Gender neutral - is it possible?
- on January 25, 2011
Before I got married or had a baby, I worked on my master's degree in American Studies, just for fun. I had time for stuff like that back then. And in that program, I studied a lot about gender, performance, and culture, and I focused my own research on how schools are purposefully or inadvertently gendering our children. And I developed some strong feelings about how, if I were a parent, I would do it.
Because, you know, before we have kids, we know it all.
I had a friend in the program who wanted to tye dye a hat and onesie to bring his baby girl home from the hospital in, as a show of defiance to the "pink is for girls, blue is for boys" world we live in.
Fast forward several years, and I'm painting a nursery blue and picking out fabric with cars and trucks on it. Since I am the world's thriftiest mom (doesn't that sound better than "biggest cheapskate"?) my friends with older kids often hand down items they're done with. Reuse, recycle, Baby. And in some of those handed down clothes, was a pair of PJ's. Brown footie PJ's, with white polka dots, and a little pink kitty embroidered on the chest. My baby was, at the time, maybe 9 months old. And I didn't want to put him in them. I remember avoiding them in the drawer, telling myself it was because my husband would be all "ultra-manly" about it and hate it. But, one night, I was behind on laundry, and pulled out the last pair of PJ's - the pink and brown set. And I put him in them, and ran out to my husband saying "I know! I know! They're girl! But they're the only ones I have! AND! FREE!" and he just looked at me, and said "Yeah, whatever. He's not wearing them to the KU game is he?" He so did not care. So it turns out, it was just me.
It was shocking, to learn this about myself. To learn that a teeny tiny bit of pink on some NIGHTCLOTHES made me uncomfortable for my boy baby, who no more knew about being a boy than he knew about how to cook himself a nice steak and open a bottle of chianti.
And I realized that who we think we are as parents isn't always congruous with who we really are. And that freaked me out more than just a little. Recently, I read a review in the New York Times of the book "Cinderella Ate My Daughter", wherein Peggy Orenstein argues that the Disney Princess mania is damaging our girls, and that we're "over-gendering" them with all of this fluffy pink sparkly business.
I thought it was an interesting thought, and posted the link to my facebook, to see what kind of comments it turned up. And comments did turn up, all over the map. At the end, I sort of went away with the feeling that unless we are purposefully foisting a bunch of pink garbage on our girls, they can probably play dress up and enjoy that just like they enjoy playing cops and robbers. I suppose the goal is not to make a big deal about either set of gendered play rituals, and hope our girls can be comfortable in hard hats and cowboy boots that aren't pink, and our boys can be okay playing a little house or school.
In the meantime, I'll set up the play kitchen for my son to play with so he can be "like Mommy" (who does all the cooking in our house), and add a doll or two to his "cars and trucks" room, just to be careful.