Saturday, April 26, 2008

Gender bender babies

We've sent Junior to bed in pink pyjamas.

Before the babies arrived, I was determined not to gender stereotype them. What a ridiculous social construction, that girls only wear pink and boys get to choose from an array of drab military colours. I had visions of dressing them in gender-neutral clothes, in a range of funkily bright patterns.

Then the flood of hand-me-down and gift clothing began to arrive. Grandma sent a lovely little white jumpsuit with pink ruffles on it, decorated with a ballerina with a genuine tulle skirt. Junior has an array of tuff little overalls embellished with trucks. There's a world of pink and a world of blue and actually it's quite difficult to find much in other colours.

I have found it surprisingly challenging to dress Lucky and Junior in each other's clothes. Lucky, of course, can go into Junior's outfits. She looks like a cute little private schoolboy. It doesn't look bad but I don't want people getting her gender wrong. Why not? I mean, she's too young to have any sense of gender so why is it important to me?

Junior, on the other hand, looks silly in pink. The plain pink is okay, and the pink stripes, like tonight's pyjamas, look sweet. But put a flower print anywhere near him and he suddenly looks like a truckie in drag.

I'm disappointed in myself. My gender role socialisation runs deep. Obviously he only looks silly to me because to be mistaken for a girl is still an insult. I feel I should be challenging this, for his sake and Lucky's sake and for the sake of our whole society (don't tell me I'm not grandiose!). To be a girl is perfect, as is to be a boy. It's no big deal if you confuse the genders of my babies. And when he's able to express a preference, if Junior wants to wear pink, of course he can.

But I don't think I can dress Junior in pink. Life's hard enough for a boychild of lesbians without coaching him to be a cross-dresser as well. And it's what sort of boy he is on the inside that will confront stereotypes. He doesn't have to take on the world of social signifiers as well.


Lizzie said...

The messages we send do start early, don't they? I want to think I'll have the strength to let my children have freedom of gender expression, but it is scary as lesbians. It's that whole minority thing, where you feel people are watching more closely or you are held up as representative of a larger group w/o asking to me ... those crazy lesbians, they made their son gay by putting him in pink ... or whatever. It makes me want to be more traditional in some twisted way. Society just doesn't even get what is "sex" and what is "gender" and certainly not what is "same-sex attraction" and how that is different than gender. Whatever. Your kids are beautiful, no matter what they're wearing!! :)

owl said...

I find this whole thing hard too. I want to be the mum who can dress their kid in anything, not the stuff they are 'supposed' to wear because they are boy or girl. Our daughter had NO pink for the first 12 months or so, more because we don't like it than anything else.
as she gets older and we have less spare cash pink has creeped in to her warddrobe (because it is everywhere, and the cheap clothes are pink, light pink or dark pink). We have dressed her in 'boyish' clothes (and she was mistaken for a boy all the time until she grew hair at about 18 months). The stupid thing is if i had a son i would not put him in a dress...which is silly. but if he was old enough to choose to wear a dress i wouldn't stop him. i think i worry about others judgements of me enforcing gender on my child, but only if the gender doesn't match their sex.

it makes my head spin...

i also totally agree with what lizzie has commented above.

Kelly & Sam Pilgrim-Byrne said...

I dress C in Pink and girlie clothes because it shits me when people call her a boy. Mind you, this happens sometimes when she's in jeans (with flowers on them!) and a plain red t-shirt or something similar. I find other people search for clues as to the gender of our child and because of this I help them out a lot of the time.

Elsewhere007 said...

Does Junior look like a 'boy' already? That amazes me.

I think on the other hand that boys will get more flack for being dressed like girls than vv, so understand your (subconscious?) concern.

tiff said...

Ha ha. I LOVED this post. I swear your children are only getting cuter!

Mikhela said...

Kelly & Sam - why does it shit you when people get C's gender wrong? She's only a baby, it shouldn't matter, right?

El - I *think* he looks like a boy - but that's a good idea for a poll, I'll get onto that next time I have a chance to post.

Like Owl & Lizzie said, in some ways I think the fact that we are already pushing the boundaries makes us more conservative in other ways. Also it is okay for me to be harassed about my difference, but as much as possible I want to protect my children from it. Or have them choose it for themselves, rather than me impose difference upon them.

(Obvious caveats for the differences I have already imposed on them)

E, M, and the Little Man said...

A few times people have mistaken Mateo for a girl and it doesn't bother me.

My partner is much more worried about what people think and don't want people to think we're influencing Mateo to be girly because we're two women. I don't really care - but she doesn't even like when I dress him in legwarmers - even though they're fashionable for both girl and boy babies at the moment.

I don't know...I think it comes down to internal homophobia or worrying about other people's homophobia.

suzoz said...

I think you don't have to go to either extreme in dressing babies or young kids. I did sometimes put my son in pink as a baby and I went out of my way to dress him in bright colours and not to put him in pseudo military gear. There is no one way to be a boy or a man just as there is no one way to be a girl or a woman. I remember how annoyed I was by sexist clothes limitations/boundaries as a young girl and I don't want to repeat that with my son, who, by the way, is a proud ballet dancer.

Lynnie said...

Girls do have it easier in this department. My daughter once saw a rack of rainboots. There were two kinds--yellow with trucks and pink with hearts. She was two. She chose the trucks and loved them so much she walked doubled over at the waist to be able to see them. I think most people would let their daughters have the trucks, but how many people would let their boy run around in the pink hearts? Not many, I suspect.

I can't believe the many ways in which boys are pressured to be "masculine". I witness this I swear on a daily basis. I could tell hundreds of stories, but the most recent was yesterday at the library. I asked a four-year-old boy coloring what his favorite color was and he said, "Ah.. I think pink!" His dad, reading a newspaper nearby, quickly spoke up to say, "Isn't it blue, Nicolas?" Isn't that crazy?

As a teacher, I see lots of boys feel freer to walk the fine gender line when they're given the freedom to safely do so. I just visited a a preschool with my daughter and one of the big "plusses" for me was seeing the teacher not bat an eyelash as every single child in the room, boy and girl, approached her for help in putting on a tutu. Pretty cool that they felt so free.

baby names said...

understood the specific gender colors like pink. We got a lot of colors like yellow that every one can wear.