Thursday, July 7, 2011

Pink or Blue...But What Ever Happened to Red?

So tomorrow's the "big" day, the day we have the ultrasound that will tell us if our child is a boy or a girl. Of course, along the way we've learned that what is supposed to happen on a particular day isn't always what happens. So, if the ultrasound doesn't show the gender, I guess we'll just wait for another little bit.

All along this journey people have been asking us when we'll find out if it's a boy or a girl, or if we want a boy or a girl, or if we have boy names and girl names picked out. When we went to Babies R Us I was honestly shocked at how "genderized" everything is. Out of all the crib bedding and whatnot there was only 1 that I would consider gender neutral. All of the others seemed to scream BOY or GIRL. Boy or girl, boy or girl, that's the big question. That's how one chooses how to decorate a nursery. That's how one chooses which clothing to pick. That even determines how people react to the baby. Let's say you dress a baby in as "gender neutral" clothing as you can, maybe jeans and a red t-shirt. If you tell people the baby is a girl, automatically you hear comments of, "Oh isn't she precious looking?" and "How beautiful!" Take the same child and tell people it's a boy and the comments become "Look at how strong he is!" and "Isn't he a flirt!" From the very beginning the child gets treated a certain way based on their gender.

There was an interesting article lately about a couple in Canada who has a child named "Storm." They have decided that, for the time being, they aren't going to tell anyone the child's gender. Storm will just be Storm. And people can react how they see fit. And this is causing an uproar. People like to know gender. It very quickly gears a person's thinking towards gifts for a child, or clothes for a child, or even for the phrases one uses with a child. A child without a known gender is uncomfortable. I'm not saying that I agree with rasing a child without sharing his or her gender, but it certainly is an interesting experiment.

I remember when a relative had a child born with undifferentiated genitalia. Even the doctors at the hospital had a hard time wrapping their heads around that one. Pink cap or blue cap? Baby Boy ____ or Baby Girl ____ for the name plate? Until the DNA results came back there was quite a bit of befuddlement, even from the medical professionals.

I wonder about how our children pick up ideas on gender roles and how different genders are supposed to behave. Several of our favorite family stories revolve around use of the iron in our household as we were growing up. You see, dad did all the ironing. I'm pretty sure my mom knows how to iron, but it was always dad who did it. It was mostly his work shirts that needed ironing and he liked it a certain way, so he ironed. As a teenager, if I needed something ironed I went to my father, not to my mother. So anyhow, the first story begins with me watching my father very closely, when I was around 4 years old. I mean, I was staring at him intently as he ironed one day. And dad, with his infinite patience, just waited until I was ready to ask my question. I took a deep breath and asked with all the seriousness a 4 year old can muster, "Daddy, can girls iron?" And my father, in his infinite wisdom replied, "Why yes, girls can iron. They can do they laundry and do the dishes. They can be doctors or nurses, lawyers or astronauts. Girls can do anything they want to." Several years down the road, I was about 6 and my sister was 3. We were playing in the family room, and, for some reason, mom was doing some ironing. The way she tells it, we were playing, and then all of a sudden we were very quiet. She looked up, and we were both looking at her wide-eyed. At that point I asked, "Mommy, does Daddy know you're using HIS iron?" It wasn't just ironing, when it came to childrearing and housekeeping both of my parents pitched in. Some of my favorite meals didn't taste right unless my father cooked them.

Then I contrast this with a statement another little relative made when she was about 3 years old. "I ONLY want to wear dresses. Pants are ugly! Dresses are pretty!" The thing is, both of her parents tried to raise her as "gender neutral" as possible. They dressed her in all sorts of clothing and colors. They both pitched in around the house. Her mom, while beautiful, hardly ever wore dresses or skirts. Mostly she wore jeans. So where did this little one get the idea that dresses were what was pretty and should be worn? They didn't even have cable in their house, so it wasn't like she watched a lot of tv. But somewhere she got that message and took it into her little heart. That was in about 2006. And, as much as I hate to say it, things have changed since I was a little girl, and I'm not sure that they are for the better.

