Princess Boys and Star Wars Girls

In which Carrie Goldman takes up arms — specifically, a light saber — against bullies and double standards.

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EVANSTON, ILLINOIS-

In November 2010, bloggers and news shows celebrated the right of my first-grade daughter to carry a Star Wars water bottle.  In a post that went viral, I wrote about how Katie had been teased for liking Star Wars.  The boys told her, “Star Wars is for boys, not for girls,” and the world responded that girls can like Star Wars too.

Apparently, the world isn’t quite ready to shout that boys can like princesses.

As we speak, bloggers and news shows are now discussing whether or not five year-old Dyson Kilodavis has the right to walk around in princess costumes and dresses.  Dyson’s mom, Cheryl Kilodavis, has written a children’s book called My Princess Boy.  On the book’s Facebook page, the following description is given:

My Princess Boy is a nonfiction picture book about acceptance. It is about our son who happily expresses his authentic self by dressing up in dresses and enjoying traditional girl things such as anything pink or sparkly.

The case is being tried in the court of public opinion, and the jury is most definitely still out.

Why?

Why was Katie cheered on for wearing Star Wars shirts (from the boys’ department), carrying a Star Wars lunch box and a Star Wars thermos and wielding a light saber, while Dyson and his parents are being subject to intense criticism?

Clearly, thousands of people do support Dyson and his parents, as evidenced by the fact that the book’s Facebook page has picked up thousands of new “likes” since Cheryl and Dyson appeared on the Today show.

But I can’t help but notice a not-so-small number of negative articles and comments from people who disagree with Cheryl for “parading her son around in a dress.”  Comments range from those who respectfully disagree with Cheryl’s decision to those who spew hate at her.  Some readers have called Cheryl a brave heroine; others are calling her an abusive mom.

Dyson’s story is very polarizing in a way that Katie’s story was not.  Of the thousands of comments, stories and articles written about Katie, there was not a single one that suggested it was morally wrong for Katie to dress up in Star Wars clothes and play with boy toys.

The few negative comments we received were from people who thought that being teased was no big deal and that Katie should “suck it up.”  (To which I respond: teasing hurts; it made Katie cry and prevented her from bringing her favorite Star Wars thermos to school, and teasing is a form of bullying).

Nobody suggested that it was “sick and disgusting” for Katie to carry a light saber.  Why are those words being used to describe Dyson carrying a princess wand?  Why are some people so threatened by this?  Just because he likes to wear dresses does not mean that he will grow up to be gay.  If your son dresses up in a Drew Brees jersey, does it mean he is going to grow up to be a star quarterback for the New Orleans Saints? (You can only wish!)

Katie liked to wear a Superman costume when she was three.  Last I checked, she was not made of steel and couldn’t see through things with X-Ray vision.  (But I think it would be pretty cool if she could).

And even if Dyson does turn out to be gay, who cares?  He isn’t hurting anyone.

Cross-dressing girls raise some eyebrows, as seen by the scrutiny given to the clothing and hairstyle preferred by young Shiloh Jolie-Pitt.  Whereas four-year-old Suri Cruise sashays around in high heels, Shiloh runs around in trousers and boots.  Growing up in the public eye is hard, and people have noticed that Shiloh is not a girly-girl.

But it is even harder to be a cross-dressing boy.  Dyson and his parents are receiving thousands of letters of support, but they are also receiving a lot of flak.

This raises the question of which is more important – to keep your child safe or to keep your child true?  Should Dyson’s parents protect him from bullies by refusing to allow him to cross dress?  Or should they protect him from feeling stifled and shamed by refusing to make him wear boys’ clothes?

Cheryl Kilodavis is trying to find a way to make Dyson safe and keep him true by asking the world to be more accepting.

Cheryl said, “Let 2011 be the Year of Acceptance.”

It is the start of a new year.  I invite Dyson the Princess Boy to clasp hands with Katie the Star Wars girl.  Within these two children, we see the very embodiment of diversity.

Some people may look at Katie and Dyson and see their differences.  They represent different races, different genders and different religions.  One is adopted and one is not.  One likes to carry a light saber and the other likes to carry a princess wand.

But others will look at Katie and Dyson and see their similarities.  They are two children who like to play.  They like to fantasize and use their imaginations.  They want to feel good about the toys and clothes that make them happy.  They want to grow up in a world where they can be safe and true.

Let Katie raise up her light saber.  Let Dyson raise up his princess wand.  And when the two touch, may all the magic of Cinderella’s fairy godmother combine with all the Force of the Jedi Knights to open even the most closed of minds.

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About Carrie Goldman

CARRIE GOLDMAN is a writer and artist. Her blog, Portrait of an Adoption, is about daily life with her husband and three daughters, the oldest of whom is adopted. She is writing a book about bullying prevention. She lives in Evanston, Illinois.
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13 Responses to Princess Boys and Star Wars Girls

  1. AlySedai says:

    I love this article and everything it stands for. Just because someone doesn’t follow the societal “norm” doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong with them or with their parents. We are quick to judge others for what we perceive as their “shortcomings,” but to many people who are different, it’s just the way they are. Neither of these children are hurting anyone, and they may, in fact, be paving the way for a great social revolution. I only hope that more people see the stories of these children and the supportive families that they have, and make a point to change their current way of thinking. Maybe they won’t change the world all at once, but maybe one person at a time is enough.

