Family · Gender · parenting · praising children · Raising children

‘The rainbow is for everyone’, Little Monkey, March 2017

Little Monkey has been wearing glasses since he was two years old. I’ve lost count of how many pairs he has had but through trial and error we have narrowed down the options available and we have two or three styles that we know suit him and feel comfortable on his face. The Husband and I have always guided him on what suits him but ultimately, it’s his face and he has to have the final decision on what he wears. I don’t think that this approach is especially forward thinking or hippy-ish of us; it just makes sense. We adopt the same approach in all things in the boys’ lives; if Little Monkey sees a tshirt he likes and it suits him, he can have it. He looks good in pastel colours and rocks the preppy polo shirt and shorts combo. Little Panda suits strong retro type colour schemes and with his long hair he looks like a mini surfer; just because they both happen to own a penis doesn’t mean they have to be dressed head to toe in blue and grey, have short hair and only play with superhero toys. 
Just to be clear, because I have been accused of this in the past, I am not trying to turn my boys into girls. I do not allow Little Panda’s hair to grow long because I wanted him to be a girl, I do it because it suits him, I do not allow Little Monkey to wear pink t-shirts because I secretly wanted him to be a girl, I do it because he likes a pink t-shirt. Nor do I think that by painting their nails at the weekends they will eventually become girls. They both love football, superheroes and Lego. They both practise their Jedi light-sabre skills in my living room and they both know they are boys. They both also love books and colouring and playing with Sylvanian Families and having their nails painted;(Monkey usually goes for Slytherin green while Panda prefers a coral pink) yes they are boys but they are also CHILDREN and as such, do not make decisions on what they do or do not like based on the contents of their underwear. Are we crystal clear? Ok, good, now for the thing that has irked me.
In March Little Monkey had yet another prescription for new glasses. We were looking to change opticians because since our lovely, local, independent one had been taken over by a chain they were no longer lovely. Or even very good. We live in quite a small town and I really wanted to continue to use a local independent optician; luckily there are two others to choose from so one evening after school we went to investigate. 
The first one only had a small selection of frames, mostly metal with the cushioned nose pieces. These are no good for my Little Monkey and his teeny, tiny nose and they charged £60 for a second pair of emergency frames. Thank but no thanks, with his constant kicking of a football and regular tumbles off his bike, an affordable second pair is a necessity not a luxury. 
The second shop had a wide range of frames and the woman serving us seemed to know her stuff. She measured him and took into account our previous experience with metal frames and guided him towards a selection that wasn’t too expensive for a second pair. What irritated me slightly was that she kept asking me what I thought he should choose. 

“It’s his choice, he is the one wearing them so he has to like the way they look and feel.”

This is my standard response and usually that’s enough. I get that some parents want to guide their children in a specific direction, (I confess that I am not a fan of character clothing so although the boys do have free reign over their clothing choice most of the time I try to keep the Paw Patrol and Thomas The Tank for pyjamas) but once I had said this I assumed that she would listen. Nope. 

“Shall we let him try these ones, mum?”

“If HE wants to, it’s his face and his choice.” After repeating myself three or four times I was annoyed. Little Monkey then saw the most vibrant and beautiful pair of purple frames. The assistant had her back to us; searching for more frames in the drawer. 

“Mummy, I like these!” He stared at himself in the mirror, smiling. She turned back, clearly visibly horrified.

“OH NO! We CAN’T let you wear those, but we can let you wear the blue ones.” They were snatched from his face and a pair of light blue frames plonked on. His face fell. He took them off.

“I don’t like those.” Also, just for the record, he doesn’t really suit light blue.  He has had light blue frames in the past because he chose them but he looks far nicer in a purple or green.  

“His eye caught another pair, they were a magenta colour.”

“You DO realise those are PINK and have flowers on them, don’t you?”

“It’s his face and if he likes them he can have them.”

“Oh. Right.”

