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Sunday
Sep062009

Pink, feminism and gender cues 

When helping my children to make choices, I find myself motivated by several things. Things that often tug my reasoning in wildly different directions. Things that may make me say one thing, when I wish I'd said another. Things that make me mad at society for being so petty, so cruel, so stupid.

  1. I want my children to learn to make good decisions themselves

  2. I don't want their decisions to be guided or constrained by predefined ideas about gender (or other things, but gender is the most important to this post)

  3. I don't want them to make decisions that will result in them being made fun of or bullied

  4. I want them to express themselves freely


The conflict in those goals often manifests itself in the colour pink and its friends: pink flowers, pink hearts, pink teddy bears, and the like.

Both of my kids like pink.

If she always got to choose her own clothes my daughter would generally look like something that exploded out of a cotton candy machine and then rolled in pink sparkles. Purple is okay too, but the girlier it is, the better. When she wants to pick out the latest sparkly pink Dora sneakers at the store or buy a head to toe pink outfit, I find myself wanting to encourage her to make her own decisions and express herself. But at the same time I want to scream "but you don't have to wear pink sparkly stuff just because you are a girl!". We have held onto some of her brother's clothes for her to wear and she does, but she shows a clear preference for the girly stuff.

My son likes pink too. I think society has already gotten to him because he knows the difference between boys clothes and girls clothes. We do buy him pink shirts when they are available in the boys section (e.g. pink polo shirt from Old Navy), but I have found myself wanting to curb his interest in girl stuff in the past out of a fear of him being made fun of. I remember him wanting pink rubber boots at one point and gently guiding him towards the really nice blue ones that he eventually chose. Yesterday he was wearing his sister's pink flowery hat in the car when we were on the way to the park and if he had wanted to wear it to the park (where we didn't know anyone) I would have let him. But if he had wanted to wear it to school, I probably would have tried to convince him not to. Because it could permanently change how he is seen and treated by his peers.

The clothes they wear, the length of their hair, the toys that they play with are all strong gender cues. "Appropriate" gender cues hold people girls back. "Appropriate" gender cues help people boys be accepted. Yes. I think that is in a nutshell what society has taught me and why I am motivated to guide my children's decisions on their external appearance in ways I am not entirely comfortable with. But on the inside, I feel less conflict. I have no issues trying to raise my daughter to be self-assured and confident, while wanting to teach my son to be sensitive and caring.

I want my children to be themselves. I want my children to fit in. I want my children to reject preconceived gender cues.  And all of those things tug at me when we're in a store looking at something pink.

And yes, in admitting this, I feel like I suck at being a feminist. I thought I'd better say it myself before everyone else says it for me.

Related Posts:

Image credit: Zoe Favole on flickr
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Reader Comments (97)

My daughter is only ten months old, so her favourite thing to wear is still mostly food stuffs. But my three year old son will happily choose the pink cup to drink out of and pick the sparkly tiara and pretty tutu to wear during dress up play. I'm with you -- I try to gently encourage more gender appropriate choices for his own protection. But I think that's alright, too. It's not entirely fair to send a boy to school with no sense of gender roles, be they for better or worse, I don't think. Isn't it better for him to learn about gender roles from you than be blindsided in the school yard? And is a young boy's attraction to pink really a reflection of his personal tastes any more than a girl's yearning for all that is plastic and princess? I don't think so. Kids are still learning what they like and who they are, they still need guidance.

