Would you let your 5 y.o. son wear pink shoes for 1st day of pre-school?

There’s a fascinating discussion on Facebook, and now elsewhere, as to what a parent should do when their five year old son picks out pink girls’ shoes for his first day of preschool.

It all started when a mom posted a picture of her five year old son, sitting excitedly in the car on his way to his first day of preschool, wearing pink pumps that he picked out himself at the local shoe store.  His mom had tried to explain to him that these were “girls” shoes, but he responded: “Ninjas can wear pink shoes too.”  Gotta love the innocence and logic of a young boy.

The picture of the boy in mom’s car is below, and you can see the full unedited photo on Facebook (I wasn’t comfortable posting a five year old’s face even if his mom did put the photo on Facebook for the world to see).

boy wears pink shoes to preschool

You can see the full photo on Facebook.

And here’s the boy’s sister’s description of the episode:

Yesterday my mom posted a picture on Facebook of my 5 year old brother Sam wearing a pair of shoes he picked out for his first day of preschool.

She explained to him in the store that they were really made for girls. Sam then told her that he didn’t care and that “ninjas can wear pink shoes too.”

Sam went to preschool and got several compliments on his new shoes. Not one kid said anything negative toward him about it.

However, my mom received about 20 comments on the photo from various family members saying how “wrong” it is and how “things like this will affect him socially” and, put most eloquently by my great aunt, “that shit will turn him gay.”*

My mom then deleted the photo and told Sam that he can wear whatever he wants to preschool, that it’s his decision. If he wants to wear pink shoes, he can wear pink shoes.

Sam then explained to her that he didn’t like them because they were pink, he liked them because they were “made out of zebras” and zebras are his favorite animal :)

What does it say about society when a group of adults could stand to take a lesson in humanity from a class of preschoolers? — with Gypsy Love.

Wow.  Some sister.

I’d written before about a similar story where a man in Germany let his son wear a skirt. I worried at the time about the kind of bullying the kid might face, and I worry about the same here. Many of the readers disagreed with me. Here’s what I wrote:

Good that the dad is teaching his son to be himself, and to be proud of himself, whoever he is.

But, I worry about the hate that a young boy is going to be shown wearing a dress. And while it’s all well and good to say that that’s society’s problem, it’s also that little boy’s problem – he’s five years old, I worry about the impact of him being laughed at, pointed to, and mocked every day of his life.  Now, that doesn’t mean we should stifle who he really is, which can lead to its own damage.

The last thing I want to do is teach a young boy – and potentially a gay one (or possibly a trans one) – to stifle who he is.  Having said that, it’s very hard to be in school as a gay kid (let’s just assume for a moment that this boy is).  I know where I grew up, it was already already bad enough dealing with the bullies, and I was a closeted kid.  Had I worn pink pumps, I can’t even imagine the response.  The question then becomes whether you’re letting your son face even worse bullying in the name of helping him be proud of who he is.  Or, whether it’s worse to stifle him and tell him he can’t wear the shoes, if it avoids some bullying.

I don’t know the answer.  But I’m not convinced it’s as easy a decision as some folks are saying.  Yes, we shouldn’t have hang ups about boys wearing pink shoes.  But we do.  And it’s one thing to choose to make yourself, as an adult, a gay rights activist – it’s another to let your child unwittingly become one.  Could I imagine the pink shoes instigating a horrific, and scarring, day – hell, not day, years – at school for the boy?  Yeah. He’d probably never live it down, unless he was going to school somewhere awfully liberal.

Having said that, it’s interesting that the sister reports the other kids were fine with it:

Sam went to preschool and got several compliments on his new shoes. Not one kid said anything negative toward him about it.

They’re fine it with for now.  Just wait.  I think I’ve told his story before, of how I asked a non-profit that finds mentors for very young inner city black kids if the race of the mentor was an issue (meaning, perhaps they preferred giving the kids African-American role models).  The head of the non-profit responded that they were fine with any race since “we’ve found that that at the age of 5 the kids haven’t learned to hate yet.”

The problem is, they do learn to hate a few years later.

I want to say “atta boy,” but I don’t think we can discount that while there potential damage caused by stifling the boy, there’s also potential damage caused by letting him walk into a bullying bonanza that all of us can see coming.

