Note #2: This post is not about clothes. I promise. It starts that way but it goes way beyond that.
Note #3: If this post is TL;DR for you so you skim it, know that I mention several times in the post that I'm not anti-girly or anti-pink or even anti-princess, since I got several emails asking JUST WHAT IS WRONG WITH PINK? Nothing. Nothing is wrong with pink.]
I recently had a debate about the color orange. I know, what could be controversial about that, right? In this case, I had dressed my daughter in it to match the color scheme of a party, and received a comment about sacrificing her feminitiy for the sake of the decor. Um. How is an orange and white striped onesie not appropriate for girls? The friend was firmly of the belief that orange was a "boy" color. I am firmly of the belief that it's gender neutral (and a refreshing relief from yellow), and, in fact, that ALL colors are gender neutral. This debate struck such a nerve with me, because no child should ever hear that a color they are wearing or that they prefer belongs to the opposite gender. Hearing "that's a boy color" or "that's a girl color" can be devastating to a young mind just beginning to develop their own likes and make their own choices.
And when you get down to it, really, what ARE boy and girl colors? Colors have no intrinsic gender and are universally lacking in sex organs, so it's a made-up definer - and one that is fluid: boys wore pink until the mid-20th century. The "assigned" colors were so confusing that "Time" magazine published a chart showing which stores were advocating which color assignment. Until relatively recently, boys and girls wore the same thing for much of their lives:
That child with the long hair, ruffled dress, feathers, bow, and patent leather shoes? Franklin Delino Roosevelt, future four-time president and rough rider. Like the most manly of manly men to ever live, right?
Here's a boy paper doll from the 1920's named Bobby - pink dress and all!
It was a matter of practicality. Skirts and dresses made diaper changes easy. Small baby clothes were white, as they could be bleached clean. When the children got older, clothes were handed down from sibling to sibling as a cost-saving measure. Of course, at some point, the public fell victim to marketing, and it was all down hill from there. It made sense for stores and clothing manufacturers to change this: the more clothes you bought, the more money they made. Why sell you a red car that can be passed down from child to child when they can sell you a pink car for your daughter and make you think you need to buy a whole new car in a different color for your son? They make twice as much money!
Now, if you go to any traditional baby store, you'll see the divide immediately. For better or worse, right or wrong, girls get pink, always. And purple. And sparkles and butterflies and swirly writing and glitter and princess references (oh, the princess references). Boys get blue, green, brown, orange (apparently) and construction vehicles and dinosaurs. In buying clothes for my daughters, I look in both sections and buy what catches my eye, be it pink or blue or chartreuse or puce. But really? It doesn't matter what they wear. Not only was my oldest daughter called "he" in a white onesie and no other gender indicators (which is totally understandable), but I had her in a pink dress with a pink bow and had someone comment on my "darling boy." I tried to find just a simple pair of plain jeans for my daughter. I gave up and bought her "boy" ones after every pair of "girl" jeans in the store had ruffles or pink embroidery or flowers. And seriously don't get me started on girls' shoes. It's nearly impossible to find a neutrally colored, sporty shoe for a little girl.
And let's not even get started on the cutesy phrases splashed everywhere, with the girls' tending to focus on bring pretty princesses and the boys' on being tough little men (word to the wise: a six month old baby is neither a princess nor a little man. It's a baby.).
I have absolutely zero problem (let me repeat that: ZERO) with girls wearing pink. It's a beautiful color on my oldest, she likes it, and she owns pink clothes) or boys wearing blue. I do have issues with pink glitter princess outfits being the only option for girls. I do have issues with people proclaiming that is the way it should be, and that people - particularly infants - should be dressed in colors according to their gender. Or, for that matter, that colors have gender, period. Again: they don't. All colors are neutral because colors don't have penises or vaginas.
Boys' clothes: a wide variety of colors and shades.
Out of 18, only three are blue (and even two pink options!).
Out of 18, only three are blue (and even two pink options!).