Little Monkey looked confused and self conscious. 

“Right well, we appear to have run out of time. Let’s look for glasses another time. Thank you for your, erm, help.”

And off we went. 
I was seething. Little Monkey was upset. When we chatted about it that night he just wanted to know why. Why couldn’t he have the purple glasses? Why couldn’t he have the dark pink glasses? Doesn’t everyone like flowers? Did they not look nice on his face? Honestly, I didn’t know what to tell him. I know I can’t protect him from the world and its stereotypes and nor do I want to, I just want him to be confident enough to know his own mind and wear what he wants, play with what he wants and be friends with who he wants to, regardless of colour, gender or some perceived notion of what is acceptable for a boy to wear. I can honestly say that up to that encounter my strong minded Little Monkey had never been bothered about any of that stuff, he just liked what he liked. We finished the conversation with him telling me that the rainbow is for everyone, there are no boys colours or girls colours. I was both humbled and upset by his confusion and attitude towards what should be a simple task. 
I did complain to the opticians and their response is laughable. It’s basically a sorry not sorry.

Hi. I felt I had to send you a message rather than posting publicly as it’s good manners. We came in today with my 5 year old to look for new glasses, we tried on many pairs and the lady who was serving us got more from the cupboard for him to try. He has been wearing glasses since he was 2 and he’s quite picky, our view is that he has to wear them so he should choose and feel comfortable with his choice. He picked up and tried on some purple glasses which the sales assistant promptly took off him saying ‘ we won’t let you wear purple you have to try the blue ones’

I said he could wear what he liked as it is his face and his choice. He then picked up and tried on a pair of pink glasses to which she pointed out ‘erm those have pink flowers on the side’ I said I knew that and that again, it was his choice.

I find it appalling and disgusting that sales assistants are allowed to push their own sexist views onto children. My son is a child not a gender and is entitled to choose the colour he likes and feels suits him. This evening I have been trying to explain to my five year old why ‘the lady’ said he ‘couldn’t have the purple glasses’ and honestly I can’t because ‘some people think that purple is a girls colour’ is quite frankly, ridiculous and makes no sense to him because in his words ‘there are no boys colours or girl colours, the rainbow is for everyone’

Thank you for your message and I am sorry for the delay in responding. I can only apologise for any offence caused as that was never my intention. Unfortunately we do still live in a world where more often than not boys and girls are expected to appear and dress in a certain way and most parents would not respond as you would to there son trying on pink or purple glasses. A lot of parents would be mortified at the idea of there son wearing glasses that could be considered to be a ‘girly’ colour and so we will always point these things out to parents but I can assure if your son had his heart set on the purple ones and it was okay with you I would not have stopped him having them. But unfortunately due to the fact that most people have sexist assumptions about boy and girl colours, boy and girl toys and even in adulthood male and female roles and jobs we are stuck between a rock and a hard place in situations like this so tend to work under the assumption that the boy/girl division exists until we are given cues otherwise by parents. Again I can only apologise and hopefully your son has glasses that he is very happy in.

Needless to say we did not return to them and instead went to Specsavers. I know, it’s a chain and I wanted to avoid that but when the independents are so rubbish they leave us little choice. I’ll admit, I was nervous about a second outing to find glasses but I have to hand it to Specsavers, Wigan branch, they were amazing. 

“These are the children’s glasses, you can choose two pairs from any range.”
And that was it. They’re not separated into girls and boys glasses, they’re just glasses for children. And their range is MASSIVE. Little Monkey was in his element. Luckily we had nanny, auntie Amy and his cousin with us so there were enough of us to help him narrow down his choices. After about half an hour of manically trying every pair on, comparing, taking pictures and asking everyone’s opinion he had chosen dark blue Spider-Man frames and red Gruffalo frames. He was happy and not once was gender mentioned. 

It’s funny how a person can choose something to wear and not have to check the contents of their underwear to make sure it’s appropriate for them.