Curious what folks think.


Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown (1989); and worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, and as a stringer for the Economist. Frequent TV pundit: O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline & Reliable Sources. Bio, .

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  • http://twitter.com/JakeOrlando Jake Orlando

    My son will be able to wear anything he wants. Just as long as pulls up his pants, has a clean haircut, and his clothes are clean and not too baggy.

  • sam

    As a mom.going.through the exact same situation.I will.say this.. it is absolutely 100% more terrible of an act to tell my son not to be himself for fear of being bullied. He may be in.a skirt but I will continue to raise him to be a man of honor. There is no honor in cowering and appeasing a bully. He IS going to have a rough go at life, mainly because the majority of adults have yet to evolve to a place of acceptance
    BUT those trials are minute in comparison to a life lived in fear, a life feeling ashamed for just BEING. I will not be the one 10 years from now who is faced with a broken hearted son questioning me as to why I made him hide who he is. I refuse. My son is one of 3 boys. He is an identical twin. And it just seems inconceivable for me to encourage 2 of my boys to be proud of who they are, just to turn around and tell the other to hide it. Why? Because it makes conservative society uncomfortable? Oh no! We wouldn’t want that now would we? Maybe that’s what they need, maybe that’s what we all need. Maybe to force ourselves to be a little uncomfortable, so we can then learn to deal.with and accept others differences is something tha could one day become a precursor to change. And I think every one can agree, change is good.

  • niki205

    Hi I am a mom to 2 boys who are the inspiration of my new children’s book, Pink is Just a Color and sois Blue, about gener stereotypes, tolerance, and being open minded. Toys and colors do not, and should not, define kids….Read my blog at http://www.niketabhatia.blogspot.com

    http://www.amazon.com/Pink-Just-Color-So-Blue/dp/1469902176/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1351352420&sr=8-1&keywords=pink+is+just+a+color+and+so+is+blue

  • UncleBucky

    In that situation, how would YOU use “RAID”? And what are you driving at?

  • Krusher

    Great kids, great siblings, great mom. I think (hope) that the world has changed a little since I was growing up. I guess Sam will find out, if he wants to keep wearing pink shoes. He probably won’t want to, though, is my guess. Kids’ tastes change as they get older. His preference for pink shoes may well not have had anything to do with gender preference, he probably just likes pink. He may like green next year.

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    You are capable of snark…and beautifully, surrealistic at that— .good!

  • mirror

    Accept, as in accept that we might have a fight on our hands as a consequence. Or the kid can choose to conform and avoid conflict. I’m not making my kid to wear non conforming clothing against his will. You can encourage children to be brave and stand up for who they are, but you can’t always force them to do it in a Hollywood way. Not everyone is cut out to be an ACLU lead plaintiff. It’s hard. Some people want to get on with their lives and some boys want to wear pink slippers in high school (in Alabama) because dammit it should be a free country. I support both positions for my kid.

  • Swami_Binkinanda

    And pay the doctor bills when the pink toed ninja jumps from seclusion in a blossoming cherry tree in perfect silence and conks some poor hakujin on the noggin?
    p.s. same reason elephants paint their toenails pink-better to hide in those cherry trees.

  • http://blogvader.tumblr.com/ Blogvader

    I wouldn’t have any problem with it. :)

  • jsmithutes

    It takes a real man to wear pink. Jim

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    Very like!

  • A reader in Colorado

    Another trivial post. Let the boy wear whatever he wants to wear. Is this a problem?

  • EdHandy

    I’d prefer not to have my daughter (no sons here) wear those shoes; they are very ugly, but in the end kids (beyond a certain age) are entitled to their own fashion no matter how much we hate that taste as adults. 5 is about right for that.

  • http://twitter.com/Scytherius Jonas Grumby

    I let my 9 year old son go to school in a dress, dressed as Brittney Spears.

    He is now the lead guitarist in a well known rock band, one of the truly great lyricists of our time, and tours the world with that band …. all at 23.

    Let ‘em wear the goddamn shoes.

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    Nope, I didn’t realize at that age that religion was irrational and magic orientated. I did wear a long robe and sandals during my hippy and Franciscan days.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    Short answer: Hell, yes, I would.