Girls' clothes: a wide variety of pink shades. All with flowers or ruffles. Out of 21, 12 are mostly pink and 17 have some pink in them. Almost all are very light-colored.
Why do we need blue for boys and pink for girls? Going further, why do we need "boy" toys to be blue and and "girl" toys to be pink? Boy Legos and girl Legos? Boy doctor outfits and girl doctor outfits? Can girls not enjoy something unless it's pink? Can boys not play with something unless it's blue? Do they have to be reminded of their sex every time they touch an object or put on an article of clothing? Be it jeans or a toy car or a sticker book, the gender divide in toys and clothing has never seemed greater.
Why does it even matter? Why does this bother you SO much?
This discussion matters because this is a society in which, when sharing that I was going to have a girl, more than one commented, "Oh, too bad. Is Chris disappointed?" And "Oh, girls are so hard. I'm sorry!" One said, "I knew Chris didn't have a boy in him." (I wanted to reply, "Actually, he did, but my cervix didn't have it in it to keep him alive" but that's mean and also beside the point.)
It's a fact worldwide: boys are favored. It's shown in so many ways. And here goes a fairly terrifying list of ways:
It's shown in the startling disparity in the number of boy babies and girl babies born in places like India and China. Naturally, the divide should be 105 boys for every 100 girls. One province of China has 163 boys born for every 100 girls, and nationally it's 118 boys. In India, upwards of 300,000 pregnancies with girls are terminated yearly. There are 7 million more boys under the age of six than girls. Even in the United States, the vast number of people say they want a boy (in a Gallup poll of 1,020 people, almost twice as many said they would prefer a boy). It's shown in the 23.5% wage differential in the U.S. and the fact that women with children are less likely to be hired in a position than equally qualified fathers. It's shown in the ratio of male to female lawmakers (in Congress and Senate the ratio is 445 to 93). It's shown in the way that women's health issues have become such a sticking point in the election (it's 2012 and we're still fighting for health care?). It's shown in the fact that it's an insult to "throw like a girl." In the fact that the "dumb blonde" of jokes is always a woman. It shows in the way that toy makers coat all "girl" toys in pink, while leaving the "boy" counterparts as accurate representations of what cars or tools or animals look like. In a study of over 5,000 children's books, boy characters outnumbered girl characters by 1.6 to 1. In the top 100 movies in 2008, only 33% of speaking roles went to women. Girls have so much emphasis placed on their looks their entire lives, and again, that matters: a 2009 study found that being overweight harms a woman's chances for career advancement but presents no such obstacle for men. The United Nations proclaimed that there "are no societies in which women enjoy the same opportunities as men" (emphasis mine). It shows when companies make t-shirts that boast "I'm too pretty to do homework" or "pretty like mommy" (while the boy version was "smart like daddy" - because neither girls nor mommies can be smart?). It shows when a female writer chooses to write about Harry Potter instead of Harriet Potter (don't get me wrong: I love Hermoine. But the book isn't based on her.). Of the Time list of the 100 Most Influential People in the World, only 38 are women. Boys are the "heirs;" girls are the "spares." It's generally assumed that women can't drive, change a tire, fix a computer, or enjoy sports. Freaking men's shaving cream with the exact same ingredients is almost a buck cheaper than the women's in the next aisle.
Gender specific colors may seem far removed from earning only 77 cents for every dollar that a male does, but it starts somewhere. Every time you tell a girl "that's not for you" or tell her she's pretty in the same breath you tell her brother he's smart, you take another cent away from her. Girls need to know that being girl can mean being intelligent and being adventurous and being strong and being powerful and wearing all colors of the rainbow. If everywhere girls turn they see things "pinked down" for them and they see themselves categorized separately and boxed into the (as my dad called it) "aisle of pink death," they will lose the ability to see themselves as equal to boys.
