Home » Columns, Gender Identity, Not Your Average Prom Queen
13 January 2011, 1:00 pm 4 Comments

Not Your Average Prom Queen: Men in Pink, Babies in Blue

This post was submitted by Jean

Am I a boy or a girl?

As I walked into the Carter’s kid’s clothing store on North and Clybourn in the days before X-Mas, my eyes were drawn left-to-right and right-to-left by the vast color differential in an even more extreme way than those exhilarating first moments of walking into the GAP. Everything on the right is PINK and everything on the left is BLUE (with some greens and browns mixed in there unobtrusively). After two years of shopping in the pink section for my niece, I finally have a chance to peruse the boy’s section for some holiday gifts for my brand new nephew. Although I love the color pink, I don’t love hearts and flowers, nor the supposition that I am supposed to love them because I am a lady. Picking out clothes for my niece has been a bit of a challenge to my feminism. How do I chose gifts for her that don’t encourage gender stereotypes, while still acknowledging that she IS a girl and she should be damn proud of it?

Finally I’m able to visit a kid’s store and look at clothes without wading through what looks like the Valentine’s day at the CVS. Buying boy’s clothes must be less political. I love the blues and greens and deep browns of the section, but every time I grab for a cute item it has a sports theme: baseball, football, soccer, hockey. After a few minutes, I’m actually wishing I could find a car or a truck because even though those images encourage some stereotypes for boys, it’s better than “Boys Play Sports.”  There are very few items without a sports reference, but lucky for me, I find one with a dinosaur. But as I go back and forth in the boys and girls sections, frustrated a lack of gender neutral (yet cute) clothing, I also try to picture buying my 2-year-old niece a blue hoodie with a stegosaurus, or my 2-month-old nephew a onesie with a pink flower on it. Somehow, those images seem silly.

What’s wrong with me? I’m a feminist. A queer feminist, at that. I am perpetually aware of the need to exercise my freedom to act and be whoever I want – free from the expectations placed on my sex and gender. When I see men in pink winter caps or wearing nail polish I am happy to see those expectations being challenged. Seeing people chose to like what they like regardless of what they “should like.”  I wear ties. I wear skirts. Who cares?

Something in me has a hard time accepting those same standards for my niece and nephew, who, because of their age, really only have an identity based on how their parents choose to dress them. It somehow seems to make more sense to just go along with what society asks then to have to explain every time your son gets called “she” because he has a mermaid on his pink onesie.

It turns out, my seemingly hard-wired pink and blue brain reaches even further than just my niece and nephew.

My girlfriend got a puppy. His name his Howard and he is a gorgeous black lab. At a play date with a girl-dog friend, Howard borrows her pink leather collar. It looks so cute on him. He looks handsome and sort of dapper, like the Hugo Boss models in the front 87 pages of Vanity Fair – but when it comes to picking out a real collar for him days later, my girl and I wrangle the puppy on the floor of the pet store.  As we slip a variety of necklaces over his head I hear myself saying, “I really like the idea of a pink one, but I don’t want people to think he’s a girl.” It’s a puppy and I’m afraid someone will confuse his sex?

Is it possible that I’m not as forward thinking as I thought? Or maybe that I just don’t think something like the colors in which babies and puppies are dressed play that large of a role in feminism and equality? I would never suggest that my nephew only play with cars and trucks and my niece only with kitchens and dolls – quite the opposite – toys are toys and they should play with whatever they want to play with. And I don’t think that dressing boys in pink or girls in blue would at all confused their sexuality – but I do think it might confuse other kids.

Am I less progressive than I’ve made myself out to be? Is it ever good just to want to fit in with society?

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  • Jackie Rose said:

    Interesting article. I can relate to the baby clothes shopping experience. It definitely is a reminder of the way we begin stereotyping people, from birth. (A bigger reality slap in the face regarding this is when I go to McDonald’s and have to choose the “boy” or “girl” toy for my kids. Sometimes my son wants the mini stuffed dog versus the unrecognizable plastic cyborg, but he doesn’t want to admit he wants the “girl” toy. Write an article on this, lol)
    I have found that the solution to embracing gender-neutrality with baby items is to support independent artists. There are lots of cute, sassy, unique children’s clothiers out there that won’t cost you an arm and a leg. Plus you’ll get extra points for being the cool aunt who located such things. ;) My favorite was my son’s black onesie that said, “My daddy’s a motherfucker”. (Of course, we didn’t let Grandma see that one, but I got a smirk out of it…)
    As far as the doggie situation and whether you might not be as progressive as you thought, I don’t think that’s the case. I think you’re definitely very open-minded and accepting, but as humans we get caught up in having to label or compartamentalize everything in order to understand it. You don’t care about a dog’s gender, but you like to know what you’re dealing with. Labeling by color is just one way we do that in our society. Maybe you could create a female dog collar in blue that says, “This bitch doesn’t like pink”. lol
    Keep up the great work…

  • Alex said:

    I must disagree… Dinosaurs are appropriate for ALL children. ;D

  • Michael said:

    We have a red dog who was wearing a black collar. It was the best color for her, since she has deep, dark eyes and a black nose. Great contract against her fur color, and gave no clue as to her sex. Her name is Neko (like Neko Case) but most people we meet on the street think it’s “Nico” (short for Nicolas?) and assume she’s a boy. I reply, “Yes, SHE’s a great dog.”

    In a pinch, I needed to buy her a new collar at a hardware store in the Adirondacks. (She’d somehow gnawed through her old black one.) I was forced to choose between blues and neons. I ended up choosing “crazy daisy“, a subtle motif of orange daisies against cyan and purple. Apparently it’s still gender neutral enough to confuse the people in our neighborhood.

    I’ve been meaning to rant about how we gender our pets in the strangest ways. That one’s still in the works. Thanks for raising the general issue.

  • James said:

    The past few summers I’ve worked as an administrator for a day camp with elementary and middle school kids and high school staffers. This year, my boss decided that the youngest groups’ tee shirts would be a hot pink color, really vibrant, would stand out on field trips which is ideal, particularly for little ones. There was an encouragingly low amount of parental adversity to this sartorial selection.

    One day I remember their counselor had brought in cupcakes with yellow, blue, and pink frosting. I came into the room they were having their little party and their counselor offered me the last cupcake, which was frosted pink. One five-year-old made this keen observation sending all 12 of them into a fit of giggles, “Mr. James is going to eat the pink frosting! He’s a girl!”

    I took advantage of the opportunity and theatrically enjoyed the cupcake as they laughed and laughed at my exaggerated indulgence. After it was finished I asked them why that meant I was a girl. I just liked cupcakes. Don’t boys and girls both like cupcakes? Didn’t they all eat cupcakes? They were quick to correct my error, it was because I ate the pink cupcake that I was a girl (as if that’s something to be ashamed of–this wouldn’t be a story if it were a girl eating a blue cupcake, but I digress). I let all of them know that their designation of pink as an integrally female-inclined color was a spurious correlation (you know, in terms that were intelligible to a five-year-old) and I had all of them repeat, “Pink is for boys AND girls.” And then so on and so forth with all of the colors the cupcakes were available in.

    It was such a nice sight, this choir of children, before having entered elementary schools, learning to dispel of the myth of their prescribed associations of the gender binary! (Okay so I’m romanticizing, but it was encouraging I’m sure you could imagine!). The problem doesn’t lie with conforming to the previously-existing standard, but the problem lies in failing to bring up that it is culturally-established standard when the confusion incited by a pink-wearing-boy occurs. Don’t hate yourself for a tendency towards conformity, but outwardly examine the implications of that conformity with others (which is what I think you’re doing here, great piece!).