Raising Richmond: The Dora drawers dilemma

“I don’t wanna wear Doraaaaaaaa! I’m a BOY!” Find out how those two sentences made one mother spiral into a fretful tornado of self doubt…and spend WAY too much time thinking (and talking) about her child’s underwear.

“We need more Pull-Ups, Mama!” my son JR bellowed (as only a three-year-old can) as we made our way through the grocery store.

Before we left the house, I told him it was his job to remind me about the Pull-Ups since he’s the one who wears them (only at night and they usually stay dry, as he would have me clarify). So remind me he did. At the front door. On the sidewalk. In the car. In the car again. As we got out of the car. While we walked through the parking lot. As we picked out a shopping cart. You get the idea.

I’m all about him owning the potty training process, so as we pulled up to the baby/toddler accoutrement aisle I asked him which ones he wanted to get. He’s big on browsing, so we looked carefully at all the options: Lightning McQueen and Mater, airplanes and trains, Diego, and…Dora the Explorer.

“Dora! Dora the Explorahhhhh! I want Dora.”

I looked at the frills and the butterflies and the image of the pink-clad little girl on the packaging (which, incidentally, doesn’t quite accurately represent The Dora Aesthetic, but whatever) and hesitated for a moment.

I know. I know.

But I’m here to be honest, so there it is. I don’t know where my hesitation came from and it’s not at all representative of how we parent JR; we work very hard to not label toys, behavior, preferences, roles, what-have-yous as male or female. And yet I still paused.

“These? You want these? Are you sure?”

“YES! I already had Lightning McQueen. I wanna try Dora.”

Thankfully his enthusiasm quickly brought me to my senses and I tossed the package in the cart. He proudly wore a Dora Pull-Up — frills and all — that night and every night for weeks after that without incident.

Until a couple weeks ago…

A soaking wet, post-bath JR thundered into his room (that whole “pitter-patter” thing is a bullshit lie) to put on his pajamas. As per our routine, I asked him to get a Pull-Up out of his dresser.

He stood up on his tip toes, peeked into the drawer… and collapsed into a giant heap of sobs.

He wailed, his mouth gaping open, and big fat tears rolling down his cheeks.

I looked him over, thinking he had somehow hurt himself in the Pull-Up retrieval process (hey, he’s clumsy, it’s possible). After finding nothing, I finally managed to calm him down and ask him what happened.

“I [sob] don’t [hiccup] wanna [moan] wear [wail] Doraaaaaaaaa! I’m a BOY!”

Oh no. Oh NO.

I tried to convince him that boys can wear Dora Pull-Ups; they can wear whatever kind of Pull-Ups they want.

“No they don’t. Those are for GIRLS. I’m a BOY”

I told him there’s no such thing as boy Pull-Ups or girl Pull-Ups.

“Yes there ARE TOO. Those are PINK. I want BOY Pull-Ups!”

I pointed out that Dad wears pink shirts and pink socks, and he’s a boy.

“But he doesn’t wear pink UNDERWEAR!”

We went back and forth for a good long while until he finally gave in. I don’t know what did it. Maybe he was just over it. Maybe I convinced him it wasn’t a big deal. Maybe he was tired. Maybe he realized that the Pull-Up would be under his pajamas and no one would see.

Regardless of what resolved it, the whole interaction shook me a bit. So I did exactly what you’d expect me to do when I get shook: I ran through a series of fretful and frantic questions in my head as I simultaneously performed my fifth reading of Knuffle Bunny for the night.

What brought on the change? Did my initial hesitation eventually register in his brain? Did he talk about it with one of his friends at school and get made fun of? Is this a societal force that’s just too strong for us to fight? How do I make this a non-issue in our house when it clearly is out in the world? Am I just projecting all of this on to him?

And on the practical side of things, do I make him keep wearing Dora or do I give in and go buy some damn “boy” Pull-Ups?

After a few repeat performances of this battle, I decided to make it about choice. He’s got two options: the Dora Pull-Ups and an airplane version. We don’t talk about it and don’t push one or the other. They sit side-by-side in the same drawer and he picks one out each night. He’s consistently gone with the airplanes since, but he does comment on how pretty the Dora ones are, sometimes taking them out to look at them. Maybe one day he’ll give the ol’ girl another chance. At the very least, I want him to know he can if he wants to.

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Valerie Catrow

Valerie Catrow is editor of RVAFamily, mother to a mop-topped first grader, and always really excited to go to bed.

Notice: Comments that are not conducive to an interesting and thoughtful conversation may be removed at the editor’s discretion.

  1. Thea didn’t believe there were girl superheroes until recently, because only the boys in her preschool play Spiderman. So we watched a bunch of YouTube clips of animated girl superheroes. She’s still not sold.

