It's official: I am becoming my mother.
Okay, let's back up. A while back, I started taking ice skating lessons. Or rather, re-started. When I was in elementary school I was a half-decent figure skater, but then I stopped when I was about eleven. I was 4'9". Now I'm 5'9". So I thought I would re-learn some of the skills now that I'm a lot farther from the ground than before.
Anyway, one day I was at the ice rink lacing up my skates, observing a group of young parents and their group of young skaters and their siblings; about ten children, mostly girls, maybe ages 2 - 5. Every single girl was wearing something pink. I counted. At least one article of clothing each, but in some cases a lot more. Pink shoes, pink scarves, pink jackets, pink gloves. Jeans with pink-themed embroidery and appliqués. Pink barrettes. All of them.
Why? Are they afraid people won't know they're girls? Or, the more likely explanation--pink is hard to avoid when you're buying girls' clothing.
I don't have anything against pink itself. It's an inherently nice color, one that occurs in nature in the form of beautiful cherry blossoms, seashells and birds' feathers, not to mention all of our own bodies' mucus membranes (okay, maybe not the most pleasant image). I will also freely admit that despite this claim, I own hardly any pink clothing.
Many people I know have made the good point that rejecting pink because it's a "girly" color is just as bad as insisting on it. It's still an acceptance of the idea of pink as feminine, when really you should just choose according to your preference no matter what. This makes sense, and it would make more sense if our preferences weren't completely skewed by the culture we live in. If we could all make truly unbiased decisions, don't you think that some men and boys would prefer pink and pastels too (I know, besides the frat guys who wear pink polo shirts to be ironic)? Why should it be women's responsibility to reject or reclaim something when the point is ultimately that color shouldn't indicate gender?
A couple years ago, I spotted a posting on Craigslist:
Looking to trade Bumbo seats, I'll take any color! Just can't stand putting my boy in purple!
Really, I think this is interesting. It's remarkable to me that pink is so completely inescapable in the girls' section, but even more telling is its conspicuous absence from the boys' section (does anyone ever wish there were just a kids' section?). At least girls can wear "masculine" clothing (those are huge incredulous quotation marks) if they want, and no one's really the wiser. It's cute if a girl wears boys' clothing. It's tomboyish. It's endearing...sort of in the way that it's endearing when a child dresses up like an adult. (You'll see what I mean in a minute).
But heaven help the boy who wants to wear girls' clothing. Heaven help that Craigslist parent who got stuck with the lavender (yes, it's actually lavender) Bumbo seat. I honestly wonder what this person envisions--how this lavender apparatus might scar his or her child so. Will he take on "feminine" qualities from this piece of obviously girly plastic? Will he become...sensitive? Nurturing? Artistic? Vulnerable? Sympathetic? Reserved? What a failure this child could become! A blue Bumbo seat, stat!
I think it's the universal undesirability of "femininity" that says the most about our culture. We could look at things like careers, but let's stick with appearance to keep it simple. Comfort and practicality aside, a woman wearing "masculine" clothing (work overalls, a loose-fitting Oxford shirt, or a necktie) in our modern context is seen as strong, daring and even intelligent. A man wearing a skirt, however, is generally considered bizarre and sometimes perverse. Parents can feel free to buy red, yellow, blue and green for their daughters, but they wouldn't dare put their sons in lavender or pink. What this tells me is that it's fine for the subordinate group to try and emulate the dominant, but put the other way around, it seems...backwards. And that means that (surprise!) women are still an inferior class.
I don't know. Call me stuck in the second wave, but I don't think it's so great that girls and women (or rather, the large companies that manufacture our clothing) are reclaiming pink. A real change with have come when a) men can feel comfortable being "feminine" as much as women are comfortable being "masculine" and b) eventually the current concepts of masculine and feminine have blurred to the point of being almost indistinguishable.
I realize that it seems completely counterintuitive that women should somehow need validation from men to prove that femininity is obsolete, but that's just it: it's just gender. I'm not looking to preserve it. Sex, for the most part, is undeniable. Women will always be women. Men will always be men. Adult men and women have some physical differences that make certain clothing more practical for one sex than for another, but guess what? When you're a kid, those differences are much fewer. Children's bodies are almost exactly the same until they hit puberty. Separate kinds of underpants should be pretty much all you need. The rest is all gender. It's noise. It's an empty signifier.
I've been thinking a lot about all of this recently, because it seems like a lot of people in my life are having babies, and I've been hearing a lot of, "It's a good thing/it's too bad _____ is having a boy/girl because ______." If it's not their first child, there's talk of hand-me-downs and whether or not they'll be useful.
Today, the comments on SouleMama's latest post said it all over again: multiple uses of the words 'sweet' and 'adorable', and lots of people either being grateful they have a girl so they can make sweet, adorable clothes, or wishing they had a girl for whom to make sweet, adorable clothes. (To be fair, Amanda Soule's sons have beautiful clothes, too, and they seem to love the domestic arts as well, which I think is great). But it left me thinking, boys (little, baby boys even!) can't be sweet, delicate and adorable?
Wouldn't it be great if there were just kids' clothes, and nobody had to buy a whole new wardrobe for an opposite-sex younger sibling? What a victory against consumer culture that would be!
The reason I say I'm becoming my mother is that gender in children's clothing has been one of her main research areas since before I was born (at this point, she could write a book...hmm). I guess I've learned to notice stuff like this.
Notice is one thing, practice is another. I've never had a baby and I don't fully know the questions gender can present. My stepdaughter came into my life at age four, with a full wardrobe and some preferences already in place. I'm interested in hearing about the experiences and thoughts of parents who have had small children, especially those who have had both boys and girls. What place does gender have in this 21st-century generation of kids?
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
It's official: I am becoming my mother.