As someone who teaches five-year-olds, who are notoriously the centers of their own universes, I tend to mediate a lot of conflicts over fairness and rule following and personal injuries, which are all necessary to the eventual development of a person with empathy and social graces, a person who can use words to vent frustration instead of smacking someone in the head when they take too long at the water fountain. As tedious as they can sometimes be, especially when they happen frequently with the same child, these are all mediations that I genuinely really enjoy, because occasionally, you can actually see the seeds of kindness and compassion start to grow, like a tiny lightbulb flashing over a child’s head when they understand that other people have thoughts and feelings and wants that may differ from theirs and that’s okay.
However, the one issue I could gladly never hear about again is the discussion of what makes a “girl color” and what makes a “boy color.” It is a cultural construct that makes me insane, 1) because it makes no sense and 2) because it makes no sense. I’m a sharp tack, and I’d like think I understand the relative importance of teaching children what their roles in society are and that putting baby boys in “boy” clothing and baby girls in “girl” clothing helps code to others (and eventually to the children themselves) who and what they are. This is sometimes helpful, specifically just when a stranger sees a baby in a gender-neutral onesie and is faced with the horror of having to ask the parent if the child is a boy or a girl, lest they use the wrong pronoun.
However, we currently live in a society that has taken gender coding to the extreme. It is a society in which primary colors (you know, those pigments that make up all the colors in the universe) are off-limits to little girls. If something is not pink or purple or covered in glitter, it is not a girl toy. That, dear readers, is total bullshit. It is one thing to provide gentle guidance to a child about what society expects, like, say, that you are polite to adults, kind to friends, and careful when climbing trees. It is another thing entirely to strictly limit the experiences a child can have (or “should” have) simply on the basis of their biological sex.
This point has been argued exhaustively in defense of girls. Girls should love all colors! Girls should want to ride bikes! Girls should be able to play in the sandboxes of the world without worrying that their fancy dresses and gorgeous shoes will get ruined! And to all of that, I say: obviously. However, I think this cultural preoccupation with what girls do and what boys do is equally damaging to boys, as it restricts them from being comfortable playing in kitchens or wanting to bake or having longer hair or painting their damn nails. A child is only wild and carefree for a few years. Let them be curious and fun and adorable for as long as they can be.
A friend of mine recently posted onto the internet a sincere question about her children, an older girl and a newborn boy. The question was something along the lines of, “Do you buy your daughter things that are pink? Even when you know that eventually her younger brother will want to play with them?”
Just think about that for a moment. There is so, so much wrong with that. Do you allow your daughter to have “girl toys,” even when you know that eventually her younger brother will want to play with objects that ARE THE COLOR PINK? God forbid.
As if the notion that any deviation from a societally-gendered color could negatively impact a child is not ridiculous enough, the most ridiculous thing of all is that before the 1940s, pink was for boys and blue was for girls, a rule based on the equally sexist notion that pink, a subdued shade of red, was a stronger, more masculine color than the calm, cool blues alloted to girls. (Read here and here.) Marketing people at department stores decided this, you guys. In order to sell more baby clothes. Calm down and let your sons play dress up.
I’m currently upset by this, and therefore inspired to blog about it, because the other day, my husband and I stumbled upon an ABC wall hanging decorated with Eric Carle illustrations and were both horrified to discover that the one we were enthralled by, the one with the primary colors and creatures like lions and bears and frogs, was actually the one for boys. The ABC decor for a girl’s room, which we found across the aisle, was awash in pinks and lavenders, and the orange lions and brown bears and green frogs had been changed to red ladybugs and rainbow butterflies and pink flamingos.
Exhibits A & B:
I am not hating on rainbow butterflies or ladybugs or lavender. I like all those things. However, I find it pretty terrible that someone felt there was something so offensively neutral about the alphabet that this design idea required two different gendered products.
Dear America: you are gross.