When Darla was two, she received her first princess dress/nightgown as a gift from her former daycare provider. It was pink and had cap sleeves. A brocade with Cinderella, Belle, and Sleeping Beauty adorned the front. I could tell her heart melted the minute she pulled it out of the box. She never knew that such beauty could exist in the world. She put it on and twirled and tripped around the house.
This I was not thrilled about. Our once stylish daughter who would wear amazing, neutral clothing was now begging to pull on the dress every chance she got. It would drag across the ground and she would continuously trip over it. I begged her to take it off. She always refused. My visions of her as a tiny feminist faded in the distance the more she wore that dress.
Conversely, when Jude was two, he always wanted to wear Darla's princess dresses. I applauded this and let him flounce around in a Rapunzel dress as much as he wanted. It was so long it would drag across the ground and he would continuously trip over it. I thought it was the most adorable thing I had ever seen. I felt much better about having a son who liked dresses than a daughter who did. I thought I was going to raise a gender non-conforming boy and the future looked great.
Then, one day, Jude was gifted a basketball jersey. He had the same look of love on his face that Darla had when she got that princess dress. He put it on and immediately began jumping, pretending to shoot baskets. He punched and kicked and danced around the room. He wore the jersey to school every day until it became too stained. I then threw it out (but not before I replaced it with a new one because that wouldn't have been a good scene.
I was upset; I was raising a "typical" girl and a "typical" boy. My daughter loved everything pink and make-up related. My son loved basketball and punching the air. I felt like I had failed as a parent because they were acting just like how the toy aisle dictates.
As they've grown older, they've gotten more involved in the trappings of their assigned genders. The only thing that has changed is that I've let go of my anxiety around it. Both are doing exactly what they want to do and I won't stand in the way of it. Sometimes their choices adhere to a gender stereotype, sometimes it doesn't. Darla still loves sequins and glitter, but she can throw down with the best of the boys. She is funny, loud, and bold. She's recently started getting into some really existential shit, too. (Not that I, in anyway, think philosophy is specifically masculine. I just really enjoy this new development). "What makes me me?" she'll ask as she sits in the backseat of the car. She, also, informed me that she wants to have a baby when she's older so she can give it to two men to raise. She's just Darla!
Jude makes us listen to Kurtis Blow's Basketball every night as he shoots hoops, but he'll still put on the Rapunzel dress for the dance party. Jude is still rough and tumble and is counting down the days until he can take a wrestling class (he can sign himself up when he's 18). He'll take a break from the mayhem to tidy up a bit and sweep the whole house. He, also, really wants to hang out with babies and horses all the time. He's just Jude!
As a new parent, I wanted them each to defy societal norms and be unique creatures. I failed to see that I was being superficial to think that their clothing was what made them unique. Growing with them as a mom reminded me of what I somehow forgot: that feminism isn't how we dress, it's about how we treat each other. As far as my job as their parent goes, it's not my job to make sure they wear the right clothes. It's to make sure that they treat everyone with respect and always examine their actions to determine if what they're doing is promoting equality. And, more important than anything else, it’s to make sure that everything they do should be in service of smashing the patriarchy.