Awwwww your baby is so sweet – what a cute little boy’.
‘It’s a girl actually’
‘Oh. My. God. I am so sorry. I can’t believe I just said that. Of course, she’s a girl, look at those pretty eyes’ (or insert other female-specific compliments here).
Why do people feel so weird and awkward about confusing the sex of a baby? It’s a baby – they all tend to look generally similar to one another. Some mothers are genuinely offended by the notion that their little strong man could possibly be perceived to have any feminine characteristics. Or that their gentle little princess could also be rough, tough and strong. This is why, from as early as humanly possible, people like to go out of their way to let you know that their baby is either a boy or a girl. If the baby is dressed head to toe in pink, you can probably safely assume it’s a girl, and likewise for a boy being adorned in nothing but blue. And lately, it feels like there isn’t room for anything in-between. There is no room for grey.
Gender-neutral baby clothes used to be everywhere. 30 years ago, no one knew what they were having, so the majority of baby clothes were yellow, white and green. These neutral clothes carefully avoided the supposedly gender-specific pink and blue. Nowadays a lot of people find out what they’re having at the 12-week scan. People like to be organised. I get it.
We are all essentially stereotyped by our gender enough throughout our entire lives and these days it all starts when they’re still in utero! I have a son and a daughter, and a raft of blue and pink clothing to reinforce to society which team they’re on. Heaven forbid they don’t fit into the box that society has reserved for them (pause for sarcastic sigh) *sigh*.
Sure, you can find some company who claims to sell gender-neutral clothing through the internet but the prices are usually extortionate. Why? Because they have obviously identified a need and a massive gap in the market. So there are some bespoke companies that are happy to sell you ‘gender-neutral’ but it’ll cost you.
I was browsing around some shops the other day and a little boy stopped to look at some clothes and his horrified mother shuffled him away as quickly as she could. ‘Those are GIRLS clothes Josh, you don’t want to look at that. Boys don’t like pink.’ Ummmm don’t they? Excuse me but maybe they do? Maybe they love pink? Maybe they love pink so much they want to marry it? Maybe they want to marry it and live together forever on a pink cloud? OK. maybe that’s a bit much, but really, this little boy doesn’t care. He only cares because his mom cares, and she only cares because her parents probably cared, and who knows/remembers why her parents cared, and we all just go on that way without really knowing why.
I was looking at a rain suit (at a used clothing sale) it was awesome, and it was pink. My mom was with me and I said, ‘Oh this is great because the wee man can use it until the little missus grows into it. It’s a nice rain suit and it’s a good size for both of them to use’. My mom said ‘nooooo, come on, you can’t give that to him. It’s pink’. Oh yeah? Well…watch me! I bought it, and he wore it out the next weekend. And guess what? He didn’t care and neither did I. He didn’t care because he’s a kid, and kids don’t care about an adult’s idea of gender. They aren’t self-conscious about anything until we make them self-conscious about it. Just because other people are insecure doesn’t mean my kid can’t have a nice rain suit.
Recently, I read a short but interesting article on the BBC website by Claudia Hammond, called ‘The pink vs blue gender myth.’ The article describes a group bias that was seen in a study where three-to-five-year-olds when they were given red or blue t-shirts to wear at nursery. The red and blue t-shirts were constantly referred to, and by the end of three weeks, the children liked everything about their own colour group better. And that was just after three weeks!
Claudia also points out that you could argue that it doesn’t really matter what colour babies are exposed to the most. Its how they are treated by those around them that creates divisions. There’s one famous study showing that women treated the exact same babies differently depending on whether they were dressed in pink or blue. If the clothes were blue they assumed it was a boy, played more physical games with them and encouraged them to play with a squeaky hammer, whereas they would gently soothe the baby dressed in pink and choose a doll for them to play with.
And can I just add that girl clothes suck. They really do. I feel so overwhelmed when I hit the girl’s section of any shop. Tops that say ‘call my cell phone’ or ‘I love lip-gloss’ or ‘daddy’s little princess’ are everywhere. Leopard print and tiger tights abound. Heels, purses, bikinis (yes bikinis for a 1-year-old) are all readily available. And the pink…oh the never-ending pink! As far as I know, most girls do like other colours. Conversely, in the boy’s section tops usually say things like, ‘genius’ or ‘top dog’, things that are much more positive and complimentary.
The sexualisation of little girls knows no bounds as it seems to start when they are babies. It is scary. And wanna know what the worst part is? We’re so used to it that we don’t even notice it, or see it as an issue. I’m not saying that clothes mean everything, some people might argue that it’s just a top, who cares if it says ‘I’m a beautiful princess’ on it? I get that, and my response would be; we are starting them on a path for the rest of their lives about what is acceptable and what they are capable of, so being a beautiful princess is fine if that’s one thing they are, but just don’t let it be the only thing.
So if you see my son outside in a pink rain suit or my daughter building a Lego tower whilst wearing her AC/DC onsie, please be assured that it’s because they are comfortable with themselves and are choosing to do things that make them happy without being told that they only fit into one category or another.
We will probably never have gender neutrality, maybe it’s not something we should strive for. There are differences between boys and girls, of course, I acknowledge that but regardless of those differences, we are all equal and we are all just trying to find our way in this world. We’re not our gender, we’re not just one thing, we are oh so many wonderful things all wrapped up in one (gender identity included).
I just want my kids to know that they can do anything and not to let their gender define them. If my son chooses to wear a pink shirt, I want him to know that it’s not a girl colour, it’s just a colour, and it’s just a shirt. It does not define him in any way. Equally, if he wants to wear blue every day that’s cool with me. Be yourself and be happy.
There’s loads of room for grey.
– J Lloyd