Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton took a wrong turn on social media this Christmas by publicly criticizing his toddler nephew for wearing a princess dress, complete with a pink wand, on Christmas.
“I’m so sad right now — look at my nephew,” he said flippantly in an Instagram story that has since been deleted. “Why are you wearing a princess dress?” he asked the toddler, who smiled at his uncle and nodded, then continued giggling and waving his wand. “Is this what you got for Christmas?”
As the U.K. Daily Mail reported, he raised his voice at the young child, still sounding quite tongue-in-cheek, “Boys don’t wear princess dresses!” The tyke covered his ears and turned away.
This social media post invited an avalanche of strong opinions from randos, bloggers, and activists who are doubtless eminently qualified to pronounce this flippant interaction as oppressive heteronormativity. Feeling the heat of the torches and sharp jab of pitchforks between his ribs, Lewis issued an apology to the social media mob:
Yesterday I was playing around with my nephew and realised that my words were inappropriate so I removed the post. I meant no harm and did not mean to offend anyone at all. I love that my nephew feels free to express himself the way we all should…’My deepest apologies for my behavior as I realise it is really not acceptable in the world today for anyone, no matter where you are from, to marginalise or stereotype anyone. I have always been in support of anyone living their life exactly how they wish and I hope I can be forgiven for this lapse in judgement. (emphasis added).
Pride in London Twitter wasted no time in exploiting the family drama made public: ‘‘Many of our community have experienced this kind of shaming when we were younger…” British spoken word artist Travis Alabanza (who bases his performance on being “black and trans and queer”) also tried to guilt (dare I say shame) Hamilton into donating to “a LGBT youth charity”: “Thinks about why it is so horrible, and considers donating to a charity which supports LGBT youth. That video is a video so many of us have experienced. Gross. It sticks with you.”
Another blogger tweeted that “Boys wear whatever they want…Boys can be princesses. Dresses aren’t shameful. Go stick your toxic masculinity up your arse.”
Telling Kids the Truth Isn’t Bad
Let’s be clear. Despite what Hamilton has been pressured into stating, perhaps into believing, telling his nephew that “Boys don’t wear princess dresses” is not “gender-shaming.” The tyke doesn’t even know what gender is. His existence is full of play and discovering the world in probably a loving home with loving parents. I highly doubt he has paused his Christmas enthusiasm to ponder what sex he is or form any sort of opinion about his gender identity. Nor is his princess outfit likely to be a deliberate “expression” of some inner feeling of femaleness.
“Boys don’t wear princess dresses” is not “stereotyping” or “marginalizing,” it’s simply an assertion of plain differences between the sexes, which we communicate socially in the way we dress. As his nephew matures, he is overwhelmingly likely to feel comfortable being who he is, a boy, and expressing that by wearing boy clothes and doing things that boys tend to do.
Yes, as a general rule, boys don’t wear princess dresses, or dresses of any sort in everyday life. But toddlers like to play dress-up. They aren’t trying on “gender identities,” or expressing some deeply held belief that they are actually girls; they’re trying on clothes and playing make-believe. That’s a critical distinction between normal child’s play and the delusions of adolescents and adults who assert that wearing dresses and makeup, taking hormone blockers, and maybe even getting surgery makes a person a “woman” and defines one’s identity. But this is make-believe.
It’s not going to hurt or confuse a toddler to don a pink and purple dress on Christmas. As more sane Twitter users wrote, “Maybe boys don’t wear princess dresses but you’ve worn silly outfits as well. It is what it is. Be happy, it’s Christmas.” Nabeela tweeted, “You can’t publicly put down a CHILD for innocently liking what they like or wanting what they want, especially when you’re an icon and someone who kids look up to, respect and admire.”
The Real Problem Is Taking Private Family Matters Public
That user goes on to promote false notions about transgenderism, but that tweet has it exactly right. Airing family disagreements on social media and exposing a small boy’s face to millions in a context of chastisement, albeit jokingly, is foolish and potentially harmful. It is sure to call down the wrath of every gender studies major and LGBTQ+++ activist who would exploit the make-believe of an innocent toddler to further a political agenda.
Further, what was child’s play is now defcon III family drama. Hamilton’s nephew may not be able to read social media comments, but it’s hard to believe tensions in the household didn’t escalate over the controversy, and children are definitely affected by that.
Moreover, people who know the boy and saw the video might decide to impress their beliefs about gender fluidity on a toddler who cannot appropriately process these abstract concepts, but might get the impression that people want him to dress and act more like a girl. What was once simple play is now a confusing jumble of others’ wishes for how he should behave.
Children need and crave stability, normalcy, rules and clear examples to follow. Of course, the freedom to play make-believe, to pretend for an hour or so that one is a girl, and try on various outfits without having adults confuse toddlers about their sex is important. Yet that freedom and comfort can only exist in a heteronormative regime, not one that tries to raise children outside of reality-based sexual norms. The rules are what allow children to play make-believe, and to separate the fantasy from reality.
Despite claims from advocates of the New Sexual Revolution that they “just want everyone to be themselves,” lying that boys can be girls and vice versa creates yet another vulnerability in impressionable children. Under the guise of gender freedom, older children especially can experience pressures where otherwise they would be allowed to simply grow out of a phase and go on to lead normal, healthy heterosexual lives. Social media only exacerbates the threat. So let toddlers play dress-up, but let them do it privately in the safety and normalcy of their own homes.