Letting boys experiment with princess dresses and other trappings of femininity has become de rigueur. J.Crew president Jenna Lyons led the way in a 2011 catalogue photo showing her then four-year-old son Beckett wearing neon pink toenail polish.
Even so, many people still freak out when they see a boy wearing something frilly.
A preschooler named Sam became a target of judgment after his mom posted a Facebook photo of him wearing pink zebra-print flats on the way to school. More than a dozen family members reportedly commented on how "wrong" it was to let him wear the shoes and how "things like this will affect him socially" and how wearing feminine footwear "will turn him gay."
The incident was perfect fodder for mommy bloggers.
Mary Fischer at CafeMom.com said she gets the whole "let kids be free to express themselves thing," but would never let her own son wear a pair of pink shoes to school, lest he be "unnecessarily teased, ridiculed, whispered about or looked at in a funny way."
Although Sam's classmates weren't fazed by his fashion statement, Fischer points out that preschoolers are generally accepting of differences, whereas a boy in grade school wouldn't make it five minutes on a bus without getting teased or insulted.
"Bullying is bad enough as it is without handing tormentors their material on a silver platter," she concluded.
Readers were divided on whether to let boys wear girly things. In a comment directed at Fischer, Jess Townsend wrote, "Author: YOU are part of the problem."
Others, including billsfan1104, suggested it's naive for mothers to behave as though we live in a gender-neutral world. "Sometimes I think that mothers who do this want to prove to the world that they are not homophobic or they are 'cool,' " she wrote.
But it could be that Sam's mom has joined the ranks of pioneers including Cheryl Kilodavis, author of My Princess Boy, which tells the story of a four-year-old boy who "happily expresses his authentic self by enjoying 'traditional girl' things."
Sam's mom did her duty by explaining that he might get strange looks for wearing girl's shoes. His reply: "Ninjas can wear pink shoes too."