My son always seems to grab for the pink sparkly shoes in stores too. Eh, I just tell him they're for girls. I am comfortable enough in my status as a feminist that it doesn't bother me to say it. There are so many bigger things to worry about. (Not to criticize your post -- I enjoyed it). I admit it's not always so cut and dry, though. We were in a store a few weeks ago and he saw a toy stroller and doll and was pushing it around like it was the neatest thing he'd ever seen. Would I have bought it for him if he were a girl? I'd like to say no, because I feel like I'm equally content with him playing with dolls as if he were a girl, but it's possible that I'd react differently for a daughter wanting dolls. Afterall, I sprung for outdoor plastic trucks when he was playing with those in a store earlier this summer. Your post reminded me of a funny moment for my husband and I. When my son was only a month or two old, we were invited to a 3 year old's birthday party. We sat in the corner, me nursing our newborn, and observing the general mayhem -- screaming, running, raucous fun, when a boy came over and handed my husband a sippy cup to hold, then ran on. My husband turned to me and said: "I'm holding a sippy cup for a boy in a pink tutu." And we thought, "welcome to parenthood." :)

September 6, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLynn

"'Appropriate' gender cues hold people girls back. 'Appropriate' gender cues help people boys be accepted."

Wow. How true. Hadn't thought about it that way, but it's true.

I have no kids (but my 6-year-old niece just asked us why the boy cat has a bow on his collar... which we did get him because, as my husband put it, that cat "is a nancy boy"), but I can appreciate that this is a difficult situation for you. You want them to be free to be themselves, but society is not ready to accept them for who they are, because society still lives by the rules of gender roles. In a way, it's "safer" for girls to challenge gender roles than for boys (girls can be tomboys and still be "cool," but if a boy is not "manly" he's not going to fit in and be accepted by his peers).

September 6, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCriss

I have two girls and a boy and feel your pain! For me it is more with the pink princess explosion that is force fed at my girls from every direction. I think for me the pressure if harder for me where they are concerned because not only does pink and all that comes with it hold girls back it makes the entire focus of being a girl l be "looking pretty". Really, we have made this little progress? I don't discount that boys are not exactly invited to explore the feminine side, but I at least appreciate the boy world is not 100% about clothes and batting eyelashes. I'd love to hear more of your thoughts as you go down this road...

September 6, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMaria

This is pretty scary for me! Right now my son is 2.5 years old, and he takes his doll stroller everywhere, and loves walking around in my high heeled shoes wearing my purse. He also plays with balls and trains and other "boyish" stuff, but we don't limit his choices at all. But in a year or two, this will probably no longer be okay with his peers, and we'll have to start thinking about the choices you are discussing. I don't feel ready for this!!!

September 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterChanna

Gosh, I agree so much with this. My little girl is quite a pink and frilly girl too and I wonder how much of that is choice and how much is influences since pink! and frilly! are foisted upon little girls from every direction. We went to buy her shoes a few months ago and left Clarks in disgust because the only shoes they did that would fit her (almost square) feet were pink. I want her to have sensible shoes that aren't going to be filthy in five minutes - she's two for heaven's sake - and pink is not that.

Also just to touch on what Lynn said, my son also went mad for a doll's stroller and got one for his christmas two years ago which he and my daughter fight over constantly. I'm really not sure where I stand on that one either.

September 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterVonnie

It rings so true. My nephew loved the flowers under my daughter's shoes and it took his mum some guiding to get him to pick boyish shoes instead, because as aware of gendering as we are, we don't want the boy to be picked on. And I can't bear to think of the fairy/princess phase that my girl is bound to go through at some stage. At least for now, she equally enjoys playing with dolls and with dinosaurs/construction toys, thanks to her spending a lot of time with her cousin.

September 7, 2009 | Unregistered Commentercartside

Personally, I would have no qualms about getting a stroller/doll for my son. Well...maybe a sling would be better. My husband is a SAHD and if I refused to get my son a stroller/doll because he was a boy, what would that be telling him about his father?

September 7, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Yes. That is what I am afraid of. People calling my son a nancy boy. I wish that didn't happen.

September 7, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

You say it, sister! I blogged about this issue (in a different way) a couple years ago:
http://bit.ly/48YYbb

And yesterday's post was similar, too:
http://bit.ly/XR7fe

(Not trying to hijack you blog!) The reason I linked those posts is because they sum up my feelings about the whole thing, too. It becomes very apparent how stuck on gender the world really is when you've got kids trying to form their own identities...

