In the final weeks of my pregnancy, Don and I went out shopping together and ran into an acquaintance who had just had a baby girl a few weeks earlier. She confirmed that we still didn’t know whether we were having a boy or a girl, then commented, “If you end up on Team Pink, we’ll have to set up some play dates.”
This comment has bugged me ever since (as evidenced by the fact that I’m writing a blog post about it over four months later). It’s not just the implication that our kids should only play together if they are the same sex, though I’m not too sure about that. It’s the “Team Pink.”
When I was an elementary school teacher, I had a habit of observing the girls in the primary-grade classes and counting how many were not wearing something pink. There might be one or two girls in a classroom who weren’t, and they were almost certainly wearing the runner-up “girl” color, purple. It was a rare day that I saw a single young girl who wasn’t wearing at least one thing that was pink or purple.
Why do we do this to girls in our culture? Why do we brand them with such a specific marker of their femininity? We consider gender such an important part of a person’s identity that from babyhood, we feel a need to make sure people can clearly tell whether our children are male or female (since babies are basically unisex-looking if you can’t see their private parts). My baby girl wears both “girl” clothes and hand-me-down “boy” clothes. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with my daughter wearing a pale blue outfit or a brightly colored striped shirt with a frog on it, and I’m not offended if someone assumes that she’s a boy, but when I politely correct them, they seem quite embarrassed. I’m going against the social norm. She even looked out-of-place wearing a white onesie in her newborn picture on the hospital website; scrolling through the site, I noticed that the other babies were all clearly dressed in gender-specific going-home outfits.
In our culture, girls wear girl clothes and boys wear boy clothes. Woe unto those who transgress–particularly boys who wear feminine-appearing clothing (girls have a little more leeway in wearing boyish clothing). It seems to me that the girl clothing stereotype is more limited (pink, purple, hearts, flowers, butterflies, princesses) than the boy clothing stereotype (blue, green, brown, black, gray, sports, trucks, airplanes, trains, dinosaurs, wild animals, bugs, rock music, pirates/skulls, superheroes). Why can’t girl clothing reflect a wider range of interests? Or why can’t we have gender-neutral children’s clothing? Not for all kids, all the time, but just some. Just as an option. I couldn’t even find gender-neutral baby clothes past the 3 month size.
This bugs me, but I don’t have an answer to it. When I dress my daughter in pink, I feel like I’m pigeonholing her in this cultural stereotype. When I dress her in navy blue or brown, I feel like I’m making her stick out. At her age, she doesn’t know the difference. How will I navigate this as she gets older and more aware? I don’t want to limit her or have her limit herself to narrow “girly” tastes, but I also know that being a non-conformist can be a burden. I suppose we’ll have to wait and see.