Return To Gender: The Update

If you’ve been reading since the start, you may remember that I spoke quite a bit during the pregnancy about wanting SB to be ‘gender neutral’ – I was determined that whether she was a boy or a girl, no blue or pink would grace her wardrobe or her toy cupboard. Well, we’re now sixteen months in, and I think it’s time to do an update on the gender neutral situation.

I think we (eventually) found a happy medium. We decided to be sensible, and never planned to raise SB not knowing whether she was male or female. We just didn’t want her to feel like she has to dress in a certain way, and play with a certain toy, purely because of the fact that she was born a girl.

If you’ve paid attention to the occasional picture spams I’ve posted on this blog over the last year and a half, you’ll hopefully agree that we’ve succeeded at this – mostly.

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In the early days, I thought that going ‘gender-neutral’ meant eschewing all things pink; dressing SB in only shades of beige, yellows and whites. Suddenly, the minefield of buying baby clothes was even tougher to cross.

I’d feel guilty every time I saw a frilly dress or a pink skirt and wanted to buy it. I’d chastise myself internally for hankering after a ‘Daddy’s Little Princess’ t-shirt for her. Every time I felt myself wanting to squeal over a pink dress, I’d have to stop and remind myself that I wasn’t making feminist choices. I wasn’t raising my daughter to be strong; I was raising her to accept society’s norms and conform to them. I’d managed to turn the simple process of buying baby clothes into some kind of massive debate over gender politics; something no exhausted new mum wants to concern herself with. SB lived in gender-neutral colours; whites and yellows and pale pastel greens.

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I don’t remember the exact point I realised it, but one day I had some kind of epiphany, as daft as that sounds. Why was I restricting myself to a tiny range of clothing, when it would be so much easier – and make so much more sense – to buy clothes from the “Girls” section and clothes from the “Boys” section?

So that was what we decided to do. Now, SB’s wardrobe is filled with blues, pinks, greens, purples, blacks, whites and any other colour imaginable. We went to Clarks recently and bought her first ‘proper’ shoes – pink Mary Janes covered in stars. These may be a “girly” choice, but they look fantastic with her Superman socks and dungarees. Equally, she has a dashing trilby hat, which looks fabulous with her lovely white daisy dress.

It really is a sight to behold – Batman pyjamas hanging next to a Rapunzel dress, and t-shirts reading “Beautiful just like my mummy” and “Awesome just like my daddy” together in the drawers. By now, we are well-accustomed to strangers in shops complimenting us on our handsome chap, or asking how old “he” is. It used to really bother us, but I’m not sure why. Let’s face it, all newborn babies look like adorable, yet slightly androgynous, potatoes. Would it make her any less beautiful if she was a boy? Of course not!

These days, we either slip a subtle “she” into the conversation, or just let them get on with it. SB doesn’t mind, she just loves the attention (hmm… I wonder who she gets that from?).

It begs an interesting question, though. If our next baby is a boy, will we dress him in SB’s hand me downs? Will we go to the girls section as well as the boys’ in clothes shops? I want to say yes, of course, why wouldn’t we… but I fear that peer pressure will play its part. For some reason, it’s far more acceptable to have a girl in dungarees or trousers, than it is to have a boy wearing dresses.

As far as we’re concerned, I think practicality will play a part in our decisions. We have no intention of finding out the sex when I do get pregnant, so the baby will be wearing SB’s hand-me-downs regardless. The question is, will we be brave enough to extend that to pink t-shirts and playsuits for when the weather is warm? Is it a question of being brave, really? I want to say no, but even still, I can’t see myself putting a boy in a dress unless he requested it, whereas I would have no qualms with dressing SB in anything, regardless of which section of the shop I bought it from.

Plus, there are some stereotypically ‘girl’ clothes that I can’t bear to part with. Tights, for instance. When you’ve got a child who loves nothing more than pulling their own socks off (and, if future Baby #2 is anything like his or her older sister, they will love it), tights are a godsend in the middle of winter. Whack them on under a pair of trousers and BAM, lovely warm baby feet and no discarded socks turning up in your half-finished mug of tea.

There’s certain degrees of it, though. As I say, I wouldn’t think twice about putting tights on a boy, because of the sheer practicality. But what about dresses? In the winter, there’s nothing quite like a dress for keeping SB cool. I can’t imagine that even shorts would allow that same kind of freedom and ability to cool down. So will I put any future sons in dresses? Is it a question of their comfort versus my feelings, or will they look back on baby pictures and berate me for putting them in ‘girly’ clothes?

As for toys… we do own a higher-than-average collection of pink items – to my shame, items that were available in other colours too. Her rocking horse came in green or pink, as did her walker and her trike, and I am responsible for choosing the pink varieties. Do I regret this? No, because in some cases, the pink version was cheaper. In the case of the trike, pink was the only colour in stock. Similar to the way I refuse to worry that the clothes we have for SB would be unusable for a future son, I don’t worry that her toys will be unusable. If we can say there is nothing wrong with a girl riding a blue trike, or a green rocking horse, then we can also say that there’s no problem with a boy riding a pink one.

I hope that more companies will choose to follow the example of Target in America, who have removed all gender-specific advertising, and just have ‘toys’, rather than ‘boys toys’ and ‘girls toys’. I never want SB to feel that she can’t play with cars, because they’re in the ‘boys’ section of a shop. Hopefully we are moving increasingly towards a less strictly-gendered society, and we’ll start to see more beautiful unisex clothing ranges, like the gorgeous ‘Little Bird’ range at Mothercare, which is full of rainbow colours and motifs.

For now, all I can do is continue to dress SB in her varied wardrobe, and pray that wearing a t-shirt with a rocket ship on it won’t scar her for life and leave her forever questioning her gender, or whatever the arguments against gender neutrality are these days. So if she wants to wear her Batman t-shirt with a tutu, or her pretty dress with a pair of blue trainers, we’re going to go ahead and let her – not only because she looks really freaking adorable, but because if we encourage the breaking down of gender roles at this early age, by doing away with “pink is for girls and blue is for boys”, think of the fixed gender roles we could have broken down by the time our children are adults.

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