I've witnessed this twice just recently. At lunch with a friend and her three-year-old son, the little boy said, "Mommy, I hope when you grow up you can be a boy." We laughed and asked why. "So you can be a rock star!" She asked why she couldn't be a rock star now, as a girl. "Because boys are smarter than girls," he replied. Based on our shocked reactions, he quickly assessed that was the wrong thing to say to us and followed up with, "I'm just teasing!." Where did he learn that? Not from my friend - she's very progressive. School, maybe? TV? The playground? Somewhere, for sure. He didn't pull it out of thin air. Later that week, I was at a park with my daughter, who was climbing the rock wall, where a little girl - little girl, like five years old - told her that climbing is for boys. When I said "No, climbing is for everyone!" and she protested, I asked her what girls do. She said, "I'm pretty!" and twirled. I didn't press the issue, but I was inwardly cringing. She was dressed in a pink tee-shirt with a crown on it and script letters saying "cutie." She absolutely might have picked that tee-shirt herself, but did she internalize the message on the tee-shirt? Where did she learn that climbing is for boys and that girls should be pretty? Tee-shirts like that certainly don't help. And it's reinforced by a society where the constant message is that boys and girls are separate (and certainly not equal).
Disturbingly, it's far more acceptable for girls to wear "boy" clothes or do "boy" activities than it is for boys to wear "girl" clothes or do "girl" activities. Why? Because being the boy is the standard. It's the default. But boys doing "girly" things? That's not okay. That's a boy stooping down to a lower level. It's not okay for little boys to do or wear "girl" things because girl things are not as good as boy things. It's okay for little girls to wear "boy" things because they're reaching for a higher level and breaking the mold, because "boy" things are superior. So girls can strive to do "boy" things, but boys shouldn't ever be seen striving to do "girl" things.
I just read this paragraph on a baby name blog, where a mom was considering giving her son a name that might be considered a girly name: You’re asking me if it’s okay to use a name for your son that is used mostly for girls in his country, and in fact is a very popular name for girls. And that’s not a question I can answer for you. The cultural bias against using “girl names” for boys (even though it continues to be appealing to use “boy names” for girls) comes from a very ugly concept, and it’s clearly unfair. Is there ANYTHING AT ALL wrong with being mistaken for a girl/woman? Goodness, no. Do many boys/men nevertheless find it embarrassing or difficult, for reasons we can’t turn our minds to without feeling surges of rage? That’s the difficult place, right there: the line between “SHOULD it be this way?” and “IS it this way?”
No, it shouldn't be that way, and yes, it is that way. And UGH to both.
Even saying things like they are "breaking the mold" reinforces that there is a mold to be broken and that it's outside of the norm for girls to be physical or boys to be sensitive. Phrases like "Oh, he's showing his feminine side!" when a boy expresses emotion or "What a little tomboy!" to a girl who is rock climbing feeds into this. Boys can be sensitive. Girls can be tough. It can be "boyish" to cry. It can be "girly" to be reticent. These are HUMAN emotions, not male or female emotions.
And toys are toys for kids, not toys for boys OR girls.
And colors are colors, not colors for boys OR girls.
I hear often that "...it must be biological - I never told my daughter about princesses and she loves them." Let's be realistic (and even a bit scientific?) here: I'll give you that over a couple of million years of evolution and of women being the child-bearers, it might be true that women tend to be more nurturing and men more protective. Maybe. But guns have only been around for a couple of hundred years - playing with guns isn't intrinsically ingrained in little boys. Cars have been around for even shorter. Playing with cars isn't a biological preference for little boys. Pink as a "girl" color has only been the case for a few decades - that's certainly not a biological preference. Princesses as we know them today (pink and sparkly) barely existed when I was growing up. These preferences develop due to societal influences. Oftentimes, these influences are so subtle we don't even realize they are happening, which is why even the tiniest instance of gender stereotyping is such a big deal. Those small, subtle cues that our children are fed continually are what shape them.
