Yes, Share.

I just read Randi Zuckerberg’s HuffPo piece, “My Son Wears Pink: To Share or Not To Share?” and it took me a bit to figure out why it didn’t sit quite well with me. Zuckerberg takes on the question of whether or not it’s in our children’s best interest to publicly share photos of them that fall outside the “norm.”

Childhood is a time to experiment, to make mistakes, to be silly and creative, and to use your imagination. I know there are a lot of things I did in my childhood that are (thankfully) in a photo album somewhere in my parents’ basement, instead of permanently cached online. For example, I wore a full-body Darth Vader Halloween costume when I was just a little too old for it to still be cute. A great memory, but looking back, I’m glad it’s not part of my online identity.

And fair enough. We all have embarrassing photos we’d prefer never saw the light of day. However, it’s Zuckerberg’s presumption over *what* we should protect our children from that is the issue. Zuckerberg is specifically referencing a post about a woman who shares pictures of her 6-year-old son dressed up in tutus, make-up, nail polish and dresses. She wonders whether this mother is thinking about the potential ramifications these pictures may have on her son later in life.

I, on the other hand, am thinking about the potential ramifications of not sharing them.

Before I get into this further, I’d be remiss if I didn’t note that the 6-year-old boy in question is referred to as a “cross-dresser” throughout Zuckerberg’s post as well as the one she links to (note: the mother of the child did not refer to her son as such). It seems completely out of place to ascribe this adult term to a child who likes to play dress up. Kids – amazingly – enjoy playing dress up. Whether that means a young girl dressing up like Captain Hook (is she a cross-dresser?) or another child dressing up like Lotso Huggin Bear from Toy Story 3 (should we start labeling those kids “Furries?”) – it’s all just dress up. It’s fun! It’s silly! It’s creative! It’s childhood! So, can we please lose the labels? That would be a great place to start.

If we didn’t have such strict and stringent gender codification in our society, then pictures like this would be as innocuous as the mom who posts pictures of her son playing soccer or of her daughter playing with dolls. It’s only because these pictures step outside the norm that they become questioned.

Maybe – and just hear me out – instead of suggesting that we *don’t* share these pictures over fear that it will damage our children somehow, we actually share more of them in hopes of normalizing and accepting these types of things. SO much pressure is put on the whole “BUT WHAT DOES IT MEAN” part when a child happens to travel outside his or her traditional gender box. Some times it could mean a lot. It could possibly mean that the child in question is challenging their gender identity and there is truly something deeper going on. But for many children who step outside these incredibly rigid gender lines, it just means they enjoy bold, beautiful colors, or sparkles, or being fancy, or materials that feel nice and special.

Being a “pink boy” doesn’t have to mean anything beyond being a boy who happens to love pink. It’s adults who put the larger significance on it. When Zuckerberg lumps dressing up outside gender norms along with “making mistakes” of childhood, she’s placing a (negative) value on it, when it is simply just another part of a child’s life, along with digging in the dirt, reading books, playing sports, etc…

Zuckerberg says, “It’s a fantastic thing to be proud of your child. We should always love and support our children no matter what, and we should applaud parents who bravely support their child in the face of society telling them otherwise. But it’s one thing to capture an adorable moment and send it to a few close friends and family. It’s another thing entirely to send it out into the void of the Internet, without thought of future repercussions.”

Would she say the same thing to the mother who posts a picture of her little girl dressed up for a ballet recital?

I’m thinking of “future repercussions.” I’m thinking that posting pictures like these – showing kids having fun and being creative – sets a precedent that children have the ability to express themselves freely. These pictures also help challenge the status quo, so that the next time a little boy happens to paint his nails or wear pink, it isn’t cause to stop the presses, make a huge deal of it, and question the child or the parents. It would be just another kid, doing things that some kids just happen to do.

So, I say… Share! I’m not advocating sharing anything that would embarrass your kid, of course. But I also don’t agree that stepping outside gender norms is embarrassing or troubling at all. So share your child being his or her self – whether that be knee-deep in dirt or waist high in tutus (or rocking pink crocs & a purple hoodie while walking down the street with his dad… As the case may be).

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36 thoughts on “Yes, Share.

  1. As time goes by, I feel like we get further and further away from the old notion of pink is for girls and blue is for boys…a good thing too, because some guys like pink. My business attorney is what might be referred to as a macho duck, especially in court. That being said, he is fond of pink and salmon colored shirts with coordinating ties. A big so what! The more we get away from pejorative vision when it comes to what identifies us as human and makes us valuable, I say the better! Thank you for a thoughtful and provocative post!

