Sunday, November 7, 2010

Baby clothes and gender roles...

If you are looking for some insight into where our socialization into gender roles begins, look no further than the baby clothes aisle.

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,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.


Ann-Marie said...

I am so with you on this, Sheri. Though I'm not shopping for baby clothes for David and me, we have seven nieces and nephews for whom we've (read: I've) struggled to find non-princess or non-boy clothes. I hate the thought of a girl being raised to believe she's a princess or, as you mentioned, a diva. Good grief. And making a boy feel that, if he doesn't like trucks and sports, he's not masculine? Such a load of crap.

Bravo to you for thinking outside the gender boxes. And good luck in your search for clothing that is not gender-specific to a fault.

Anonymous said...

I knew we were roommates for a reason.

Yes, It is VERY hard to ignore the princess drama and I have tried really hard...yet to no avail. ugh. I went as far as to stop the Disney princess crap before it started but it is difficult. Lindy wants to pick every pink book in the library...guess what they are? PRINCESS books.

Can't WAIT to hear about your little baby!

Nicole said...

Right on, Sheri! I have done much eye rolling while shopping for my daughter and other children--why may our kids not embrace every color of the rainbow? Oh and as far as your plan goes, of buying boyish clothes that you would put on a girl as well, I think Baby Gap has good options (pricey stuff, but stuff goes on sale pretty quickly). On that note, I couldn't help myself: How cute is this???
Anyways, what were we talking about? Oh yes, princess stuff. Our home won't be a "princess free zone" because I'm not going to prescribe what grandparents and other loved ones may or may not purchase for Lucie, but the princess gear will not come from us. I don't have the best feelings about it (I mean what is a princess but one born into or married into privilege?), but I don't see the harm in letting others play it up for her from time to time. And she can decide for herself what she likes when she's older.
I was expressing similar thoughts to what you've written here to my aunt a couple of weeks ago, and I started to feel like I was coming across a little neurotic, so I apologized for "overthinking things" and she told me it's much better than not thinking at all. So kudos to you for thinking about it! :)

Stacy said...

Sheri - I know exactly where you are coming from! Our sweet 30 month old daughter does not yet own a Barbie or really anything "princess-y". She has one hand-me-down princess shirt, has been given some princess stickers, and her vitamins are in the shape of princesses. She LOVES Thomas the train, her matchbox cars, Caillou, and Dora. We've given her CHOICES and these are decisions she's made herself. If she'd have chosen Barbies and princesses, she would have those. You will run into a lot of people who won't support you, but in the end, you are MOM and you know your gut feeling.
To find more neutral clothes (don't get me wrong - she LOVES pink and purple, tutus and shiny shoes) look in baby boutiques, not the chain, big box stores. I've found a lot of fantastic boy clothes (for my nephews) in these one-of a kind, family run stores. Good luck with everything, and here's another interesting read:

Anonymous said...

I'm with you girl. It's not a fun thing and pretty hard to avoid but you can do it! H&M has some great solid items for both genders and really . . . just throw the babe in a white onesie and call it a day. We've managed (with hard work) to not have Sanne obsessed with princesses (I'm not a fan of the idea of weak female characters or the idea of entitlement) but like with anything in parenting there is always a balance.
: )

Anonymous said...

One more thing:

A friend who grew up in Sweden had parents who really wanted him to lead a gender neutral childhood. So they gave him both boy and girl toys. One day his mother looked out her window to see him using his stroller as a dump truck. : )

Sarah said...

Totally in agreement. I couldn't stand a majority of the things offered for boys or girls. It seemed like everything had a truck or an animal or just some cheesy phrase on it. I found that Baby Gap does have some decent stuff that you can often get WAY on sale after it's been out for a while (stripes, etc.) and also really have liked H&M (like Barbara said) and American Apparel is good too. Sawyer wears his American Apparel black karate sweat pants about every day and the plain tops they have. I'd rather him look plain and simple personally.

Also, I plan on getting him a set of play food and a doll of some sort for Christmas. Men take care of kids these days...might as well get comfortable with it from their childhood, right? :)

Professor J said...

Sheri-- as you know, I totally agree. :) I love this perspective! As for the author you quoted, I would challenge her in one respect. She noted that she hates when women depend on their sexuality or use it to get by. Instead, I would say that I am disappointed in a society that has taught women it is the best, quickest, and most efficient way to get what is not available with real gumption, intelligence and savvy. We are too good at blaming the victim in our society! Perhaps some women choose this avenue because they have been shown that it is the only option-- my goal is to provide women with more choices, and ask men to work with us to stop that cycle. Its not all on the women! I agree with much of her sentiment, and if I ever have a little girl, we will also have a "no princess" home. :)