This afternoon, just as the bell rang signaling that Lunch C was over and it was time for students to head to Period 4, I realized that I needed to water my classroom plants. (I’m taking a personal day tomorrow, and I didn’t want them to get too parched over the weekend.) I asked one of the students in my room, a very nice senior named Mitchell, if he’d fill my water bottle at the fountain on our floor.
“I got a lot of weird looks in the hall, you know,” he smirked as he walked back in and handed over my makeshift watering can. “Guys asked if it was mine. I had to say no.”
When I was pregnant, we didn’t want to find out if we were having a boy or a girl in advance of our baby’s birth. “But what color clothes will you buy????” people wailed. “What will you paint the nursery????”
“Um…. baby clothes? Green? Yellow? Blue? Purple? Does it matter???“
I remember as a kid dressing in all kinds of clothes in all colors. Green pajamas, burgundy jeans, rainbow sweaters, blue overalls, big heavy yellow sweaters my Grandma Nettie had knit, t-shirts that said “New Zealamb” and “I ♥ NY” from friends and family. Although my sister and I had some frilly girly items, lovingly purchased by my Grandma Yetta who had only had sons, my mother chose to dress us as neutrally as the 1980s and early 90s allowed.
Nowadays, it seems everything is so heavily gendered. When we go shopping, most clothing, toy, diaper, baby accoutrements aisles appear in two stark shades: PINK. BLUE. Sparkles vs. trucks. Dinosaurs OR ponies.
While I do think that raising a daughter in our still-patriarchal environment is enormously difficult – as my recent read Girls & Sex made abundantly clear – raising a son presents its own special set of circumstances. As my students so insightfully point out when I teach critical gender theory, women have had their horizons expanded; it’s appropriate for them to pursue “masculine” jobs, sports, be a tomboy, act tough. It’s still harder for boys to act too effeminate lest they be perceived as overly emotional or weak or gay by their peers; heaven forbid they act like a girl!
Of course, my husband and I try to break every one of those stereotypes with our sweet boy. He loves “boy” things: trucks, dinosaurs, construction vehicles. He flies around the playground with boundless energy. But he also loves “girl” things: taking care of his baby doll, whom he has named “Sister”; cooking elaborate meals on his play kitchen; snuggling on the couch and reading books. Why these things have been gendered is beyond me.
When my decidedly not-girly mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, she told everyone in our family, “Don’t buy me a lot of pink shit!”
This narrative gets played out a lot. There was recently an impassioned discussion in my moms’ group Facebook page about the obsession with pink and princess culture and raising strong women. Lots of moms presented online think pieces about how we need to make room for femininity inside modern feminism. I agree; I was particularly drawn to this idea from one post:
The way forward isn’t to teach girls to be more like boys—that’s just the same old patriarchal shit of privileging masculinity over femininity. Instead, we should be teaching all kids that wearing skirts and loving pink and wanting cuddly baby dolls are totally cool and fine ways to be. There’s nothing inherently bad about being femme; problems arise when we try to enforce femininity on people as a means of oppression.
We feminists tell ourselves that we’re trying to break down the gender binary, which is for sure an admirable idea that should be tackled with enthusiasm. But as we move towards viewing gender as more of a spectrum, we need to make sure that spectrum includes the color pink.
Recently, K has taken a shine to things colored pink. On two separate occasions, he’s asked to us purchase pink items, one a water bottle at Walgreens and the other a “girl” Matchbox car. On the one hand, J and I were horrified that he identified the pink car as a “girl” car. On the other hand, I guess I’m kind of proud that my boy chose the “girl” one? I’m not sure what to think, but it’s clear that to him, it’s just a water bottle, just a car, in a color he likes.
I’m pretty sure that it’s only a matter of time before he begins to eschew all things pink; even if I give the same history lesson I provide in my English classes about how the colors only switched mid-twentieth century, that pink used to be a boy color and blue a girl color, and that before that all babies wore white, I’m not sure how much it will matter. Socialization and culture are powerful.
More powerful, though, than his Mom and Dad, who are always crowing, “All colors are for all people”? We’ll see. Until then, we’ll be thinking pink.