Nowadays, more and more parents are raising their children in a gender-neutral environment, where they decline to assign their offspring a gender and allow them to pursue whatever style of dress or type of hobby takes their fancy. However, this liberal approach to child-rearing has often proved to be controversial, and invoked the ire of conservative detractors. Whatever your stance on the issue, it's clear that we need to have a conversation about the way we raise our kids and what gender roles we place on them.
One such person who has opened up this dialogue is 25-year-old Charlie Hirons, who has recently been forced to defend her young son Riley-Prince's decision to wear a Disney princess dress. The five year old has been seen by his neighbours wearing the Cinderella gown ever since his birthday came around - even when he plays football outside.
But Charlie is keen to stress that she doesn't think her son wearing a dress is an issue. Although strangers often make comments about the boy's appearance when the family are out and about together, Riley-Prince has remained unintimidated by the judgements of others.
Charlie, who suffers from body-image and self-esteem issues herself, has stated in a recent interview that she finds her little boy's unconventional lifestyle choice inspiring, and claims that he has motivated her to be more fearless in life. "I’ve had people tell me I shouldn’t have let him wear a dress, and when we were out to dinner, people were staring and whispering" Charlie stated.
"It’s ridiculous that boys are meant to like one thing, girls another. Who cares if boys like pink, or if girls want to join the army? Just let them be themselves. There’s no need to make comments about my son, or how I bring him up. If you don’t like him, don’t look."
Riley-Prince first started getting in touch with his feminine side after he asked his mom if he could get an earring, just like his stepdad Nathan Hirons. At the time, people criticised Charlie for piercing her child's ears at such a young age. Yet Charlie insists that it was the right thing to do, stating "I thought it was best to get it done when he was young and wouldn’t fiddle with it."
She added: "People have told me it was cruel and not his choice, but the way I see it, he’s grown up knowing no different. It was over in seconds and now he’s older, he loves his earrings. He calls them his pretties. Riley-Prince loves them. He always changes his studs to match Nathan’s. I’ve got a Batman tattoo, and Nathan has a Joker one. Sometimes, Riley-Prince asks Nathan to draw tattoos on him using face paint and biro, so we can all match. It’s really cute how much he wants to be like Nathan."
"Riley-Prince knows exactly who he is. He’s a very open little boy, and extremely mature and confident. If people ever ask him about his earrings or dress, he just tells them that’s what he likes. He’s good at standing up for himself. I’ve had body struggles myself, being a plus-sized girl at a size 22-24, but seeing him shrug off critics and be proud of who he is really inspires me."
Maybe Riley-Prince's dress sense is a little unconventional, but isn't a child's autonomy more important than fitting in? Maybe this is something he will grow out of, or maybe he's a pioneer among a new and more gender-fluid generation.