Gender stereotyping really grinds my gears. I celebrated when John Lewis released a line of gender neutral clothes, and looked for forward thinking children’s clothing brands who didn’t make every pair of girls’ shorts the shortest things ever.
During pregnancy I swore that my daughter would very rarely wear pink. She would be a tiny bastion of feminism and shirk the shackles of pink, frilly dresses. She wouldn’t be a pretty little flower, she would be a wonderful, wild, wilful child with grass stains on her knees and muddy warpaint streaking her cheeks.
But then she was born, and gosh darn it she looked adorable in baby pink!
Pink clothes in abundance!
We were also very fortunate to have received bags upon bags of clothes from her cousins meaning we needed to buy pretty much nothing.
The clothes we were given weren’t all pink, but there was a definite ‘feminine’ theme, so she ended up wearing a lot of pink, a lot of frills, a lot of floral prints. And she was a baby so grass stains didn’t really happen and mud on the face was mostly frowned upon.
She was often a picture perfect baby girl. She looked cute, I felt like a bad feminist, but I did it anyway.
It’s not that I don’t like pink, I’m partial to a good magenta. I just think it can be a bit over done on little girls and doesn’t do much for disrupting gender stereotypes.
So whenever I did need to by her something, it would nearly always be from the boys section – a blue hoody, or grey joggers (with pockets!), that looked equally adorable.
Is it feminist to care so much about aesthetics?
So, my feminist journey is still ongoing, and my views evolve almost daily, but…
At the time, it felt wrong to dress her in so many ‘pretty’ clothes. At the same time, she had a lot of beautiful, free clothes, and I wasn’t going to dress her in a sack just to make a point. As long as they were comfy and practical, who cares what they look like. I also figured that if I worried about aesthetics too much then I would be a massive hypocrite.
I also fully support everyone’s choice to dress their children however they want to (within reason/weather permitting!) And would never think badly of someone else dressing their daughter in pink, so why should I?
My concerns about what my daughter wears come from the wider issues surrounding gender stereotyping. I didn’t, and still don’t want her to think that only ‘girl things’ are for her.
I want her to know that she can wear any colour she wants to, that she can play with any toy, do any job, or have any opinion she wants to.
But before she can understand all the complexities of our patriarchal world, she can understand colour. She can see that lots of girls wear pink and lots of boys wear blue. The pink toys in pink boxes have girls on them and the blue toys in blue boxes have boys on them. The pink toys are nurses uniforms and fashion dolls, and the blue toys are doctor’s outfits and superhero figures.
So, I think, if she sees herself wearing pink AND blue, maybe, just maybe, she’ll believe that all these things are for her, regardless of the colour of the box.
Gender equality begins at home – but ends pretty abruptly outside
Being careful about the clothes and toys I buy her is one thing. But there’s a whole world full of gender stereotypes that it’s hard to shield a child from without keeping them locked away.
At 2 years old, Dee saw a Spiderman toy and told me it was for boys so she couldn’t have it. That drilled home just how impressionable children can be.
And what messages are we sending them? That girls can’t have what boys have and boys can’t have what girls have? There are so many wonderful things that are typically for boys or girls – colours are just the beginning. Why does our society insist on limiting our children’s experiences because of their gender? (I’m pretty sure the answer is money and greed but that’s another post.)
I can and do talk to her in very simple terms about how she can wear / play / be whoever she wants to be. And I’m her mum so I have a pretty powerful influence… But is it enough to combat the relentlessness of toy marketers and a society so entrenched in patriarchy that it’s ingrained in us all to some degree?
Fast forward to now
Now, Dee is three, and she has her own opinions about what she wants to wear. She frequently asks to wear “that beautiful dress” and covets her tops with flower prints.
She loves handbags, and LOL dolls that make me cringe with their baby faces drinking out of coffee cups and tiny, grown up outfits clinging to their chubby baby tummies.
But on the flip side, she now loves Spiderman, and Batman, and Pokemon, and likes playing with tools and performing death-defying gymnastic feats with her dad.
Pink is sometimes her favourite colour, but blue has had the top spot at least a couple of times, along with all the colours of the rainbow.
She’s gentle and sweet, and cheeky and daring, and most definitely wilful.
The goal was never to stop her wearing pink, but to let her know that she has just as much right to wear every other colour. The choice is hers alone, and no one can tell her otherwise.
How do you feel about the pink / blue divide in children’s clothing and toys? Have you overthought it as much as me or do you not give it much thought? What do you think now you’ve read my internal dialogue on the subject?