My husband and I decided we were not going to find out the biological sex of our child before he or she was born, which resulted in very few gifts of clothing. My mom made an effort to buy things that were yellow and had ducks on them, my friends helped make awesome nerdy decorated onsies, but other than that, nothing.
It turns out, my baby’s biological sex is female. Cue all the pink clothes ever from well-meaning friends and family. Unless she informs us otherwise, we are raising her with the assumed gender. Cue debate and philosophizing about the signifiers of female-ness and the potential behaviors related.
For a while, all that fit was a purple sleep-n-play that had clouds and carriages and castles on it. (Message: dream of being a princess?) My friend Patti offered to buy her something that wasn’t pink or princessy, and sent a gift set with the following note:
Kate & Tim –
A list of things I learned at the baby store that you probably already know:
1. People really love dressing babies as animals.
2. If something is intended for a girl, the animal must have eyelashes – even if it is a butterfly.
3. It’s never too early to put your female child in a ruffle-y pink dress. (For a newborn? Really?)
4. Lacking an equivalent marker to eyelashes or ruffles, baby boy clothes, if not blue, must clearly and visible state “boy.”
So, obviously, as a result, I bought Sylvie a “boy” outfit in blue. Start the gender-bending early. Besides, I think the characteristics of a bear (loud, strong, hungry for food that comes from picnic baskets) are much more interesting than those of a butterfly (fragile, pretty, short lived)!
Anyway, CONGRATULATIONS! You two will be awesome parents.
I was super excited about the outfit, but I wasn’t sure how people would react.
I showed it to my mom, and felt the need to justify it. “I think the paw prints all over the onsie is potentially feminine,” I said.
She looked at the sleep-n-play (i.e. the footed all-in-one outfit), and said, “These colors are preppy!” in an effort to appease me. Strangely, I didn’t want to disappoint her with the way that I dressed my daughter, even though my mom has been fabulous about supporting me in my own parenting decisions and not offering too much unsolicited advice.
And so, I was appeased. Then I put the outfit away because my baby did not fit into it yet.
When my baby did fit into the outfit, I was excited again, and washed the onsie first. When I put it on my little Sylvie, I began to be anxious. What if she was mistaken for a boy? And so what if she were? Why did we have to identify little beings with no secondary sexual characteristics as one gender or another? It was a blue onsie with a semi-accurate depiction of a bear on it — she had another onsie that was green with a teddy bear that I had no qualms about putting on her. What gives?
In fact, as I looked down at my own shirt standing at the changing table, frozen with indecision, I realized that I was wearing a solid blue shirt. And with the knowledge that blue used to be for little girls, and pink for little boys (Because pink is a very decided color?!), I decided to swallow my anxiety and have her wear the outfits.
Perhaps my discomfort isn’t as strong as I am describing here. Patti, as she read the draft for the blog entry apologized for her gift causing anxiety — but perhaps that anxiety is productive.
As a parent of a little girl, I am worried about her future. Her self-esteem, keeping her interested in math and science, helping her be the person she is meant to be and wants to be. Hell, I read Reviving Ophelia when I was ten-years-old, already a survivor of sexual harassment.
I love these outfits, and Sylvie has worn them many times. They have resulted in comments, which I will share another time. But I’ve written on this blog before about how culture is agreed meaning — and there is certain agreed meaning about pink and blue — it’s worth thinking about.
I listened to a Diane Rehm interview with the author of Cinderella Ate My Daughter, Peggy Orenstein. She was arguing that pink was a gateway to poor self-image, among other maladies of young womanhood. I’ll read that book so you don’t have to, but in the mean time, I will keep observing people’s discomfort with me obscuring shared meaning.
- When Did Girls Start Wearing Pink? (smithsonianmag.com)
- Pink and Blue (brooks.blogs.nytimes.com)
- On A Gender Bender (andrewsullivan.thedailybeast.com)
- Gender Crimes and Misdemeanors (psychologytoday.com)
- I would just like to say that it is my conviction (pinkisforboys.wordpress.com)
I had two boys that I dressed in blue as infants. They were both called “pretty little girls” by strangers who paid no attention to the clothes they were wearing. I guess that’s just my way of saying, don’t worry too much about what color you decide to dress her in.