girls wear pink and boys wear blue: gender stereotyping our babies
When I tell people I’m looking for gender-neutral baby clothes, they assume it’s because I’m not going to find out the sex of my child before the birth.
This isn’t the case at all. I fully intend to find out if it’s a boy or a girl at our next scan. But just because I’ll know if it’s a boy or girl doesn’t mean I immediately want to pigeonhole them into a neat little pink or blue box of gender stereotyping and all that it entails.
I should probably be oohing and aahing over the tiny outfits I can soon dress them up in. Instead, I’m becoming increasingly horrified by how early society starts to narrow their options based on their sex.
While I’m not overly keen on the blue or pink colour divide, I do understand it to some extent. Most of us have experienced that slightly awkward moment when we coo over the cute little boy in the yellow onesie only to be abruptly informed by the parents that it is in fact a little girl, or vice versa. The pink and blue serves a purpose in saving us adults from that sometimes-embarrassing uncertainty, because it’s very hard to tell sex at that age.
But isn’t that sort of wonderful in a way? It’s the one brief time in our life where we’re free from being a gender. Yet we adults can’t wait to snatch that freedom away and start narrowing down our offspring’s options. It seems so cruel and unfair.
What concerns me more than the colour divide are the different images and slogans that appear on the pink clothes versus the blue clothes. Find me a pink babygrow with a motor vehicle on it – I challenge you. It’s ridiculous! I drive a car. So does pretty much every female I know, and I should hope that if I have a daughter, she too will grow up to one day drive a car. Yet cars only seem to feature on the “boys” clothes. My husband suggested that maybe it’s because, for the most part, males are more interested in cars as a hobby. Yes, that’s probably the case, but is this a chicken and egg type situation? Do girls grow up with less interest in something like cars because from literally day one of their lives, cars have not been offered to them as an option?
Generally speaking (and of course there are always exceptions) the vibe of the boys clothes is one of action and adventure – cars, boats, sports etc. The girls get flowers, birds and love hearts.
If I have a daughter, I want her to have action and adventure. I want her to play team sports. I want her to grow up to be a Formula One driver, if that’s what she wants to do, and I don’t want anyone to tell her she can’t. But equally, if I have a son I want him to appreciate love, and flowers, and everything else nature has to offer. I want him to grow up to be a florist, if that’s what he wants to do and lord help anyone that suggests that he shouldn’t.
I realise my idealism about my baby’s wardrobe may go out the window once the chaos of new motherhood is upon me. There will be pink or blue gifts from family and friends, which I will gratefully accept. I won’t think twice about grabbing the “mummy’s little princess” or “daddy’s little rugby player” t-shirt from the drawer, so long as it’s clean, but for now a stack of “you can be or do whatever you want” stripes will await my little one.
Besides the fact that pink or blue clothes for babies is nothing to start a war over, if you don’t want to participate in it then buy all the clothes in one colour and make them wear nothing but. Make all your relatives buy clothes in that colour and accept nothing but. Make a choice on which colour you want to put them in and leave it at that.
This is so nothing to get into a lather about.
My Mum back in the late 80’s didn’t like the whole pink girl, boy blue thing either.
So, she dressed my brother and I in her favourite colours, purple and green!
I fully intend to do the same if I have children as they are my favourite colours and I’ve always hated pink being labelled as a “girl” colour when I dislike it.
Having said all that, the pink and blue is necessary for some people. I got told off by a new mother one day for saying her baby boy was adorable when it was in fact a girl. She should relax and not be so sensitive, it’s not like I meant any ill, plus as you said the gender is hard to tell initially.
I am years away from having a child of my own, but I studied this a lot at university and think that it’s definitely part of a bigger issue about gender conditioning. You’re right – the idea of being interested in cars is alien to most girls and women, and that’s not because of something in our brains. It’s because it’s how children are raised: girls will play with the dolls while boys will play with the cars.
It’s important to realise that it’s not the fault of the parents, but of marketing and social conditioning, but I think it’s important to encourage your child to have a variety of interests that aren’t encouraged by what sex they happen to be.
Hey, excuse the question but Jennifer if you read this do you have any links to papers / research you could email me? I would Love to have better knowledge of this all as it drives me nuts as I write newspaper articles! Great article thank you!
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Love this article! I agree with all of it! Sometimes when talking about a non-gender identified baby I try and keep to neutral comments – e.g. “what is the little darlings name?” however I do agree that there is no crime in getting it wrong at that age! Parents must be used to it happening from time to time.
Thanks for reading and commenting – great to hear other people’s thoughts on this.
Great article. It says everything that I feel strongly about. I don’t have children, but I certainly would be choosing gender neutral clothes (and encouraging people giving gifts to do so also) and encoruaging my children that they can do anything they want irrespective of gender. As mentioned by other commenters, gender conditioning starts so early which does influence who young girls and boys then feel they should be. And society doesn’t make it any easier as they grow up either.
it is a great aticle right?
I am mother of a daughter and a son, but I love little girl to be dressed in pink and play with dolls on the other hand I like to dress my son in blue. I mean kids apparels do differentiate by gender.
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i think it is true that people pick out a outfit or the words to describe the baby if they know if it’s a boy and a girl. i think you should know what gender your child is but if you don’t want your child’s outfit or diapers to be pink when you want your kid to be shared =. Sat you want your kid to have a pink shirt but race car on it like it said above. if you want some thing pink you haft to have a heart or a race car and you would find it in the girl area. but if you wanted a race car on the shirt you need it to be blue even if you want it pink.you would find it in the boys area. thank you
sorry about the errors
Nice. I just wrote a piece on the topic here:
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I recently received some old photos of myself as a baby from my parents. I was dressed in a nautical outfit(blue and white stripes) I can officially say I look like a little baby boy. My parents said they had to start dressing me in pink as everyone thought I was boy and they were sick and tired of going “Well, actually, SHE is a GIRL!”. I think at the end of the day, it is down to you how you dress your child. No other opinion matters.
Jennifer Brown states”It’s because it’s how children are raised: girls will play with the dolls while boys will play with the cars.”
Uh-um….really?? I never played with dolls when I was a child, even when offered them. Had no interest in them whatsoever. Cars and trucks, billy-carts and playing bows and arrows were more my style.
Please don’t generalise the way all children are raised!! Kids will naturally gravitate to whatever they enjoy!