September 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJackiYo

I find it a bit disturbing that we don't want our boys playing with 'girly' things because they will be made fun of, but we also don't want our girls playing with 'girly' things because of the 'message' it sends. While I'm sick of the wall-to-wall pink and bows that is foisted upon girls as well, I think even more damaging than pink is steering our children away from things traditionally associated with females (cooking, cleaning, babies, etc..). This reinforces the idea that 'feminine' things are BAD and not as worthy of attention and respect as more traditionally masculine activities and traits, like science and sports and being daring.

Now, I know that what most of us are trying to do is get our girls to realise that they can do and be whatever they want and to help them reach their full potential, and for our boys to be protected from social ridicule, but it still doesn't sit well with me, even when I am guilty of doing it myself! When we start preventing our sons from wearing tutus in public and express great disapproval at our daughters playing with dolls or a kitchen, aren't we sending the message that the feminine (as defined and expressed in modern society) is 'less than' and something to be embarrassed about, and that the jobs associated with mothering (cooking, caring for babies, etc..) aren't worth as much as those in more 'masculine' fields like engineering, math, finance, etc..?

This is a subject I think about a lot and still struggle to come to terms with so thanks for opening up an intelligent, honest discussion about it, Annie.

September 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterNoble Savage

Noble Savage:

With regards to my daughter, I don't really try to steer her away from things (be they toys, clothes, whatever) that are typically "feminine", but I do try to show her that there are other options available too and I do get concerned if she starts to express ideas that girls must wear pink or girls can't do XYZ.

With regards to my son, I support his play and pretend activities that involve him taking on more traditionally feminine roles. I gave him my old play kitchen as a Christmas a few years ago. He also helps my husband with the house work. I also explained to him when talking about marriage recently that he can marry a woman or a man. My concern for him is more with regards to outwards appearances in public and how people would react to him wearing a pink hat, dressing up as a princess for Halloween, or things like that. I struggle with how to explain that to him though in a way that doesn't make it seem like it is wrong or worth less, because I don't believe that is true, but I just want to protect him from being bullied or judged.

September 7, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Annie, this is interesting stuff. I've been fomenting what is likely to be a long post about how being pregnant has changed my ambivilence about my femininity and about how almost all of my new daughter's hand me down and gifted clothes are PINK. It's wild. I'm in agreement with Noble Savage on not wanting to devalue the work that is considered feminine in our culture, and it is easier to deal with, having a daughter. If we have another, my husband hopes for a son, and then things will get more complicated, especialy as my husband's South American definition of masculinity is so different from mine. Whee!

September 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCaroLyn

I am pretty frank with my kids in that I think WAY too many princesses are weak and ineffectual. This old, old article in the NY Times sums up why I am so disgusted with Disney and its endless onslaught on my innocent babes. http://www.nytimes.com/2006/12/24/magazine/24princess.t.html?_r=1 I am afraid to even begin on how irritated I am with the Pink Princess crap. I would hate to take over your comments section.

My son also likes pink - he simply likes the warm colors, red, orange and yes, pink. When he wants to do or wear gender "inappropriate" things, I tell him that he can if wants, but that he needs to be aware that other boys may make fun of him. I HATE doing that, because don't we all just want our children to express themselves however they want to? But I feel it is only fair to warn him that other boys may not agree. Sigh. And I was really ticked when someone pulled a Billy Elliot on him and told him that "boys don't do ballet."

September 7, 2009 | Unregistered Commentercagey

This is just a thought that percolated while reading, and I'm not arguing the position but simply asking the question: Is it possible that being made fun of and bullied is a different internal experience for boys and girls? Harmonious relationships typically seem to be more endemically important to girls, while many boys have no trouble using conflict and competition as socialization tools.