  2. Joy says:

    My three year old Thomas the Train, robot and cowboy loving girl would join in without hesitation :) It’s wonderful that Katie and Dyson aren’t having stereotypes crammed down their throats. Childhood should be about exploration and wonder, not “pink is for girls, blue is for boys”. I firmly believe kids should be allowed to be as ambiguous as possible for as long as possible.

  3. Kai Charles says:

    Great piece! One of My Nephews who is now 21 wanted a my little pony for Christmas when he was 6. Everyone was a but confused since they are very much decorated and advertised towards girls.

    His godmother brought him one and we were all curious to see how he would interact with it. He was ecstatic!! He brushed it’s hair ran around with it simulating horse sounds and often crashing it through his other action figures. Then he grew tired of it like most toys.

    I see know what a great gift that was for him because we didn’t freak out and say that’s a “girls” toy he was able to really enjoy himself,

  4. Damon says:

    Well said! Let them pretend and be who they want!

  5. Patrick Barrett says:

    I have photos of my grandfather and his brother Lawrence wearing long curls, and frilly dresses for a family portrait. I have other photos of him wearing dresses to play in, in public, and with other children, both boys and girls. This was considered NORMAL for boys under the age of ten in the 1890s-early 1900s. What happened? MARKETING !! The people who want to sell things to children find it much easier to divide kids up by gender, then ” target ” them. Often it can just be by naming them differently. A DOLL FOR BOYS is an ” ACTION FIGURE “, for example. If anybody tries to tell you differently, tell them THAT’S B.S. Pure and simple. Oh, and my Grandfather? He went on to be the sole support of his family at 15 (after his dad died ) , joined the Washington National Guard, and went with them to the Mexican Border (1916), and to France (1918)where he fought in WW1…….

  6. UnklJo says:

    I had barbies and G.I. Joes growing up. Some days i was a princess, others i was Batman or Han Solo. My brother had Cabbage Patch dolls and insisted that he was their mommy. Playing pretend is just that, pretend. It’s an excuse to experiment with different roles and ideas, and childhood is really the only time that we as people get to do this. I do think Dysons parents have a responsibility to explain to him that he’s probably going to get teased because the world isn’t really fair. But really, it’s just a dress. Nothing to get your knickers in a twist over.

  7. Renee says:

    Being unique is a beautiful thing – we can see that and say that as adults. But being socially accepted is important too, more so for children with their fragile sense of self. It is sad that, as a society, we cannot seem to find a comfortable balance between appreciation for individuality and our sense of moral and social values. My hope for both of these children is that they will find happiness and self-confidence, and be able to do so within the society in which they live.

  8. Andy P says:

    There are many different types and styles of parenting and people are free (for the most part) to pick their poison. I agree that we should all respect each other.

    With that said, I am a father and I would die inside if my son wanted to wear a dress. I am not ashamed to say that and feel that, even in today’s society. As a parent, I am responsible for taking care of my children and molding them into the adults I think they should be. Yes, your children are molded from watching you (or worse, lack of seeing you), they don’t just become who they are. I choose to be conscience of it and make a diliberate effort to see what that looks like. I don’t wear dresses so I don’t expect my son to wear one.

    By the way, if he does wear dresses, I will still love him with all of my heart. If my daughter likes Star Wars, fine. I actually am fortunate enough to have a daddy’s little girl/princess, whom some women nowadays actually look down upon for being too girly. Isn’t that ironic!

  9. Sara H says:

    I’ve been trying hard to instill the “As long as no one is hurting anyone else, people can like or love whatever/whoever they want” idea within my kids. I was so pleased to hear my daughter standing up for a boy in her class that liked to play with dolls.

    And even now, though she’s only 7, it’s sticking. She’s been known to say things like, “I like boy things too,” and then before I can even open my mouth, she follows up with, “I know, I know, there is no such thing as girl toys and boy toys. I just don’t have a good word for what I’m saying.”

    It’s a process, but I think I’ve got a good start.

  10. Pingback: He Said She Said « gapingwhole

  11. Jean White says:

    This is a great article. As a child, I sometimes dressed up like my dad. I played with toy cars and rode a skateboard. But I also had dolls and loved girlie clothes. The “boys” and “girls” toys are only marketed as such. They don’t have much to do with gender.

    My brother loved his Cabbage Patch Kid when he was 5. He grew tired of it eventually, but my mom got a lot of flack from neighbors for letting him play with dolls. He grew up to be a great husband and father. How is letting someone explore his nurturing side a bad thing?

    I’m really glad you’ve started this dialog. So many people are punished for not fitting into “norms” that are mere constructs of our society. Just be yourself!

  12. Mark Greene says:

    Gay men scare the crap out of homophobic men. We know this. But I have news for you. What really freaks people out is cross dressing straight men. It is the last closeted population and its gonna be a LOOOOOONNNGGGG time before our culture can handle that one. So, the next time you pass a closet, knock twice and whisper some support. Your neighbor, school principal, local cop, dad, etc. is probably in there. And he’s not making a peep.

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