  2. Jennifer C. on said:

    We didn’t have pull-ups when I was JR’s age, but I do remember really, *really* wanting Underoos and being unhappy with the lame girls’ “heroes” draws. The boys’ options were much better.

  3. Anitra on said:

    Ayn would pick a different kind every time we went to the store. Every now and then she’d talk about then being boys/girls, but we just always said… it doesn’t matter. Anyone can wear any kind. I think it helped that she has a friend at school who is a girl, but loves boy stuff. It seemed more normal to her I guess.

    It always frustrated me though that even at 2 or 3 that she had internalized pink is for girls and blue is for boys, etc. We were also very careful not to push anything one way or the other… but it still happened.

  4. I may be setting myself up for some abuse here.

    Is it that awful for small children to self-identify as “boy” or “girl” and decide what goes with that identity, like what Anitra says her daughter did and what my boys have done? We’ve never pushed ours into an identity either, but they’re definitely into being boys. The fact is, boys and girls are generally different, certainly in biology if nothing else, and there’s nothing wrong with that. They know they’re different, and I think it’s helpful for their grownups to acknowledge it and help them understand those differences.

  5. @Jeb: At that age is there really that big a difference between male and female? Or is it almost entirely socially constructed gender roles?

    Here’s a potentially relevant comic: http://www.smbc-comics.com/index.php?db=comics&id=1883

  6. Jeb, I don’t think it’s at all bad that JR proudly identifies himself as a boy. Boys are awesome! Girls are awesome! I’m just nervous about the categorizing behavior spilling over into his perception of other more important things.

    I don’t want him to feel like he *has* to wear Dora. I want him to feel like he *can* if he wants to.

  7. Valerie, I understand what you mean. My older boys aren’t really aware of gender roles, largely because we really don’t make much out of them. The biggest exception is their mommy being the primary nurturer, because they know she nurses the baby and she’s a stay-at-home mom, and I push the lawnmower. But other than that, we both cook, clean, etc., and we’ve had the older boys both do some of everything (including bathing the baby).

    Having said that, though, I think kids are natural categorizers. They’re making sense out of their worlds, and that by necessity requires determining classification schemes. At the kid level, that’s going to be all broad strokes and generalizations: boy/girl, age, grade, color. And I don’t think it’s a good idea to discourage them from learning how to classify (not that you’re doing that, just in the abstract) because if we start doing that, do we end up interrupting a basis for critical/associative thinking?

    @Brando: Yes, there is a big difference. It starts in the most basic of facilities…no kid makes it thru kindergarten without knowing there’s a boys’ bathroom and a girls’ bathroom. That’s one of the first things that I think I taught my boys when they were past toddler/diaper age…go in THIS bathroom with Daddy, and THIS bathroom with Mommy.

  8. I agree with you Jeb, there’s something in the genes, pun intended.

  9. Some classification schemes are silly, though.


  10. beth on said:

    Girls and boys are different? Yes and no.. But PEOPLE are differnt. For every boy who doesn’t want to wear girls’ underwear (OMG< I'm an old era feminist, but don't make a developing boy wear girls' underwear!), there are girls who insist they want to be treated like a boy and vice versa. The point isn't that boys and girls are differnt, but that people are differnt and individual and if you listen, they'll tell you who they are. and if you squelsh that, it can be lifelong damaging.

  11. Blakeley on said:

    As a mother of 2 small children, a girl and boy, I face this dilemma quite often. I find more and more products that are gender specific that should remain neutral. Diapers, sippy cups, pacifiers, FOOD! Does my son sit in a new car seat because my daughter’s is pink and brown? Am I supposed to buy a second set of sippy cups for my son because I bought my daughter pink and purple cups? Does Beechnut expect me not to feed my son the apples and squash because Rapunzel is on the label? Seems to me these companies have found a way for us to spend twice as much money on products that we already have!

  12. if you squelsh that, it can be lifelong damaging.”

    That’s a lot of pressure. Most of us manage to survive the “incompetence” of our parents. At some point you go with your gut and make the call. After all, your the parent.

  13. Gwyneth on said:

    I don’t think it’s bad at all! I mean – maybe if JR really WANTED to wear Dora, but felt like it wasn’t an option for him because of his gender and he was heartbroken about it – THAT may indicate some sort of problem. But the fact that he just wanted to wear boy underpants because they’re for “boys”… great! You are providing options and he is making his choice based on his own reasoning (albeit, 3yo reasoning). When I was little, I wanted everything pink and poofy, tulle and sparkly and it was because I liked it. I identified with girly things. I also happen to be a girl. I think It’s ok to be different and not identify with the general gender-norms, but it’s also ok TO identify with them. There’s a reason these norms are what they are… and I don’t buy the idea that they are 100% socially induced.

  14. @Blakely…I could not agree more.

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