I wonder if mothers who were bullied and isolated (like myself) might also overreact to the possibility of it happening to our children. My bullying experiences taught me things I never would have discovered about myself otherwise, I believe. Perhaps it's better to let the kids be 100% themselves and then help them deal with the fallout in a way that will help them find security within themselves rather than societal acceptance. Maybe my childhood would have been happier without the bullying, but would my adulthood have been as fulfilled? I'll probably never know. But it seems to me that over-worrying about bullying may lead our kids to depend too much on societal approval rather than approval from self first.

As I say, just thinking out loud. I welcome thoughts & responses from any of you.

September 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAndi

I just laughed a little because I *just* painted my girls' room (which needed new paint after fixing some walls) pink at the older one's request. But it's really, really light pink (mostly so I don't have to look at Pepto-Bismol walls). I have two girls but the same thoughts ran through my head. Newly-four is a great age... she talks about how we came from apes and what happens when things die and yet can't wrap her head around how if someone has long hair, they might not be a girl. Or if someone is bigger, they are older. No exceptions.

September 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJill

We are due to have our first baby in a couple of months. We don't know what we are having (for this very reason rather than the surprise of it all). As an idealist, I often imagine that I'll be able to avoid teaching my kids about the gender roles they should adopt. As our due date approaches, however, we are finding out just how much that mindset differs from society at large. We have already been given beautiful unused yellow 'hand me downs' because a mom refused to put her son in anything gender neutral and we were the only ones she had encountered 'who didn't know what they were having'. We've been told to wait on the playard until we know if it should be for a boy or girl. Same goes for blankets, toys, diaper covers, wall coverings and so much more. Turns out yellow and green, two beautiful and calm colours, are only the holdover until you can use the real colours of childhood - pink and blue.

September 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAccidental Pharmacist

Personally I love pink. I love it because it is bright and cheerful. I think it is one of the fun colours. If other colours were as fun I would like them as much. My daughter wears pink but she is just as happy to wear anything else. She will wear dresses but will also wear pants and shorts. She doesn't seem to care too much yeat about "being a girl". I like that.

I think if boys clothes and boys dress up clothes were as fun as girl clothes then maybe less boys would want to wear their sister's things. I think I will be okay with my son playing dress up in my daughter's clothes, but as other commenters said I probably wouldn't let him wear it to school.

My goal is to find fun things he can wear. So he can express himself through his clothes as much as his sister does. I already bought him an black and silver cape for when he is older. I am sure his sister will want to borrow it.

September 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCapital Mom

The longer I'm alive, the more I realize that everything for sale has a gender, and that as parents, we are pushed to accept these gender roles. And like you, I hate every minute of it, because I'm trying to do the best I can for my kids, and let my girls know that they are not their clothes. But then, two weeks ago, something really interesting happened. We were buying school clothes, and in the girls dept (my daughter is 6) there were two long racks of fashion bras. These are not training bras, like my generation knew. They are fashion bras, that give the impression of breasts...for girls who will not have real breasts for many years. As we walked to the fitting room, my daughter watched another mother hold up one of these bras to her 5-year-old, who was squirming around the aisle, and say, "isn't this cute?" and she looked at me. I was afraid she'd say, "Mom, I want one of those bras." Instead, she said, "They look uncomfortable." I wasn't sure if she was talking about the bras, or the mother and daughter, but I know both made ME uncomfortable.
The sad fact is: I know several girls in her class will probably have these items, and will push out their little padded chests in an attempt to bully my child into feeling asexual, ugly, and unworthy. At age six.

And p.s.: you do not suck at being a feminist. You are awesome to share this. You are not alone.

September 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAmy

I love pink too, and I love dressing my daughter is dresses and frilly clothes. And she humors me by being extremely girly. However, I had to laugh when we went grocery shopping one day and she insisted on bringing her sparkly purple purse, but then filled it with diecast John Deere tractors.

I'm really okay with the pink and the baby dolls for her and the blocks and the trucks for my son, as long as they understand that, as you put it, girls and boys can do things equally. And I remember bristling when my son put on a pair of pink dress up heels and my FIl told him, "those are for girls." He was 4 at the time and he just thought they were cool shoes, if he wants to clomp around the house in heels, he can!