Lately it seems like the "princess" concept has taken off everywhere. It used to be one just saw little girls dressed as princesses at Disney theme parks, and now they are all over the place. OK, here's my disclaimer. If you know me, you know I LOVE Disney! I worked there in entertainment for goodness sakes', embodying all of the things I'm about to have an issue with. So yes, there is a bit of me that is a hypocrite, but honestly I think there's just more of me that's plain old confused. Until 2000 Disney had never marketed the "Princesses" outside of their story lines. Whenever a Princess was seen on a shirt it was in the context of her story, eg: Snow White was always with the 7 dwarves, Sleeping Beauty was always with the 3 fairies, etc. Then, in 2000, after realizing how many little girls came to the parks dressed in homemade Princess costumes, Disney began the "Princess" brand and line. The big 5 princesses (Belle, Snow White, Cinderella, Aurora and Ariel) suddenly began appearing on t-shirts and sweatshirts all over the place. Specific princess costumes for girls were developed and sold in the parks and in Disney Stores. And little girls and their families ate it up. (I'm in the process of reading a very thought provoking book: Cinderella Ate My Daughter. definitely worth the read). Suddenly little girls were princessed up all over the place. And the concept has exploded. Yes, there's Captain Hook and Peter Pan, Buzz Lightyear and Woody, but not nearly to the extent of the princesses.

So here's my thing, and here's where I struggle. The princesses aren't exactly the best role models that I want for my daughter. Most of them (Cinderella, Belle, Ariel) have absentee mothers. Those that do have mothers have Wicked Stepmothers. A good number of them disobey their parent (Mulan, Ariel). And, as I see it, most damaging, most of them get into trouble or find themselves in trouble and instead of solving the situation themselves they require rescuing from a man. Cinderella needs the prince to rescue her, which he only does after she was all gussied up for a ball. Belle, who is a reader which I appreciate, needs Beast to fall in love with her to give her her freedom. Ariel, maybe the worst offender, gives up her VOICE of all things, to get a man to like her. Snow white needs a prince's kiss to save her. And on and on. It's also notable that the big 5 princesses are all white. So much for Pocahontas, Jasmine, Mulan and Tiana. Rarely are they included on any princess merchandise with the others. It's hard to find merchandise featuring them alone. But I LOVE DISNEY! So how the heck do I reconcile this? I guess it's watching movies with your children, male or female, and then talking about what you see and notice; the good and bad choices the characters make along the way.

I also think the "princess" theme tends to limit creative play instead of encourage it. When we were younger we played house and school and going to the zoo, and horses and some game one of my best friends and I invented with a flying machine in her back yard (which was actually a really cool tree) all sorts of other pretend scenarios. The thing about playing "princess" is that rather than using their imaginations, children act out the scripts they know. There is a formula to princess play that isn't as open ended as school or house. Dress up and pretend play iis great for kids, wonderful for their imaginations and necessary for psychosocial development. But when the script is already written, how much of it is pretend play and how much of it is regurgitation?

I'm sure if I thought it through I could come up with similar cultural influences on boys: video games, sports, etc. But I'm most familiar with girls because, well, I am one. And, to me, it seems like maybe we've lost some of the gains we had before. Try and find tops for girls that aren't pink and glittery. Try to find baby gear that doesn't scream BOY or GIRL. Try to find any nursery theme that isn't almost all pink with hearts and butterflies or blue with sports balls or trains. I wish I could find more in the middle ground. But it's very, very difficult.

So tomorrow we find out the gender of our child. And the thing that I hope Aaron and I always remember to keep at the forefront as we parent is that boy or girl, what is most important is that we help our child discover his or her unique God-given qualities, some of which may be gender related, but, I suspect, much of which has nothing to do with his or her gender, and nuture those qualities for what they are. That we think outside of the box the marketing executives and clothing designers attempt to build around the genders, and help our child to find who he or she is, the way he or she was created by God, and to believe in that and trust that.


  1. Well said Tiffany. I have always felt that gender pressure. When I would n't find out the gender of our baby until birth friends and family were in an uproar. What do they buy that child? how can you plan for the baby without knowing the gender?? It is hard when you live in a gender concerned world. Bryce wanted to play dress up with some girls at playgroup but all there was was dresses and they girls told him he couldn't play. I think some of it is built in and some is taught. Good for you for wanting to go against the flow.:)

  2. Great post! The gendering of our children from in utero is a terrible thing. I rant about it from time to time on my blog too. Thanks for posting!

  3. I agree! We are not finding out the gender of our baby and it has sent most people into a tailspin. Of course - coming from the UK (a 3rd world in comparison!) where we rarely find out the gender - all the comments roll of me like water off a duck's back. We want the surprise and healthy is all we care about!