I’m spending the week with my godchildren just outside of Nashville. My nephew is 3, my niece is 2, and there is a newborn baby boy. (Yes, my best friend is 23 just like me. She’s been happily married since she turned 18– all the kids were very much wanted, and totally unplanned.) Kiddie bowls and silverware and sippy cups come in lots of bright colors, and the kids get to pick out which color they want to eat from out of whatever is clean. Green and orange are at least as popular as blue and pink, but if plates are put out without asking and one is pink my nephew insists on his sister eating from it — “here sissy, this is your bowl.”
How in the world does he already know that pink “is a girl color”?!!
My niece has her own closet, and my nephew has his own that he also shares a corner of with the new baby. The boy closet has a wide array of colors, but no pink or purple. At all. The girl closet is eye-burning pink — every shade of pink imaginable with splashes of other colors mixed in. Nearly all of their clothes are hand-me-downs or gifts from grandparents.
My friend is afraid to dress either of her boys in pink. “People would look at them funny, and probably make fun of them.” And what would their grandma say if she saw them? “boooooy, whachu wearin’ that pink shirt for?!” If the newborn went out wearing a pink or purple onesie most people would assume he was a girl, and some would of course tell her what a bad mom she is for having her baby boy in a girl color.
There’s already been some social-gender-bending — everyone except their dad wears toenail polish regularly, (Why not have color everywhere possible?!) but that took some serious grandparent-calming the first few times. Also, while my niece absolutely loves baby dolls, my nephew has some as well and loves trying to help his mom in the kitchen (my niece is in favor of magically-appearing food without the kitchen).
We’re planning on watching the kids the rest of the week to see what colors they ask for, but in the mean time I want to reflect on why colors matter.
First, we have to acknowledge that in America baby girls are socially “supposed” to be dressed in pink, and baby boys in blue. We have to acknowledge that the term “sex” refers to biology, and your sexual organs. You are born a girl, a boy, or intersex. Therefore, the term “gender” refers to culture and society– often phrased “social construction of gender.” What does it mean to be a boy, or to be a girl?
Question: What adjectives have you been called recently?
Which line do your adjectives fit into? The top line usually describes girls, while the second line usually describes boys (and the parenthesis are generally insult-words). Comparing boys to girls is often an insult “you throw like a girl,” while for a girl to be compared to a boy is usually a complement “strong like your brother.” Similarly, it’s okay for girls to be dressed in blue, but not okay for boys to wear pink, especially as young children.
Quick homework, go to Toys-R-Us (or some equivalent) online, and search for toys for kids under 5… there is an option to sort for “girl toys” and “boy toys.” Here’s my results– “girl toys” got a pink doll in the top 10 results, “boy toys” got a kiddie sports car in the top 10 results. Pink baby doll, sports car, socially constructed gender.
You see your friend’s young kid for the first time, what do you say? “Jane, your dress is so pretty!” or “Mark, you’re so tall!”– would you ever tell a boy that he was “pretty”?
Right there, you answered no. There is no escape from social constructions of gender. We are all victims of the society we are born into. But, we must all work to end these stereotypes of gender– the manly man and the girly girl. Girls can do anything boys can do. Boys can do anything girls can do. We should never limit our children to dolls and pretend kitchens, or trucks and cars. We should never tell a little boy “you can’t paint your toenails, that’s only for girls” or tell a little girl “you can’t play with trucks, that’s only for boys.” Just like we should never tell girls that they couldn’t be things like doctors, astronauts, truck drivers, breadwinners, or the president; and how we should never tell boys that they can’t cry, become a dancer, or be stay at home parent. Think before you speak and before you buy, and the next time you see a kid in the “wrong” color give them a compliment.
southern girl home from school in the mid-west. looking to save the world one picture book at a time, while attempting to lose weight without giving up beer. pissed about the apathy of the world around her, and ready to create change.
1221 Bowers Street #2225
Birmingham, Michigan 48012-2225