    • You’re welcome, Stephanie – thanks for the kind words about the post.
      And it’s so interesting to look at how these things cycle – pink and purple used to be royal colors and it was acceptable for boys/men to where them. Then colors somehow became gender codified and here we are. It would be great if we could move past to a new place where colors are for everyone!

  2. You know what future repercussions I’m thinking of? When our kids go through our digital records of our lives. Will they find all the things they remember loving to do? Or will there be obvious omissions that imply shame? If I put up an Instagram every day, and there isn’t one shot of him during a phase where he, I don’t know, pretends to nurse his baby doll, while wearing a pink tutu and a pink tiara, I’d rather he feel embarrassed than assume I was ashamed of him.

    @Stephanie: the pink shirts and ties are a huge preppy trend. They’re really common, now, among high-earning business men in investing. My brother-in-law is an investor and his sons are often wearing pink RL Polo outfits or JCrew ties. He also has at least two pair of shorts in “Nantucket Red” which is really magenta and doesn’t worry for a moment that anyone in the Hamptons will question his sexuality. It’s really different from a pink tutu.

    • Yes! That Smithsonian piece is great (I reference it in my Pink Scare article). The history behind pink and gendered toys/clothes in this country is really interesting (and not so surprisingly connected to the push for mass/over consumption!)

  3. Normalization is key. Colors are for everyone, and I definitely think that increased sharing takes the burden off the few who are willing to admit that we venture outside the traditional gender box. Don’t we want to undo for the next generation what was so unnecessarily done to us in terms of all the drama surrounding gender?

    • Yes! I love love love “colors are for everyone” and I wish more people used that as their mantra. The more visibility the further along we can get to acceptance. Those who step outside the norm – for whatever reason – are going to be met with resistance or shame. No need for that to start in their own home.

  4. THANK YOU for this! I am the mother of a 5 year old “pink boy” if you will, and I needed to read this. We’ve reached the point where I am starting to worry about the judgment and the comments regarding his love for all things sparkly, pink, girly and twirly. I see how happy he is when he’s all dressed up in his favorite dress or with a bobby pin in his hair (purple or pink, of course!) and I have no issue painting his nails or giving him old jewelry to wear. But I’m starting to get that “look” from my mom and other people, and I’m starting to prepare him for the questions that will arise. Things like “It’s fine if you go outside in your dress, but what will you say if the neighbor kid asks why you are wearing it?” He says “I wear it because I’m a boy who wears dresses!” Pretty simple.

    I don’t know if this is a phase or a look into the future, but either way, I’m proud of him as can be. I figure if anyone else has an issue, it’s their problem, not mine.

    • You’re welcome, Christi! I’m gad this was helpful. Love how you’re preparing your son for whatever responses he might face while still providing him the support and reassurance at home – strong building blocks!
      I also have to wonder – if folks suggest not sharing pix like these, there might be some might big gaps in families where this is the norm. Would I continuously have to ask my son to take off the butterfly wings or pink crocs, etc… just to snap some “sharable” pix? sigh.

  5. Completely agree that terms like ‘cross-dressing’ should not be applied to children playing dress up, or boys (men) wearing pink. Reading way to much into innocent childhood fun (dress-up), and strict gender-labeling (pink).

  6. This post made me think. As a mom of a baby boy I am already sceptical about sharing things that I shouldn’t even think about. I mean he is 7 months old for heaven sake. So maybe you’re right. Unless we as parents stop typecasting our kids, they will grow up living within boundaries.

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  17. I like this. I especially love the part about letting the richness and diversity out for the sake of the rest of us. I love and appreciate people who mess up my gender stereotypes. I was born in 1956, and believe me, I need the ruffling.
    I wonder… it seems to me that a six year old often has a very sophisticated idea about what is private and what isn’t. So maybe the even deeper respect is to ask– Is this something you want to trumpet, or something just for family?

    • I totally agree – I also think that having children be a part of the “can we publicly share this picture” question is an excellent building block for discussing our online footprints and the potential ramification. My son is only 6, but I’m already thinking ahead 10 years and the types of things he could possibly post that would be attached to his name forever. Just look at Steubenville and the absolutely wrong and damaging choices that occurred there as far as what people thought was acceptable to post to social media. Never hurts to have them start thinking about that early!

      On Thu, May 16, 2013 at 2:04 AM, The Mamafesto

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