The Yomiuri ShimbunIn this selection of comments from The Yomiuri Shimbun’s “Hatsugen Komachi” online message board, people offer advice to a mother wondering whether she should let her 5-year-old son wear a skirt. Though some posters show a conservative bent, many others encouraged the mother to allow her son to cross gender boundaries and freely explore his interest in what is traditionally considered to be girl’s clothing.
My 5-year-old son who’s in nursery school told me he wanted a skirt. I want to buy him one, but my husband’s against it. What would you do in my situation? He has a lot of girl friends, and he’s told me: “I am a boy. I like girls, so I like things that girls like.” He probably wants a skirt because he wants to be complimented by the girls in his class, but I can’t quite bring myself to buy him one.
Explain that it’s for girls
Give it careful thought: It’s normal for a parent to say no when a child asks them to buy something like that. I think it’s best to directly explain to your son, “That type of clothing is for girls.” It would be a different story if he was a little bit older and decided to start wearing a skirt on his own, since at that point gender issues come into play. I think that at this stage, it’s not right to let your child wear a skirt just because he says, “I want it.”
Only allow it inside the house: If it were me, I would watch how things go for a little while, and if he still seems to want it after that, I might buy it for him. However, at 5, he’s already at an age where if he wears it outside the house people will think it’s strange, so I would only let him wear it at home. It might be hard to understand at his age, but I would explain to him that there’s a difference between girls’ and boys’ clothes.
Kids can be surprisingly harsh: I think the girls in his class are just as likely to ask him, “Why are you wearing a skirt if you’re a boy?” as they are to say, “That looks cool!” I responded to your question because I believe even a small mistake in parenting can wind up hurting a child. If you’re going to go through with buying it, try to get one that allows for mobility, like a wrap skirt that can be worn over pants, or a bottom that’s half-skirt, half-pants.
Put your son’s wishes first
Let him be himself: I think that when you’re little the concept of gender doesn’t exist, and it’s perfectly natural for a little boy to like playing house with the girls. I live in a country with a wider variety of gender norms than in Japan, and I’ve seen parents who allow their son to dress up in ballerina outfits. It’s more important to prioritize your son’s happiness than it is to worry about what other people think.
A free way of thinking is cool
My two cents: That’s great! You should let him wear it! He might even wind up becoming a fashion designer. It’s good to have a son that’s so open-minded in his thinking. Skirts are of course not only for girls; there are also skirt-type clothes for men. It does take good fashion sense to wear it with flair, but getting there is also part of the fun.
Why don’t you buy it for him?: A skirt isn’t very expensive, so why don’t you get him one? If he’s happy with it and starts wearing it outside the house, then I think the entire family can begin to understand from an early stage in his life that he may be a boy who wants to become a girl. But you may be surprised to find that he’ll be content with wearing it just once.
Watch over your son carefully
Try picking one out with him: At 5 years old the divide between girls and boys is clearly evident. I think it’s normal to feel a sense of discomfort over your son wearing a skirt. LGBT issues could be a latent factor in his desire to wear one. Rather than being adamantly opposed or light-heartedly going along with your son, I think it’s best to carefully watch how things develop. Maybe you should go along with your son to try on a skirt? Does he seem happy wearing it? Or does he feel a little strange in it?
Maybe once will be enough: When my little brother was 5 years old, he threw a tantrum because he wanted to wear a furisode long-sleeved kimono [traditionally worn by unmarried women], so my mother let him wear my kimono to attend a festival. Everybody made fun of him in it, and he never again said he wanted to wear a furisode kimono. My brother wound up a regular married guy with three children, and today we look back on the story and laugh. Perhaps, just once, you should try letting him wear a frilly, girly skirt?
Clothes are an important means of self-expression
Skirts are regarded as feminine only in certain times and in certain cultures. Clothes are a vital means of self-expression and should be closely tied to an individual’s personal feelings. As long as it doesn’t greatly inconvenience others or risk potential harm to your son’s life, I think you should allow him to make his own decisions as much as possible. I believe it would be good for your son to begin to choose his own items of clothing after gaining a sense of how people react to his wearing a skirt.
Setsuko Otaki, sociologist and expert in toddler and nursery school education