Once upon a time, in the year 2012, a viral digital photo of a young boy who decided to wear a pair of pink shoes to preschool ignited a fiery online conversation.
The boy’s older sister posted the photograph of her 5-year-old brother ready for a car ride to school while sporting a pair of pink and white zebra-print flats to the social media site ‘Tumblr’.
The photo was later re-posted on Have A Gay Day’s Facebook page along with a new storyline which stated that the boy’s mother received about 20 comments on the photo from various family members saying how “wrong” it is, how “things like this will affect him socially” and finally, “that s**t will turn him gay.” The post, at that point, began to get people’s attention.
After finding the fictional version of the story with her little brother’s photo on Have A Gay Day’s page, the boy’s sister attempted to clarify by commenting publicly, saying:
“The shoes belonged to my cousin (who is a girl), and [her brother] wore them to school one day. The kids didn’t tease him or anything, which I thought was great and really showed how children are taught about gender roles instead of simply knowing them. My family really never made any negative comments, though.”
Not soon after the clarification was posted, the photograph of the boy in pink shoes had drawn over 120,000 likes and had been shared over 19,000 times. Then, as suddenly as it had appeared and caught the attention of so many, the entire story vanished. Have A Gay Day admitted that they did not wish to continue to promote a story that was not factually accurate, so they deleted the post in it’s entirety.
Gone but not forgotten, the fictional version of the story of the boy in pink shoes was soon the subject of a bitter blog post by Mary Fischer on CafeMom’s The Stir . Fischer said in her article:
“…Yes, I get the whole ‘we should let kids be free to express themselves’ thing, and I’ll be the first to say ‘more power’ to this mom for taking a chance and letting Sam go off to preschool in his pink zebra print flats…”
“…Somehow I’m guessing if my son were to put on that same pair of shoes — he wouldn’t even make it through the five-minute bus ride to school in the morning before someone laughed at him, asked him why in the heck he was wearing pink shoes, spewed all sorts of mean jokes his way, or told him he was dressed like a girl…”
“…Bullying is bad enough as it is without handing tormentors their material on a silver platter…”
Mary’s comments bring to the mind many questions. Is it wise to teach children to conform to societal norms just so people are less likely to bully them? Wouldn’t there be a better end result if we were to teach our kids to express who they are authentically, and to stand up to those who try to bully them?
Isn’t suggesting that, a boy who wears pink shoes to school is asking to be bullied and subjected to ridicule, basically the same as stating that a woman who is wearing a short skirt is asking to be sexually assaulted? By the time we become adults, shouldn’t we be addressing our own paradigmatic prejudices so we can be absolutely certain we are not burdening our children with them?”
Mary Fischer also stated in her post regarding a hypothetical situation where her son would be the one wearing the pink shoes:
“…if he really wanted a pair of pink shoes, I’d buy him the shoes and let him wear them around the house at home where he’s free from outside judgment.”
The problem here is that if we go down this road as parents, we’re teaching a very young child self-expression is OK, as long as it is done in such a way where society at large will condone it, otherwise what they are doing is something to be ashamed of so we need to keep it a secret.
The issue with secrets is that, for young children, they are an especially heavy weight to bear, mainly because it feels wrong to them to be keeping something from their care-givers or friends, much like how it feels wrong for them to lie.
It’s a pretty easy argument to make that someone who is purposely closeting a form of self-expression that is, or at some point becomes integral to who they are, leads to issues with self-esteem and self-worth, especially if the hiding is practiced over a long period of time. It’s an incredibly unhealthy way to live, and clearly not something that should be taught to young children.
Here’s an idea: Let’s stop teaching our kids that although we say it’s important to ‘be yourself’, they actually need to pretty-much be just like everyone else so they fit in. Let’s stop teaching our kids to hide who they are from the world so they have a chance to grow into emotionally healthy adults. Let’s stop teaching our kids that it is OK to ridicule other kids who are different in some way. Last but not least, let’s get out of the chair, turn off the TV, put down the smartphone, and spend some face-time showing our kids how to be a positive force in the world, and do it by example.