When I started this blog, I never imagined how much time I would devote to talking about baby gender. I figured our fairly gender liberal attitudes toward parenting would get brought up, I would link to this post a number of times, and that would be that. But in fact, baby gender has become that thing which just keeps coming up. I continue to be fascinated (and also horrified) by the way we, as a society, gender our infants, and so I continue to write about it. I’ve written about the pressure to gender fetuses as soon as possible, and why we put our kid in pink, and even the fact that we use “he” pronouns and how that is a choice. I’ve branched out and written about dressing my kid in femme clothes for Romper (note: my editor put that headline on there). So you’d think I might be done picking apart the complexities of gender for the under one set. Maybe my readers were crossing their fingers that they wouldn’t have to hear about this stuff again until my kid was two or three and the game changed.
Except, as it turns out, the game is changing now. The aggressive gendering of infants continues to be intense, resisting it continues to be a huge part of my life, but my experience of how that works changes rapidly as my child grows. As I learn new ways to navigate the ever changing world of baby gender, I find myself constantly fascinated. The changing rules of baby gender (and I’m certain toddler gender and then childhood gender) are in fact something that all new parents must be learning, but the rules have that weird “invisible but out in the open” quality to them.
And so here we are, with a nine month old child. Here’s a little bit of what’s going on in my world of baby gender, and how we (his ma and I) are attempting to cope with it all and set him up to have a bit more gender freedom than we had growing up.
*Edit: This post is getting obscenely long, so for today, I’m going to stick to just gendered clothing issues, and dive into the other issues another day.*
Gender for Nine Month Olds
- Clothing: There Is No Gender Neutral
When he was a newborn, there were three main gendered options for clothing for him: aggressively feminine clothing, aggressively masculine clothing, and a tiny tiny amount of “gender neutral” clothing. The neutral clothing was mostly terrible, it was usually white or gray, sometimes with yellow or green. If it featured any animals they were either ducks or frogs, which are apparently the two gender neutral creatures in the animal kingdom. Oh I guess there are also giraffes! Anyways, there wasn’t much and it wasn’t terribly interesting, but it did exist. And because we refused to check to see if our child was sporting a penis before his birth, we ended up with a lot of it. Of course after his birth, people pretty much switched from buying us “neutral” clothes to buying us “boy” clothes, so much so that we actually had to ask our relatives for “no more dark blue please!” because it was taking over and we don’t even like dark blue (I mean all the cat hair shows up on it).
But most of the “neutral” clothing made by major baby clothes manufacturers only goes up to six month sizes. A few things go up to twelve month. Our kiddo is nine months old, but he’s big for his age, and is currently wearing mostly eighteen month sizes, and in some brands he’s wearing 2T. Which means that, as we move out of baby sizes and into toddler sizes (and no, I’m not emotionally ready for that, thanks for asking) the “neutral” options disappear all together. Most stores have a baby section, which is roughly divided along gender lines but also includes some of that gray and yellow crap. But when you exit the baby section you have to go to either the boy section, or the girl section. You can potentially work around this if you have the gumption to seek out retailers that don’t do this, but the vast majority of them do. Even Primary.com (I am a huge fan of their stuff and they aren’t paying me to say that either) divides their kids’ clothes into “boys” and “girls,” although there are some items that appear in each section (like hoodies).
Most parents, (and grandparents and aunts and uncles and friends) even if they are fairly progressive, tend to go to their assigned store section. That means that even if they think the policing and enforcing of gender roles on kids, toddlers, and infants, is messed up, they still won’t venture into items being marketed towards the “opposite gender.” So instead, they do this kind of dance, wherein they look through the “appropriate” section for items that are less aggressively gendered. I actually hear about this a lot from progressive parents!
“We looked through everything to find something that wasn’t pink and covered with bows!”
What they mean is that they looked through everything in the girl’s section. I’m not saying every parent needs to parent how I parent, and I understand that there is anxiety around shopping in the “wrong” section. But. BUT. When that’s how we try to circumvent gender oppression, we lose something. In fact, we end up normalizing the same categories that we were seaking to avoid. Parents end up settling for, instead of offering a daughter a wide variety of wardrobe choices, getting her things that aren’t THAT girlie. If it just has one bow, it’s fine. If it’s purple instead of pink, that’s seen as an improvement.
When people buy clothing as gifts for our child, it tends to follow that model. You can tell by looking, they went into the boy’s section and then looked for things that they could consider, theoretically, gender neutral. So we’ll get a set of onesies in a variety of colors, but when you look closely you realize there are three shades of blue and no pink, purple, or yellow. These items are fine, and he wears them, and some of them we even love. But now, with the neutral option completely gone, he is at risk of having all “boy” clothes.
So it becomes more and more important for us – his parents – to be willing to push back against that. I cross the aisle into the girl clothes. I am anxious every time I do it. What if someone asks if I have a daughter? What if they hear me remark “oh be would look so sweet in this?” To the friend I’m with? But giving my kid real, tangible, options is more important than my comfort level. So I keep doing it. It is, admittedly, one thousand times easier online.
- Clothing: Actually Everything Good Is For Girls
I’m kidding, but only just.
Because we, unlike many parents of male children, actually do venture into the girl’s section, we see first hand what they are offering. And there are a lot of things that live in the girl’s section that aren’t pink or frilly, and don’t make much sense to me, and don’t have an equivalent across the aisle in the boy’s section.
For instance, these baby leggings covered in ice cream cones.
They’re not PINK ice cream cones, they’re just… ice cream cones. So why is ice cream gendered? Do little boys not like ice cream? Is this a “sugar, spice, and everything nice” problem?
I was starting to feel like the boy section was just boring, but I thought hey, maybe that’s just because I don’t like sports. Or maybe it’s because I’m so focused on making sure he has femme options, and other people are making sure he has plenty of masculine options. I wondered about it. So I decided to go online, and check out some of the actual differences for major retailers. Let’s look at Target for a second. These numbers are for everything currently available on target.com
toddler girls: 1356 items.
toddler boys: 1067 items.
Not only do little boys not get ice cream themed clothing, they also, apparently, get nearly 300 less options all around. I decided to check the numbers for Carter’s, a popular baby and toddler clothes brand sold at many retailers, Target included.
baby girls new arrivals: 202 items.
baby boys new arrivals: 138 items.
toddler girls new arrivals: 125 items.
toddler boys new arrivals: 76 items.
And then, Old Navy, which does have some crossover items that appear in both boys and girls.
toddler girls: 1292 items.
toddler boys: 779 items.
So what is going on here? It seems to me that the gendering in some ways is going even deeper than I realized. We’re not just telling very young children (and the caregivers of very young children) that girls wear pink and boys wear blue, that girls like dollies and boys like trucks. We are, in fact, telling them that girl children, even non–verbal girl children, need and deserve more clothing options than boy children do. Because boys, they just don’t care about fashion, right?
And at the same time, you have things as gender neutral as junk food (what child does not love ice cream and cupcakes, I ask you?) being aggressively gendered as explicitly feminine. I don’t even know how to pick that apart today, to be honest, because of all the good shame those same little girls will encounter for enjoying such treats. But I think this spells very bad news for everyone.
Ok, that’s all I’ve got in me for now, tune in next time for part two, when we’ll talk about the language changes around gender as babies grow.