Since we opted not to find out the sex of our baby we are in the unenviable position of finding 'gender neutral' clothes for newborns. This has left me less than enamoured with the offering of yellow/brown/mint green clothes, and so I have resorted to shopping for boy clothes that I'd dress a little girl in (because 'gasp' I think that girls can wear blue too). And this is where my real issue comes to light - not the lack of 'gender neutral' clothes, but what constitutes gender appropriateness.
When you walk into the clothing section of any baby store you will likely see a very clear divide. For newborns it's pale pink on one side, pale blue on the other. End of story. Then when babies are a little older, you are allowed to dress the girls in fuschia, purple and brighter shades. Boys are now permitted to wear dark blues, browns, red and oranges. Your options are expanding rapidly! But good luck trying to find an article of clothing not adorned with either a truck, football or catcher's mitt for boys, or hearts, flowers or crowns for girls. Your little son is 'daddy's little MVP' goshdarnit, and your daughter surely is a 'princess', or even better, a 'diva.' Might as well embrace it for it has been written.
There are surely clear genetic differences between the two sexes, and there is no shame in celebrating them. However, you don't have to look very far to see where certain aspects of our adopted gender roles break down and can create problems down the line. How many people struggle with self-image when they don't fit into the roles prescribed for them? How many are belittled and bullied because they don't fit in a box? I cringe everytime I hear the term 'ballsy' used to describe courage and gumption - suggesting that men have a monopoly on these characteristics. Furthermore, I am weary of the stigma that surrounds a little boy who shows interests in anything 'effeminate' (read this article http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/ct-talk-deardorff-halloween-1026-20101026,0,7874609.column for more insight).
My sister, Kristi, introduced me to an author (and friend of hers) Shauna Niequist. I'd like to share this excerpt from her book Bittersweet:
"My friends Brannon and Chris have a little girl named Emme, and before she was born, Brannon and Chris declared their house a princess-free zone. There could be pink, there could be dresses and lace and babies galore, but no tiaras, no wands, and no princes coming to rescue any little princesses.
I love this. I think maybe we should all live in a princess-free zone. I think the current cultural messaging that tells women it’s attractive to play dumb and fragile and hope that they’re saved by their beauty is incredibly destructive.
I’m not anti-feminine. I operate, in many ways, within squarely traditional gender roles. I love to cook, I hate to drive, and I’m terrible with technology of all kinds. I fit squarely within the stereotypes, and then also not, largely because I was raised by a strong leader who recognized aspects of himself in me. I wasn’t raised to play dumb, or play cute, or play princess. I learned to work hard, to develop my skills, to contribute on a team and in society, and it drives me bonkers when women depend instead on their sexuality or their fragility. I think there’s a better way."
There is a better way, indeed. For all of us. Instead of trying so hard to make a square peg fit in a round hole, let's take another look at the pigeonholes to begin with. Starting with baby clothes.