Like my daughter, I love twirling in a skirt. I know the secret thrill of gazing at myself in a mirror, wearing something sparkly and flowy. I completely understand why she loves dresses.
So why don’t I wear them so much anymore?
It’s about — what else? — The Patriarchy.
Parenting — shopping for children’s clothes in gender-segregated sections, reading children’s books with almost entirely gender-stereotyped characters — has made me ultra-sensitive to the gender indoctrination children receive.
Despite my protestations, my kid receives cultural messages every day that girls are meant to look pretty and boys are meant to do things.
It wasn’t until she asked me why I don’t wear a dress very often that I realized I have gradually moved toward decidedly gender-neutral clothing as an unconscious protest against this gender indoctrination.
I still like to wear frilly stuff sometimes, but I want to be an example to all the budding princess-fairy-ballerinas in my life, that any person can wear anything.
I am a woman. I love when my daughter and I wear our matching flower headbands. I also love my old, stained overalls. I love my rainbow-striped thigh-highs, and I especially love stealing my husband’s olive green velour hoodie.
I am a woman, and I am also just a person. I can wear people clothes — any people clothes — and I can do any people things.
I fart. I sew. My hairy armpits get stinky sometimes. I love decorating cupcakes with mountains of pink icing. I am a woman. I am a person. I contain multitudes.
“You know, when your grandparents were kids, girls weren’t allowed to wear anything except dresses.”
Prescribing different clothes for boys and girls is a way to accentuate and create differences, so those differences can then be pointed at to justify different treatment, different rights.
“Remember it used to be that men could vote and women couldn’t? It’s hard to imagine, but it wasn’t very long ago. There are still countries — not here in the USA, but other countries — where women aren’t allowed to drive cars, but men can. Places where boys go to school but girls don’t. It’s not like that here, but it is for a lot of people, and I believe that these things happen, these unfair things, when we tell ourselves that men and boys are one thing, and women and girls are another. We are all just people. We all deserve to have our voices heard, to go to school, to have equal rights, and I believe that starts by us demanding that we can wear whatever we want.”
Mama, why don’t you wear dresses every day?
Opportunities and choice are the whole point. So what I come back to is,
“I agree with you that dresses can be pretty, and I know you have fun wearing dresses. If that’s your choice right now, go for it. I’ll choose for my body, and you choose for yours.”
Her choice to wear dresses every day is just as valid as my choice not to.
Despite overwhelming cultural influences, my kid mostly believes me that any person can wear any clothes. So, even though my focus is on gender, her question might really be,
“But why doesn’t everyone wear a dress every day? Dresses are the best!”