Since I have one of each, we have both kinds of toys, and it does strike me how differently they play with the toys without any direction. My daughter actually pushes her dolls in her stroller and bosses them about leaving their hats on, while my son fills the stroller with blocks and pretends it's a dump truck. My son actually builds tracks for his trains and plays with them, while my daughter lays the trains on the couch, covers them with a blanket and then shushes us because the trains are "napping." How much of that comes naturally and how much comes from unintentionally being treated differently, I have no idea.

September 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKayris

I definitely face this question with my kids. I have no insights to add... but just that I consider myself a strong feminist, yet I cringe when my son asks me if he can wear a dress. As much as I would like to change society to eliminate gender profiling, as a Mom, I my desire to proect my child from society's mean/bullying/backlash is stronger than my desire for change. At least at this point when my kids are so young and fragile with their feelings and self esteem!

September 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAlina

It's crazy how it starts right from birth - or before! When people ask, "Are you finding out the gender?" .. "No? How will you know what to buy?!"

September 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJackiYo

Noble Savage,
I see what you're saying, and we do run the risk, while making sure girls aren't "pigeon-holed" into traditional gender roles, of oppressing them by making them feel pink and "girly" things/activities/jobs are "not good enough." However, like PhdinParenting said, I think the specific issue addressed here is DRESSING "like a girl" (in pink, with frilly hats and flowers on his shoes). We can encourage boys to DO traditionally "girly" things: play with kitchen sets, help out in the garden, etc.

September 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCriss

Another good point.

I think age plays a big part. In the later elementary ages, and definitely in middle and high school, we should give children the tools to combat peer pressure and bullying on their own, but in the earlier ages, I don't know if the kids being bullied or the ones doing the bullying understand enough about themselves to process the situation...

Then again, younger kids haven't been taught gender roles as strongly yet, so it might be easier to challenge tradition then.

(Again, I'm not a parent yet, so I have no personal experience to share... just enjoying the conversation and intellectual stimulation!)

September 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCriss

My son is only 2 months old, so I still have some time to worry about this. He doesn't have any pink clothes, but he does have some pink diapers (we use cloth diapers) that I bought because they were on clearance and that was the only color left, lol. I figured pooping in pink diapers is ok.

The story I always think of is this - I took a Psychology of Gender class in college that was really interesting, our textbook was written by this woman who.... I don't agree with some of her parenting techniques. (The professor thought she was a bit of a nut too.) Anyway the story in the text was this. She and her husband always taught both children that boys have a penis and girls have a vagina, and that's the only difference between them. When her son was in kindergarten he really liked wearing barrettes in his hair, and he wanted to wear them to school, so she let him. She gets a phone call from the principal saying she needs to come to the school to speak with them. Apparently one of the other kids goes, "You're wearing barettes, that means you're a girl." And the author's boy said, "No I'm not, I have a penis." and took of his pants to show everyone that he really was a boy.

Obviously this is kindergarten, but I always wonder what happened to that boy as he got older. It sounds great on people to not teach our children society's artificial gender rules, but if we don't at least let them know that they exist then we're doing them a disservice in my opinion.

September 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterZellion

Agreed. I like the "boy have a penis and girls have a vagina and that's the only real difference" (even though that's too simplistic because it doesn't take into consideration trans issues...) but at the same time, take the time to explain the assumptions others might make based on traditional gender roles and what boys and girls "should" do. As Andi said, give them the tools they'll need to deal with the ignorance/stereotyping/bullying they are likely to encounter.

September 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCriss

My boy (I have only the one child) is the same with pink, & I'm the same with him in regard to pink as you've been. We bought t-shirts specifically for the purpose of painting them & he was insistant on a pink one. I had to get a girl's shirt in pink since there were no pink boy's shirts available.