Is there anything wrong with being "a girly girl who loves pink"? Not at all. I have zero problem with girls wearing pink and being homemakers or boys wearing blue and being lumberjacks if that's what they choose. I know men and women are different, beyond just genitalia. I have long hair and wear skirts and jewelry and low-cut shirts that show cleavage. I love being a woman and I celebrate my femininity. Being a woman is an amazing thing. (So is being a man, or any sex in between.) I recognize the biological differences between men and women. I celebrate these differences. I love these differences.
However, I want these differences to arise organically and not because of marketing from companies that are out for the bottom line. I want my child to be able to decide what to play with and how to play with it and not be forced to choose between a "boy" and a "girl" toy. I want little boys and girls to be able to play with realistic toy kitchens, and realistic toy castles, and realistic doll cribs. There's no reason a drill needs to be pink for a girl to play with it. Little kids just want mini versions of the real thing. I want kids to be able to develop who they are, what their likes and dislikes and interests are, based on their own explorations. All girls and all boys cannot possibly fall into those boxes created by marketing teams. The differences between individuals are VASTLY greater than the differences between genders. And trying to put all of the members of one gender into the same pink or blue box with limited options is stifling and damaging.
(credit to http://www.kristenmyers.com/toys-a-guide/)
"It's parenting," is a common argument. "It's all in how you parent." Yes, I can make a difference: I can buy as many gender neutral toys as possible. I can make sure my daughters know that princesses do more besides just look pretty (to expand their knowledge of princesses, we watched videos of Princess Kate playing lacrosse and looked at pictures of her camping). I do control what comes into this house. But the first time we go to Target or Toys R Us, that attempt to shield her from the gender divide will be blown out the window, when she sees the very definite "boy" and "girl" aisles and asks questions. The first time she goes to school and is told that pink should be her favorite color, it challenges my ideals. When we're out and about and people ask what she's going to be for Halloween and follow up with "A princess?" before she can even answer just reinforces the problem. It's hard to parent for my philosophy when a place like Pottery Barn Kids offers 56 colors/styles of backpacks and 28 of them are "girl" colors/patterns and 24 are "boy" colors/patterns and 4 are what I would consider neutral (gray and green). But all those neutral ones? They're embroidered with boy names and clearly supposed to be meant for boys. Also, all but one of those neutral options are trimmed in navy blue, pushing them closer to traditional boy territory. And every single one of those 28 "girl" ones contains pink and/or purple in some form - EVERY SINGLE ONE. 18 of the 24 "boy" ones contained blue in some form. A girl that doesn't like pink or purple is screwed, apparently, or forced to look at the boy choices. Come on, Pottery Bark Kids. There are FIFTY SIX color options. You couldn't have ANY options outside of those? What about a parent who wants to get a neutral set to share among her children or who, like me, is trying to get away from this pink tornado? We're screwed. (Note: This was as of 2012 - things may have changed since then.)
I will do all I can to raise my children to think that being a girl is awesome and that being a girl means being smart, caring, daring, empathetic, adventurous, loving, nurturing, and/or anything that she wants it to mean. I will do all I can to empower them to believe that they are worthy, that they aren't second class citizens, and that they can do anything they want to do. Even pee standing up (with the right equipment). <----mostly a joke
At the same time, I will do all I can to raise my children to think that being a boy is awesome and that being a boy means being smart, caring, daring, empathetic, adventurous, loving, nurturing, and/or anything that a boy wants it to mean. I will raise them to believe that boys are worth, that they aren't second class citizens, and that they can do anything they want to do.
So that was six pages and almost 3,500 words to say: Please, let's not divide girls and boys up any more than they already are. Blue on a girl? Awesome. Pink on a boy? Righteous. Let's celebrate "throwing like a girl" and "crying like a boy" and let boys take care of dolls and girls play firefighters. Let's let them decide on their terms how they want to be defined, and not let the media and corporations decide for them. Let's teach them how to be awesome and think they are awesome and, importantly, think that the opposite gender is pretty awesome too.
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