I was recently out with my mum and younger son in our local town centre for a spot of lunch and shopping. My baby son was 13 months at the time, and had acquired a pair of chopsticks from the fab restaurant we were in (Busaba Ethai). He was happily waving them around, nibbling on them, dropping them etc., as we made our way around Kingston. We wandered into a stationary shop, where one of the shop assistants was admiring his chopstick-skills.
“She’s going to be a drummer when she grows up.”
Mum and I whipped round and simultaneously piped up with,
“He’s a boy!”
We weren’t aggressive or offended, and actually found it more amusing than anything. The shop assistant, however, was mortified and didn’t utter another word.
So what’s the big deal? Babies must get mistaken for the opposite gender all the time, right? Well, the big deal was this; the reason the shop assistant assumed he was a girl was because he was wearing a bright pink tank top. It was a modified t-shirt bought in the girls’ section of TK Maxx. It had a bulldog on the front, and I thought it would make a cool tank top with the sleeves cut off. And it did. He had it teamed with a pair of urban-camo shorts (very ‘masculine’, although I frequently rocked the urban-camo trousers back in my Scary Spice days, circa 1995).
If you’re unfamiliar with the gender non-specific clothing movement and groups like Pink Stinks, you may be wondering why I decided to choose a bright pink tee for my son. Well, I was getting pretty sick of my sons’ clothes being confined to blues, greens, greys and khakis. Men, women and girls can purchase clothes in styles of their choice in any colour, yet little boys have such a limited palette to choose from. This is all because we’ve got it into our heads that wearing pinks, purples and lilacs will somehow make our boys less male than they are. And this is so ludicrous because really, I’m fairly certain that nothing untoward is going to happen to our boys’ penises if they choose to wear pink.
Children are children and they all seem to enjoy and appreciate every colour. My children certainly don’t discriminate between any colours, and they’re both boys. They don’t even discriminate between toys aimed specifically at genders. I don’t force cars and trains on them, although they do like these toys. As well as their vehicles, they also have a girl doll called ‘Baby’, as well as an array toy kitchen apparatus. My elder son loves flowers and cooking as well as horsing around and rough games.
Indeed, my elder son also takes a keen interest in the variety of nail colours that I wear, and insists that he have a nail or two in a matching colour. In the park recently, we met a woman who saw his toe nails and asked him if he was a girl. And when shopping in Next a few weeks ago, I was picking two lilac t-shirts for the boys in the girls’ section. I was with my elder son, and the shop assistant said ‘I hope they’re not for you’ (talking to my son) and directed me to the boys’ section which was home to ONE salmon pink polo shirt. Amongst other things, I told her to open her mind, which she didn’t appreciate, but hopefully it made her think about her attitude.
Anyway, I know there are other parents who take gender neutrality very seriously, probably way more seriously than I do, and have indeed written about it. A lot of the focus is on the negative effect that the colour pink has on little girls, but there isn’t so much about the effect of limiting boys to stereotypically boyish colours/appearance. If a girl dresses in ‘boy’ clothes, she is deemed as a tomboy, which is fairly endearing. There is no equivalent for boys. Little boys couldn’t possibly play with dolls, yet they’re expected to grow up and be amazing fathers. Isn’t the whole purpose of roleplay in childhood to learn about some of the activities that children see their parents doing? Caring for a younger sibling can be mimicked by looking after a baby doll, and surely this is a positive learning activity for little girls and boys?
Boys’ sexuality is referred to or questioned in a negative manner if they’re seen to be wearing or playing with anything traditionally feminine. I have never heard of anyone being coerced into a sexual preference because of the clothes they wore as a child or the toys they played with. And anyway, even if that child later discovers that they are gay, who cares?!
So there. I just wanted to share with you my annoyance at the absurd notion that girls and boys should have certain toy and colour preferences. They are all innocent, curious and blank canvases, and should be allowed to make up their own mind about the things that they like. They shouldn’t have to deal with the nonsensical and historical notions that we hold around gender specificity and I can only imagine how pleasant a world with less of that attitude would be.
In the meantime, here are some photos of my boys rocking pink. I would, as ever, love to hear your thoughts on this.