    I applaud non-conformity wherever and whenever I see it, because those who step outside the boundaries of conventional, expected behavior and appearance are expressing both creativity and courage.

    The only thing I might think to do is prepare him for the possibility someone might, in their ignorance, hassle him about the shoes (or other aspects about his appearance) and work out a non-violent, non-confrontational way of dealing with it in advance. But most of all assure him that if he does get hassled or bullied, the absolute last thing he should do is keep quiet about it or ever assume it was his fault or that he somehow deserved it.

  • dula

    Awe shucks, boys will be boys.

  • SkippyFlipjack

    Reminds me of a funny flowchart I saw recently, to help decide whether a toy was made for boys or girls. There was one fork: “Do you manipulate it with your genitals?” If the answer is “Yes”, it’s not for kids; “No,” it’s for either boys or girls.

  • Naja pallida

    Uniform? You didn’t go to school in a seamless wool robe and sandals? :)

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    Pink shoes will catch on like designer backpacks and other kid fads, Someday this kid will be designing courtier fashions!

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    Mom could also outfit him with a can of RAID and teach him how to use it.

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    Or have the parent buy the kid a pair of baby numchucks from Toys R Us.

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    I remember wanting to wear a nun outfit to my Catholic school, but my parents suggested I wear what Jesus would wear and so i wore the school uniform and at that age it seems a perfectly reasonable explanation.

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    And accept the consequences? …F**k that attitude. Accept abuse—-a kid? What kind of message is that?

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    Seems to me that she might have advised, “But son, while it is true ninjas wear pink, they have to be invisible and disguise the pink so they can be more stealthful ( goes on to explain ninja rules).

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    How many times do you hear straight men run around proclaiming God made me this way? Usually they are Reverend closet cases.

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    “there’s also potential damage caused by letting him walk into a bullying bonanza that all of us can see coming.” I was a fey, sensitive kid and attracted bullies, but managed to make them my slaves however, because Dad taught me how to Irish street fight. It was always a pleasure to watch the surprise on their faces just before being cold cocked. I never liked pink or was attracted to drag, except for cowboy outfits, which fit in with Colorado/Wyoming culture. Guess I was Broke Back Mountain tot. I did enjoy defending other kids when possible.

  • Mighty

    Whatever floats his boat. Although they don’t look very supportive. Couldn’t he have at least gotten pink sneakers?

  • Sweetie

    This is just like coming out. If every gay and bi person were to come out tomorrow, heterosexism would be just as politically incorrect as racism, or even less so. If everyone were to stand for diversity and expressive freedom rather than irrational levels of conformity, then we would have a world where diversity and expressive freedom are vastly more valued.

    Conformity is natural, but so is the desire to be an expressive creative individual. The former is overemphasized, to the detriment of society. There are plenty of people in power who want people to be drones, but in the new economy, creativity is valued at a premium.

  • mirror

    On the other hand, as a parent, I’m not going to always be celebrating at the time anything that is going to make my life more complex. The criticisms from adults are surely coming from the idea that someone can be “turned gay” or “made not gay” , which isn’t a problem for me.

    John: I’m a little confused about what you are saying. Are you saying that if you had a little boy, you would make him wear conventional “passing” shoes?

    Thinking about it, I guess I have forced my son to wear certain clothes to meet some very specific convention of a social situation. I suppose I might have felt that way for the first day of kindergarten, but this here sounds like a pretty strong statement of preference from a kid who has certainly already had plenty of exposure to the “norm” of footwear for a boy his age.

  • Sweetie

    “I want to say ‘atta boy,’ but I don’t think we can discount that while there potential damage caused by stifling the boy, there’s also potential damage caused by letting him walk into a bullying bonanza that all of us can see coming.”

    Bullying happens in an environment in which it is permitted and encouraged. “Long” hair didn’t cause Mitt Romney to hold a guy down and cut his hair. People will find ANY pretext to bully others. So, we can all live in constant fear of displaying even the slightest difference from others or we can be who we want to be and demand that those in charge do their job of protecting us.

    The solution for racism isn’t for blacks to become white. The solution for religious persecution isn’t for Jews to become Christian. The solution for heterosexism isn’t for gays to live in the closet. The solution for kids who want to dress creatively isn’t to quash that creativity out of fear. This is 2012, John. It’s not the same time period you grew up in and by refusing to give in to fear you can help to make insignificant things like a bit more expression range in male clothing possible.

