Yes, FDR wore a dress. So did other famous people.
No, they weren’t trans. Nor was it considered “gay”.
It was how you dressed little boys for pictures.
The boy to the left is the man who grew up to oversee the United States as we recovered from the Great Depression and into war with Germany and Japan. And if this picture was shown to people voting for him, he still would have been elected – he probably would have been told he was a cute boy.
Wikipedia tells us that clothes were once more expensive – and a dress could fit for more years than pants could. So that was important when kids are growing. And, equally important, pants were hard for little boys to undo – so toilet training was difficult with them, but much easier with a dress. I imagine diapers – particularly of the time – worked better under the dress too.
Now I have no idea what color FDR’s dress was, but pink on a boy was not only acceptable but preferred. You can read about that and the pink on boys in Smithsonian Magazine.
From that article:
For example, a June 1918 article from the trade publication Earnshaw’s Infants’ Department said, “The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.” Other sources said blue was flattering for blonds, pink for brunettes; or blue was for blue-eyed babies, pink for brown-eyed babies, according to Paoletti.
Later, pink and blue became the symbols of girls and boys that we know today. But they clearly weren’t always. It’s part of a trend we’ve seen with children, continuing even today, to ironically replace gender-neutral children’s items with gendered items, even as we claim that we’re wanting women in man-dominated fields like computers and Engineering.
Don’t believe me? Look at this:
As you can see above, toys for girls have become much more, well, girly. At least what we – if not FDR’s parents – would call girly. Some might say it’s even sickeningly girly, a parody of femininity.
The clear statement by things like the pictures above is that there are clearly girl toys and boy toys. Girls need girl toys, according to the marketers. And we must agree, because they sell them.
Of course, socially, we know a lot is wrong with this. We know intellectually that fathers can push a baby stroller. We know that men can cook and clean. We know that running a cash register isn’t a “girl’s” job or a boy’s job.
Yet we vote with our pocketbooks. We buy girls pink stuff.
We know that doing stuff like making a stove pink will cause boys, who have (today) been socially conditioned that being a girl is bad, and pink is “girly”, to favor other toys. We’re shaping the careers boys and girls go into as adults. We claim to not want to do that, but then again, we buy these things. And kids generally want them – kids generally want to assert their gender, as they’re taught to do through advertising and social pressure. Since most kids have clear ideas of their gender, this makes it pretty simple for them to select the toys.
As more evidence of this, remember the Easy Bake Oven controversy last year? The girl who started this, on behalf of her brother, felt we should be past that as a society. I agree. But what she may not have realized is not only are we not past it, but it’s actually getting worse. Look at this Easy Bake oven from years ago:
Ignore the pinkish blanket it’s on in the picture. And, yes, there’s a girl on the box, and “EASY BAKE” is in pink on the box. But other than that, it looked pretty high-tech for the early 80s, clearly in the style of a microwave oven. It was made to resemble a real cooking appliance, not some ultra-feminized version of one!
The oven the girl was talking about were far from the relatively gender neutral oven of the early 80s. Fortunately, she had the support of many, and Hasbro has introduced a 50th anniversary edition (almost in stores) that is a much cooler design than the obsessively pink predecessor. Unfortunately, much of Hasbro’s marketing is still focused on girls and gender stereotypes – check out their Easy Bake site, entitled “Easy Bake | Cooking & Baking Games for Girls”. Because, after all, how would a girl know that she could use an oven?
It’s pretty amazing that in a 100 years or so, we’ve moved from dressing boys in dresses and pink to a time when every toy, every baby item, every piece of clothing on a young child must speak about their gender. It’s not enough for a boy to be a boy, he needs to be dressed as a boy and playing with boy-toys (no, not that kind of boy toy!).
I think some of it is insecurity of adults. Too many adults are insecure about gender and sexuality, and intentionally or not act on those insecurities. This action instills the “appropriate” behavior from an early age. Ironically, this is at the same time the right wing is criticizing a camp for gender non-conforming children for “forcing” transsexuality on kids. You can see some decent reporting on the camp here.
The head of Family Research Council (ironically a lobbyist group that does no research) in a Christian Post article stated,
“There is a risk of locking children into a life course, which, if they had been left to develop naturally, they would have outgrown,” warned Peter Sprigg, senior fellow for Policy Studies at the Family Research Council in Washington D.C., in an interview with the Christian Post Tuesday.
Sprigg argued that teaching kids they have to identify with their “sexual orientation” or “sexual identity” could “lock” them in a phase. “You’ll have children who are going through natural periods of confusion and experimentation with their sexuality and all of a sudden you have adults telling them, this means you’re gay, you were born gay, you will never change,” he said.
Of course this mischaracterizes the camp (they are not telling them they are gay or trans – only telling them them that they can be who they want to be. But “not punishing gay and trans behavior” is the same as “making them gay or trans” in the eyes of the right wing.
And we all know that there is no pressure to conform to gender stereotypes. Okay, maybe there is. But apparently that’s okay and not damaging…except for the 30% of LGBTQ and 50% of trans youth that attempt to commit suicide before they are 20. Or many of the rest who haven’t quite progressed that far, but hate themselves for who they are nonetheless. But, to some, gender stereotypes are more important than life (ironically these groups almost universally claim to be pro-life when they are lobbying for policies of death). Me? I think all children have a beauty that should be cherished whether or not they follow stereotypes.