Thursday, December 28, 2006

"Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice....

....that's what little girls are made of." At least according to the ol' nursery rhyme. Whereas "Snips and snails and puppy dog tails, that's what little boys are made of."

Anyone who has raised both boys and girls know that in some ways there's a wee kernel of truth about these old fashioned lines. But anyone who's raised both know that there's so much that's untrue about these stereotypes. Having been a tomboy who also loved to play with baby and Barbie dolls, having raised a little girl who looked like Holly Hobby and would happily beat the shit out of any of her brothers (or perhaps more likely, anyone who tried to mess with her brothers), I take offense at the two dimensional view of women as sweet and innocent.

I have equally strong issues with the idea of little boys as being only rough, tough and dirty. My boys played football and broke kitchen chairs as fast as I could replace them, but they also were tender and vulnerable, good baby sitters, good cooks, and enjoyed learning things like sewing and knitting. Let's not box someone's potential in by whether they're an innie or an outie, okay?

And yet, there's something that is undefineably but persistently male or female about each of us, even when we're just a tiny scrunched up face wrapped in a blanket. Something that makes most folks correctly guess the gender of a baby even without the social cues of blue for a boy, pink for a girl.

When I was pregnant with my second child, one of my baby shower gifts was a baby cap. Pink. Everyone was sure that my second child would be a girl. But the giftee assured me that if, by some twist of events, I gave birth to a boy, I could exchange the hat for a blue one. I quickly assured everyone that of course, boy or girl, that my child could, of course, wear a pink cap. And so that's how Sam came to spend the first two months of his life in a pink cap, which, I might add, looked beautiful against his beautiful newborn complexion. But the funny thing was that every time we went out, almost every day, strangers would come up to admire the new baby and it would go something like this:

"Oh, what a cute little boy!........ Oh....... Uhm......Girl?......Uhm......Boy?" Their first instinct was that he was a he, which he was. But then, before they'd even finish their first comment, they read the social cue - pink hat - and tried to change their mind. But he didn't look like a she, so then remained unconvinced and confused. It usually ended with them standing there looking puzzled and me enjoying a moment's smile before I answered them.

Stereotypes are persistent creatures. This afternoon Noel came home from running errands with a McDonald's Happy Meal for Joshua in hand. Knowing I'd appreciate the story, she related that they'd gone through the drive-thru and that when she'd ordered, the voice on the speaker had asked if she wanted "the boy toy or the girl toy". I said "So, did you correct them!?" She didn't. Sigh.

After one of my sons at the tender age of four or so had been crushed by having excitedly decided on a particular toy only to reach the counter and have it referred to in front of him as a "girl toy" (whereupon he immediately decided he had meant, in fact, he wanted the "boy toy" and unhappy and embarrassed, slunk away with a toy he really didn't want), I spend the next decade on a fervent one woman campaign to educate poorly paid fast food workers on how to describe the toy by description and not by gender association. Maybe it wasn't really a one woman campaign - maybe there were a lot of us mothers out there complaining at one time - because it seemed for a while that the stereotyping of toys became less noticable. But trends come and go and recently it seems it's seen as only harmless and cute once again. I'm not so sure of that, but I'm also less sure if arguing the point will do any good.

The whole issue is a bit of a quagmire for me. Part of me is always on the look out for people jumping to conclusions based on gender. Another part of me obviously jumps to the same conclusions myself. They're useful shortcuts when dealing with people. At least, they're a starting point. I like to think I try to move on from them as soon as possible. And yet, it's all come up for me again recently, interacting with my grandkids. I find myself watching my eight month old granddaughter Anastasia and being amazed at how much of a girl she is! I don't really know how to describe it. Joshua can be just as sweet and gentle and giggly, but when he does those things I don't think he's acting "girlie." And Anastasia is certainly tough and determined and loud and I don't immediately think of those as male qualities. So what is it, this genderness that we are all imbued with?

Honestly, I don't know.

But, the reason I brought it up was because I started out to tell you the following recent story:

My daughter-in-law and I both share this sort of general aversion to pink when it comes to baby girls. Not that we dislike pink on little girls. They look adorable in pink. Baby boys look adorable in pink too, for that matter. But baby girls also look adorable in powder blue. Or bright red. Or cheerful orange, or sunny yellow, or peaceful green, or earthy brown.

I know some women really don't like pink personally. Not me. I like pink. I just bought myself the softest, fuzziest pink jacket - oh, remind me to post a photo for you soon. The pink aversion thing is really more about disliking pink saturation than about pink itself. Both Noel and Lisa got SO MUCH PINK at their baby showers. I think it just goes against the rebellious and tomboyish streaks in us to tow the party line I guess.

I've already mentioned how Lisa decided one day in her sixth month of pregnancy, after staring at mounds of pink piles of baby gifts, to make the baby's room in red, white and black? Didn't I? Hmmm, maybe it was over on Laume's Studio - there are photos of the quilt blocks she was made over there. When I tell people that, they look at me horrified. A few people have even gone so far to ask me "Are you alright with that!?" Alright? What's not to be alright with about it? I love the idea. Although, it's not as dramatic as you might be imagining. Here's a photo of the baby's room in it's finished form. Pretend the navy blue blow up mattress isn't curled up agains the wall there. See the cute curtains. And you get a peek at the brightly contrasted crib quilt. There's a black dust ruffle beneath it that you can't see. And a few bright red items on a shelf on the far wall that are also not in view. But see, it looks "normal." It turned out bright and cheerful. (Hmmm, maybe I should buy her a bright red throw rug to spice things up? I had imagined something more "gothy" myself.)

So, anyway, all the first week while I was there after the birth, Lisa was dressing Joli in cute but androgynous outfits - in blue, white, green, red, a little bit of every color, brights and pastels. A few days after I got home I hear from Lisa. Joli was awake and wanting to play early in the morning and Joe offered to tend to her while Lisa slept a while longer. An hour or so later Lisa wandered out of the bedroom and found Joe holding Joli and looking guilty and "caught in the act". She unwrapped the bundle of pink blankets and found her daughter all dressed in pink.

Joe defended himself - "I just wanted her to look like a little girl!" I thought that was (and here you have to imagine me speaking in a high false squeaky voice and making a scrunched up cutsie face) SOOOOOO CUUUUTE!!!! Maybe it's just the thought of my big kinda macho son searching through all those little clothes, gently pulling her tiny arms through her shirt and dress, bundling her in extra blankets... it just makes my heart go all stretchy-ahhhh and lovey-achey. It's my favorite photo of her so far.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I read this post with a smile.
My 3rd child and only daughter was dressed head to toe in pink hand-me-downs from her cousins [ cos I sure as hell didn't buy her anything pink ] until she was old enough to so NO. Mind you, she has always had a blue bedroom even as a baby.
I have just this week and at her request, finished a hot pink halter for her 20 + years after the last time she willingly wore pink.

12:41 AM  

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