    Kids learn hate and bullying from adults, ultimately. The irony is that the adults are the ones who are supposed to be caring for them. They also learn fear from them. If we want another generation of fearful conformists and empowered bullies then we can continue to support that power structure.

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    Good suggestion.

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    That’s an excellent point.

  • Bose

    For me, the idea that there is an “answer” is where conversations like this go off-track. When my kids were young, I could hear all I wanted in the way of advice and “helpful” hints, but I was the only one who knew my kids as their parent, the only one who knew each of their hearts like no one else, the only one who would be there to support them in quiet moments at the end of good days and bad.

    If anything ended up going badly for them, and any flavor of poor judgment on my part contributed to that, I was also fully accountable. Every parent makes mistakes at times,and has to take responsibility for changing course as needed.

    So, the only questions for me are, does this mom know her kid, did she use what she knew of him and the school to make the shoe decision (one of hundreds of parenting decisions that week), and was she prepared to handle the aftermath with her kid, whatever that turned out to be? From the little we know, it appears she does know her kid, made a good enough decision, and was prepared for whatever.

  • Naja pallida

    Personally, I’m of the belief that confidence in one’s self and feeling comfortable with who you are first and foremost starts at home. A good amount of the shame and “closeted” feelings stem directly from family. I mean, if your family – the one group of people that should love you unconditionally – can’t accept you for who you really are, how can you expect the rest of the world to, right? Reinforcing gender stereotypes doesn’t really help anyone, but I’m with Josh. Explain the situation to him, that he may get harassed (that’s what it is, not “teasing” or “bullying”, it is harassment), and give him an out should he decide to take it at some point during his day. Though, it seems to me this kid knows what he wants and doesn’t really care much about what the other kids might think.

  • mirror

    The kid can either decide to conform or not to conform and accept the consequences with parental support.

  • keirmeister

    If my son wanted to do this, I would honor his decision after giving him all of the possibilities: Kids can be cruel to each other, and his actions may open himself up to hit (possibly long-term)…or, he may find acceptance. Have a long in-depth conversation about the possibilities and implications, and if the kid is sure he wants to go forward with it, so be it.

    And be ready for whatever happens.

    Ahhh, times they are a-changin’.

  • Josh

    I would let him wear what he likes, but I would surreptitiously provide the teacher with a change of shoes. Instruct her that she is only to bring up the change of shoes if the boy actually is getting teased and he seems to want an escape route.

    It’s sad: once you tell a kid that there are shoes for girls and shoes for boys, it’s only a short leap to careers for girls and careers for boys. But what can you do, that’s society – still very sexist.

  • celticbuddha

    I work in education in a small (conservative) midwestern town. People are a lot more tolerant, and as for student’s dress, if it doesn’t violate dress code, nobody can say anything about what a student wears. You can think whatever you want, but you can’t express it openly & especially to the student. Kids now days have been taught to be a lot more tolerant and some are very protective of those who are not “normal” be it learning or physical abilities or appearance.

  • colleen2

    yes

  • UncleBucky

    “Ma Vie en Rose”, that’s what I say!
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ma_vie_en_rose

    It is the most compelling, disturbing and at the same time wonderful movie to see.

    John, your 2nd to last paragraph is where I am at, though:

    “I want to say “atta boy,” but I don’t think we can discount that while
    there potential damage caused by stifling the boy, there’s also
    potential damage caused by letting him walk into a bullying bonanza that
    all of us can see coming.”

    See, there are people (kids) now who look for anyone who is different, and who have realized for years that they can bully those whom their folks or friends have said “deserve it”.

    The thing is that the school NEEDS a sane anti-bullying program. Not just a zero-tolerance one way or the other but a way to teach parents as well as students, that there is more than what one’s narrow view permits.

  • judybrowni

    Great shoes, kid! Interesting that the other kids didn’t have a problem with ‘em, hadn’t been taugh intolerance from their parents yet.

    57 years ago it took us a week to fight my sister into a dress for kindergarten, where they were required of little girls.

    As it turned out, she was a lesbian: and the dresses didn’t turn her straight, either.

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