Dress-up is one thing, but dad does not want to see his young son in any dresses

February 23, 1996|By Mike Littwin

SO, YOU'VE water-cooler story of the day.

A dad walks into the day-care center where his 6-year-old is enrolled in the kindergarten program and sees his boy wearing a dress. He was pretty sure that, although it was early, when the kid left home he was in pants.

Turns out, it's dress-up activity time, which may or may not be good preparation for your SATs. But kids do love to play dress-up. In this class, the kids can dress up as firefighters. They can dress in a businessman's coat and tie. They can dress in, well, a dress.

The boy has gone with the dress, a tasteful satiny white frock. (What I'm saying is, something like Howard "Miss America" Stern would wear.)

Anyway, Dad walks in and he freaks.

He wants answers.

He pulls the kid out of the class when he doesn't like the answers, which would have to include: Hey, didn't you ever see "Some Like It Hot"?

Dad -- possibly not a movie buff, and certainly no fan of "To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar" -- demands an investigation. The investigators conclude that he's overreacting. (Overreacting? You'd want your kid to grow up to look like Howard Stern?)

The day-care people and psychologists and, for all I know, Sally Jessy Raphael all say it's perfectly normal for 6-year-olds to "experiment" with clothing and that you shouldn't apply your own personal hang-ups (don't ask, don't tell) to your kids.

The story makes the front page of this newspaper. I'm sure it'll be on "Oprah" next.

And what seems clear here is that Dad, who might have been happier if the boy ripped off the dress and slammed down a Heineken, is some sort of Neanderthal, right?

Right?

That's how I figure it. Until I ask around. I'm sure the people I hang with (mostly members of the left-wing, godless, commie media) would write this guy off as the Pat Buchanan of the nursery-crowd set.

I couldn't be more wrong.

One friend tells me how her 5-year-old son decides at the mall he wants to buy a dress. She explains to him that boys don't wear dresses. As these conversations often go, the boy begins to scream, "I want a dress. I want a dress." People are staring, wondering, she says, just what kind of parent she is.

Another story. This guy used to visit an estate where there were four sons. The mother must have wanted a daughter, because the fourth son's bigger-than-life portrait shows him wearing a tutu. The three other sons go on to become successful. The fourth son moves West and lives on a ranch with cows and, presumably, cowboys.

"You see what I mean?" he says.

Well . . .

Another story. A friend has a friend whose daughter is dating a guy who likes to wear the daughter's pantyhose. There are those in the family who think this incipient cross-dressing spells trouble for the relationship, not to mention for the pantyhose.

The conversation is heating up.

"A boy wearing a dress is just inappropriate," says one friend.

Would it be inappropriate, I counter, if a 6-year-old girl was dressed in a hard-hat with a Black and Decker 24-bit drill hanging from her tool belt?

"No," he says. "That's not a problem."

But, a boy in a dress?

"It's just wrong."

When my daughter was very small, I was determined that she would not be limited by gender stereotypes.

I bought her trucks as well as dolls. I bought her a baseball bat and a Playskool kitchen set. I considered buying her a tool set but I have a pathological fear of ball-peen hammers.

What do you think happened?

She insisted on wearing dresses. All dresses, all the time. She wouldn't wear pants unless something frilly were attached to them. She also insisted on wearing her party shoes to bed.

"Pants are for boys," she'd tell me, letting me know exactly what she thought of boys (and dads?).

You see, I was hoping for Gloria Steinem and I was getting Martha Stewart.

I shouldn't have worried. In a few years, she gave up dresses. Now she never wears them and, in fact, prefers her jeans come from the thrift store, thus saving me countless thousands of dollars.

That's one happy ending.

But what will come of the cross-dressing 6-year-old?

I guess it depends on your clothing tastes (I prefer something black and slinky, but only after midnight and several Heinekens). And whether or not it's true that everything you need to know you do learn in kindergarten.

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