lions for boys, butterflies for girls? why gender-specific apparel is so last generation.

My baby doesn’t know what gender she is and I am sure she doesn’t care. This point was brought home to me when I saw her, the other day, trying on my shoes and then trying on her dad’s shoes. She has no concept (at 16 months) of girl-shoes and boy-shoes. They are just shoes.

Today, I read this article and it got me going again! It really bugs me how ‘gendered’ everything is. The cheap stuff (the stuff in my budget) is all very pink or very blue. More than that it annoys me that animals have been gendered, too. Kittens, bunnies and butterflies for girls; dogs, dinosaurs, lions and monkeys for boys. What is that all about? Like the lion as a species doesn’t have females – strong, elegant females, I may add? And it turns out Anya loves monkeys – again there is such a thing as female monkeys.

I get where the stereotype comes from: animals which display the characteristics which we currently, in our society, label as male (like playfulness, assertiveness/aggression, strength, hunting prowess, etc.) most often adorn boy clothes; and animals which are seen as cute, sweet and harmless are plastered on pink girl clothes. Aaarrgh. Still it irks me, what if my girl wants to grow up to be an amazing, strong ‘hunter’ type?

Don’t get me wrong, I love pink and am happy for her to wear pink – mostly fuchsia, rather than demure, sweet ‘baby pink’. But she also wears blue and green and even (*gasp*) clothes with lions and monkeys on it – which, by the way, she looves.

She also loves cars, trucks and tractors so we have those around, too. My approach is to follow her lead – give her variety and let her chose. I am not about inverting the stereotypes which some parents seem to want to do: pink and dolls for boys, cars and dinosaurs for girls. Neither do I resonate with gender-neutrality meaning no pink and no blue in the house – only green and yellow for everyone. I think gender neutrality means freedom. It means you can wear pink – you just don’t have to (otherwise you are just replacing one tyranny or bias with another, surely). Above all, I think it is respectful to allow children to find what they like, as unique individuals – regardless of what them being of one sex makes it most likely they will be drawn to or, worse, what society says ‘good girls’ (or strong boys) should be drawn to.

I studied developmental psychology (a life-time ago). I remember that no matter how gender-neutral you make an environment, most girls are drawn to more social play, most boys start rough-and-tumble play early on. I don’t even want to get in the way of that. I think it is fine that our brains and bodies are structured differently… I am a ‘difference feminist’ afterall (as in ‘vive la diference‘) so let us each enjoy and celebrate our differences, as individuals, each our own personal mix of ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ traits, likes and hobbies.

Of course, I am a product of my time and my education… and of my location (I live in San Francisco). We now know that sexuality, for example, is almost completely (if not completely) determined at birth. It is nature not nurture. I think, the more and more I observe little Anya and other babes grow up, that the same goes for so much of their character. So maybe our grandparents believed they could shape a baby, make a girl more girly by putting her in pink or a boy more manly by clothing him in blue… but I don’t think her temperament is mine for the shaping. I think it is hers for the discovering.

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