Long necklaces and maxi dresses: Coding feminine without apology

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When I was little, I wished I were a boy. In the fundamentalism of my childhood, boys had it so easy! They could wear the same jeans, shorts and T-shirts as all the other boys in the world, and they didn’t have to stick out or look weird (though their extra-high, extra-tight haircuts did sometimes give them away). Fundamentalist girls weren’t so lucky. All our clothes seemed to be designed especially to harass and humiliate us. We had big, baggy jumpers, long jean skirts and nightmarish “culottes” (sort of the bastard child of skirts and men’s shorts). They were hard to play in, they were cold in the winter, and they were terribly, terribly awkward. I just hated every minute of it. In my mind, “looking like a girl” meant “looking like a doofus.”

Sometime in my mid-teens, these rules changed a bit (we weren’t friends with the Orc family any more, for one thing) and baggy sweat suits and long boy shorts became okay to wear, as long as they were “modest” (nothing that showed off your girl shape). I gladly leaped on the “boy clothes” bandwagon. Boy clothes felt like heaven! I could be warm in the winter and cooler in the summer, with no unwieldy layering of culottes + tights or skirts + shorts. Compared to my old wardrobe, this was incredible.

As the years go on, I look at other conservative homeschooling families and I see this trend continuing: culottes and jumpers are gradually vanishing in favor of a more homogeneous, gender-neutral style of dress. The new norm, for all ages and genders, seems to be the type of nondescript “play clothes” you usually see on pre-adolescent children, male and female. I recently saw a picture of all my teenage siblings sitting on a log at a park. They’re all dressed similarly, boys and girls: long boy shorts or loose pants, roomy T-shirts. Some of the girls’ T-shirts were “girl colors,” but that was the main difference.

In some ways, this is a big improvement. My sisters can go hiking, ride bikes and be active young ladies without worrying about flapping culottes or bizarre jumper + bloomer ensembles. But they can’t be teenage tomboys all their lives. I suspect my parents are trying to put off the issue of their inevitable sexual development by keeping them dressed like eight-year-olds forever. My sisters don’t have to deal with the humiliating “girl clothes” I remember, but they’re also being denied the privilege of experimenting with real girl clothes: finding out what it’s like to try on cute maxi skirts, play with shoes and nail polish, discover flattering lines and cuts and colors that work for them.

I’ve been told that my input into my sisters’ lives is not welcome, and that I’m not allowed to “corrupt” them. I wish that I could take them shopping and do girly things with them. Maybe someday.

In the meantime, I will wear long silver necklaces and maxi dresses because it turns out, I like looking like a girl.

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