With my gentle encouragement (as with you, much to my shame & internal conflict) he doesn't lean so much toward pink anymore. Even when explaining it to him, I tried to be fair. I didn't say, 'Pink is for girls', I said something about how girls sometimes like to wear pink. *sigh*

Also, at one point (unrelated to the occasional desire for pink things), he chose to have his hair longer. I had no issue with this. He has the most lovely blond hair, so with more of it, the blond really stood out. My Mum (in one particularly horrid, seemingly never-ending, thinly-veiled judgemental phone call) asked me why I had a problem with male role-modelling for him. Because of his longer hair. Oh. My. God. The frustration from that particular phone call made me feel as though I was going to explode.

September 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCoralie

You know what's funny? The other day we were at my parents and my son wanted to wear my daughter's skirt. He put it on and this boy has NEVER been told he can't wear whatever. I put elastics/barettes in his hair when he asks for example - he's never gone out with it because he takes them out, but i'm not going to say "you can't do that cause you're a boy". Having said that we were trying to get him to take it off so we could actually dress my daughter... and my dad came up the stairs and my son heard him. He RUSHED the skirt off. RUSHED. But in front of his mom, his grandmother and his sister -- he had NO issue clowning around with the skirt on. The fact that his grandfather nearly saw him made him CRAZY rush to take it off.

Where does that come from? Society dictates so much -- but I think that the boy/girl thing is really really deeper than I'll ever come close to understanding!!!

September 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAnnie

Like you, my daughter wants to roll in pink sparkles. She has decided that when she grows up she wants to be can can dancer because of their frilly skirts and the feathers in their hair. She has an intense and abiding love for the Disney princesses. The girlier the better, as far as she is concerned.

I am not so comfortable with this, and I do place some limits on it. I don't allow her to wear clothing with licensed characters on it, for example. But at 4 1/2 years old there's little I can do to change her preferences. If I insist on buying gender neutral clothes she won't wear them, or at minimum there will be much in the way of histrionics. So I have given in and I let her choose her own clothes within reason.

I remember being a little girl and loving the same things my daughter now loves. And I grew to be an accomplished woman, an engineer, and a feminist. I believe that at the end of the day my example will be more important to her than the clothes she wears. At least I hope so, because I'm just so not up for the constant battle to change her mind.

September 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAmber

Yes. It is tough for girls when it seems like the whole world is about looking pretty. Especially when that means that they are valued for their looks instead of their brains. Or not valued at all and looked over because they are not pretty.

September 7, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Andi:

I'm not entirely unbiased on that issue because I was bullied and I would do anything to spare my children from being bullied. I know boys that were bullied too and would not wish it on anyone else.

Perhaps it is true that men can disagree or fight with each other and kiss and make up more easily and that is fine if it goes two ways. But when a bunch of kids gang up on one kid, I don't think that is healthy at all, regardless of whether you are a girl or a boy. I think that type of ganging up tends to happen when one child stands out as being different.

I think if we could fast forward to university, it would be okay to let our kids be 100% themselves and not worry about the fallout. But elementary school and high school can be cruel places where being different is often considered wrong. Sad, but true.

September 7, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Wow. It is worse than I thought. Yikes. We had lots of yellows and greens for our babies and also lots of gender neutral looking blues, reds, etc.

I never in a million years thought of waiting until we knew the gender to get things like a play yard, blankets, wall coverings, etc. We went with an animal theme for a lot of the baby stuff because we figured that would work either way.

September 7, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Unbelievable.

September 7, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Coming from someone who was TORTURED in school, I think it is completely valid to feel torn between not wanting to reinforce gender roles that are outdated and damaging, and wanting to ensure that your children aren't targets for bullying.

Feminism is vast and complicated. It's important. But it isn't the whole of parenting. The key is to balance those tugs you are talking about. Identify and discuss gender roles and their inherent flaws with your children when you can, eventually you'll find that they are spotting ones you hadn't noticed. (My fourteen year old raging feminist son does this to me ALL THE TIME.)

Simply making them aware of those conflicting messages does them a huge service in their growth and development.

(reposted from facebook as requested :) )

September 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterStefanie Sasinek-Roil

There is actually a Swedish family with a 2 year old and they haven't told anyone the child's gender (other than people that change diapers). They are expecting again and plan to keep that child's gender a secret too.

You can read more about it here: http://www.thelocal.se/20232/20090623/

September 7, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Your friends must be really wealthy. Do they expect you to buy everything all new if after this baby, you have another child of the opposite gender?

September 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterChanna

My oldest son LOVED pink for a while. I hated walking that tight rope between wanting him to be himself, and fear that he would be bullied for being the boy with long hair and pink clothes. I hate, hate, hate that our society causes so much angst over a color. A freaking color!

September 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSummer

It is bad out there. We found out that we were having a boy, but then didn't tell anyone because we wanted as much gender neutral stuff as possible. We didn't have a family shower for many reasons, but the primary one was that people were upset that they didn't know if they were supposed to buy pink or blue. We painted our nursery yellow and decorated it with muted primary polka dots. We told people to only buy yellow or green. Our friends listened, but most of our family just decided to wait and then got us blue stuff after the baby was born.

September 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDon't Pat the Belly

Our DS is 4 mos old and I'm already annoyed with color association and gender roles. He has some blue clothes, but he also has a pink polo shirt that matches one my husband has. He mostly wears overalls and shirts of many colors--an outfit that I would put on a girl as well. We didn't buy any gendered toys, or a gendered carseat or stroller or pack n' play. I took me forever to find green and yellow MAM pacifiers because even pacifiers only come primarily in pink and blue. The other day my MIL noted that it was good thing he went to daycare with mostly boys (he's in an in home with 6 kids--3 other boys and 2 girls) so that he would get to play with other boys and have "boy" toys. Clearly, she thinks we are warping him at home and that he needs to indocrtinated at daycare. Apparently keeping his gender a secret before he was born has labeled us as trying to turn him into a girl with many family members.

September 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDon't Pat the Belly

I can't say I don't worry about the fallout--my childhood must have been at least as difficult for my mom as it was for me, if not moreso. But she encouraged me to believe in myself and not see myself through the other kids' eyes. I guess I had enough innate arrogance underneath my shy exterior to believe I was "right" and they were "wrong" (to simplify the complexities for brevity's sake). Would that every child could have such inner surety when they need it!

Perhaps I'm being overly idealistic, too...but I was made fun of even though I looked no different than any of the other kids. It was an intangible inner difference that made me singled out, and I'm still not sure why other kids responded to me the way they did. I guess the upshot is that we are all "different" in some way; fear of being made fun of is one of the ways that kids learn to squelch their true nature and conform to society's expectations. I find that a depressing and even revolting truth, and I hope I can teach my kids to be proud of who they are, no matter what anyone else thinks...because even if we get them to "dress right," they still might have to deal with scorn and bullying. Sad, but true.

September 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAndi

[...] thought about how the color pink affects gender cues? PhD in Parenting makes some interesting [...]

September 8, 2009 | Unregistered Commenter» Environmentally Friend

Hi! We loved your post over at KiwiLog and decided to feature it as part of our weekly mom blog round-up. Thanks!

September 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKiwiLog

Nice to know that my son is not alone in his love of all things princess. We are still struggling with the same thing - we have no problems letting him play with his princesses in the house, play on the Disney Princess website (he likes to pick their outfits!), put on a pink towel on his head and say he's a princess, or even watch the occasional princess movie. But we're also trying to keep his love of princesses in the house. (Happily, he has not requested tutus or tiaras for dress-up.)

We are also intrigued by the way he plays with these "girly" toys - they went through a period of hitting each other and have been known to drive trains and fly rockets. These are not girly princesses!

September 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca

I only have my daughter, but I do make sure she gets a variety of colors to wear and sees me wearing a variety of colors. I actually pride myself in being able to find blue and orange for her to wear. We also try to buy a lot of "gender-neutral" things because someday we'll have another. We didn't know what she was going to be before she was born so our newborn stuff is all gender neutral. I really like that. I remember the first time I put something pink and frilly on her- and I thought she was more feminine in green and yellow.

One concept I read about this year was how we associate primary and bold colors with boys and pastels with girls- it's really something that can't be avoided- 5 year olds "know" which toy aisle is "theirs". Then when kids go to school, the school room is usually decorated in bold primary colors- what message does that send as to who belongs in school and who should be learning?

September 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTopHat

We didn't find out and took hand-me-downs from anyone who offered them. This kept us from having a single colour for our daughter to wear. I didn't end up with anything that was for the "wrong" sex nor did I buy duplicates of anything we'd received already. She was a baby, we had baby clothes and baby toys and all worked out.

September 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMom on the Go

Fortunately my husband has very long hair and has had for the last 15+ years. So he's actually already discussing with me how he wants to grow our son's hair long!

I told him that we will let the boy grow his hair however he wants when he's old enough to take care of it himself, but I'm not having a 2 year old with beautiful flowing locks that he keeps rubbing food into and that I constantly have to brush tangles out of! Or if he fights me on bathing and washing hair etc.

September 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterZellion

Oh this reminded me- I worked at a school when I was pregnant with my DD. We didn't know her gender until she was born, but of course people still asked. Real conversation in the breakroom:

"What are you having?"
"We don't know. We're waiting to find out."
"... How can you be so selfish like that and not let us know?!"

The lady who thought I was being selfish was a teacher I had never talked to before that day. Yep. I'm selfish here.

September 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTopHat

I deal with this a lot with my daughter. Shortly after starting kindergarten she started saying that some things were just for boys to do and some things just for girls. We'd managed to avoid that part of gender distinctions before. Very frustrating.

She's in second grade now and we're steadily breaking that down for her. Fortunately, while she went through the heavy duty princess phase, her fashion sense is unashamedly eclectic. She dresses like a little kid, often in skirts, but she gets to keep being a child.

My son went through a phase of liking "girl's" stuff too. It didn't bug me but it drove my husband nuts when my son ran around wearing his big sister's Cinderella dress for days on end at two years old. I just kept reminding him that two year olds don't need to care about that stuff.

They both follow current tradition in their color preferences, blue for him, pink for her. I just sigh and deal with it, and make sure they have a lot of things in other colors available.

My husband and I are determined that both will learn to do laundry, cook, do basic household repairs and so forth. We encourage both strongly in math and science, as well as in helping care for their baby sister. They're both starting a karate class this week. Overall I'm trusting to things like that to teach them that they aren't limited by gender and hopefully to not expect others to be limited that way.

September 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterStephanie

It's such a struggle isn't it? "I want my children to be themselves. I want my children to fit in. I want my children to reject preconceived gender cues." We want our kids to have the maturity of a grown up in some ways when we want these things. We want them not to have to go through all the rough things we went through as kids, but unfortunately it's practically impossible to avoid all these lessons they will have to learn for themselves. I cringe when I imagine hearing about my daughter's first true peer rejection. Makes me almost want to dress her all in pink, not take no for an answer and buy her a Hannah Montana backpack. Almost, but not quite.
It's funny we have been thinking about these same things lately.

September 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMelodie

I think about this kind of thing a lot. Often we will take my son (almost 5) and my daughter (just turned a year) on walks and my son will decide to take his dolls along in a carrier or in their stroller. People often stop and comment. It bugs me - I mean I know he is cute and all but - no one will stop and comment when my daughter does the same thing in a few years. And yes, I am aware of it when he is doing this somewhere that we are going to be with other kids his age. I love that he loves his dolls and he even sleeps with one - but I do not want him to be made fun of. And I equally do not want him to turn away from such things because they are "girl" things. When we went to buy him a new bike helmet the other day he took one look at the pink ones and said "I don't like girl ones." I was devastated.

September 9, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterUpstatemomof3

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