More Baby Gender: Nine Month Addition (Part 1)

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.

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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

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

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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 nonverbal 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.

Thursday Links: I Write For The Internet!

Hello everyone! So I’ve been working my butt off to not miss Friday posts around here, but last Friday fell through the cracks. I had something in the works, and then it just didn’t happen on Friday. And then it didn’t happen on Saturday. And then it didn’t happen on Sunday. By Monday it felt more like “better luck next time…” and less like “crap finish the thing!” And I’m sorry. But I have some reasons! And the reasons are that I’ve been working a lot.

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I mostly do a really good job of not letting the writing I do for other places on the internet interfere with the writing that I do here. It’s a value to me. But on those days when the baby won’t stop screaming and I’m already behind and everything is going to hell, sometimes I have to make tough decisions. When it’s 3pm and I know for a fact that half of my to-do list isn’t going to get done, I have to start prioritizing things. Sometimes that means I have to prioritize the work that pays the rent. I hate that, but the only way to fix it is to pay me for the work I’m doing here or dismantle capitalism. I am open to either/both.

Anyways, here’s what I’ve been up to.

Over at Romper, I was talking more about the parental labor and equality and why it’s important to me. It was a pretty fun piece to write, because I actually realized in process that what I assumed my reasons are is not exactly what my reasons actually are. That is, sure, I don’t want to get saddled with all of the parenting work in part because it’s not fair for me, but also because a more equitable parenting relationship is better for my wife and my kid. Then, I did maybe the weirdest thing I’ve ever done, and cooked with breastmilk and then wrote about it.

For Ravishly, I took a deep dive into identity issues, and attempted to parse out why I consider myself more of a housewife than a stay at home mom. I also got into an issue I’ve been trying to write about for years, which is the connection there is (for me) between my feminism and my love of feral cats. I’m incredibly grateful to have had a platform to dig into an issue that is so near and dear to my heart!

And then, um, I somehow got an article into The Washington Post? It wasn’t even about parenting or feminism or being a queer either! It’s basically a love letter to a kitchen, specifically the tiniest most “horrible” kitchen I’ve ever had the pleasure of cooking in.

And really, that’s just the stuff that’s gone live recently, there’s more work happening that’s still behind the scenes. I love writing for a living, but it is a lot of work, and not to put too fine a point on it, but all of that stuff listed above? Yeah, it still isn’t actually enough to live off of. So I continue to work around my wife’s work schedule and my baby’s nap schedule. And we’re still just scraping by. If you would like to alleviate any of that, free up more time for me to work on the blog, and you are able, now would be a really great time to support Post Nuclear Era.

And now I have to go, my beautiful child is trying to figure out how to climb over the baby gate to follow our cats into the spare bedroom.

Taking Time

Lately I’ve been losing focus. Life is busy for pretty much everyone when you live in capitalism, when you live in a culture that glorifies being busy, when productivity is seen as more important than love and joy and connections. It gets even busier when you have a small child, and when you sit squarely on the poverty line. Babies find a way to extract time out of you that doesn’t even exist. They do it in perfect love and perfect innocence, but they do it all the same. And time is money, and we don’t have any of either. Add to that the fact that I’ve been freelancing, meaning I’ve been working in all the small spaces of time I can find (when the baby naps, when his Ma has him, when I’m breastfeeding and a good idea strikes), and it’s basically a recipe for constantly feeling addled, constantly feeling behind, constantly being consumed. We’ve been missing more and more family meetings, getting more behind on housework, feeling the stress of it all pretty much constantly. It’s a good life, but it’s also no way to live at all. So I lose focus, I drop metaphorical balls, I have a harder and harder time returning to myself.

A lot of this, I think, comes from being forced to live in some semblance of the nuclear, no matter how hard we fight it. Maybe fighting isn’t the answer, and maybe one day things will be better. But for now we live in a small two bedroom apartment, and most days it’s just the three of us. And even when we were living at the collective, we still often felt isolated as a family. I don’t have answers, just questions. I suppose one could move to an established commune, but that’s not where we’re at right now.

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And so I take a second to edit something that’s past due, I take a second to start dinner, I take a second to make silly noises with the baby. He is crawling now, and saying “hi” to every person, cat, and book, he meets in our living room. It’s a thrill.

<short intermission for a diaper change>

But it also means a new level of parenting, wherein he is insistent on being independent, but actually needs constant help navigating even our mostly baby-proofed front room. It’s not that I wasn’t engaged with him when he was younger, I was, it’s just on a different level now. Yes, I can set him down to play on his own for five minutes while I pee/type something up/grab a snack, but in just a few moments he will need me again. He doesn’t know that eating paperback novels is not, in fact, a thing that we do. He doesn’t know why the baby gate is there. He doesn’t know that if you crawl under the dining chairs, and then sit up, you’re liable to bonk your head. So he needs me. So I go to him. I take the books out of his hand before he can eat (very much) paper, I try to encourage that he play with his toys while also giving him the freedom to choose which ones, I sing to him and kiss his bumps and bruises.

I’ve been thinking a lot about time lately. There’s this phrase: “make time,” as in, “well you just have to make time to see your friends.” But it’s so ridiculous because you can’t actually make any more time than there is. Before you know it the day is gone and you’re reading Goodnight Moon for the five thousandth time. Before you know it, the time is gone.

***

My kid turns one at the end of May. Last year, I had a thousand projects I wanted to do before the birth. I didn’t do any of them. I had all the time in the world, but I was too sick, too tired, to depressed, to do even the most basic things, and everything else waited until after the basics were finished (which, they never were).

So I’m making him a quilt for his birthday.

I’ve never made a quilt before, but I’m fairly certain my plan will work. I’m making the quilt primarily out of the many flannel receiving blankets that we were gifted for him, the ones that were too small to swaddle him in by the time he was two months old. Those ones, and the one we took home from the hospital. You know the one.

I’ve been thinking about this for ages, trying to find the time or make the time to get started. After this load of laundry. After this article. After the baby’s down for bed. After my wife is home from work.

Then it hit me. You can’t make time, but you can take it.

You can decide to take time, even if you don’t exactly have it.

So that’s what I’ve been doing. I steal moments to cut pastel fabric into triangles. If he’s up, I can’t get much done, because he inevitably finds what I’m doing more interesting than any toy for babies, and he will try to take the scissors. But that’s ok. That has to be ok. When I cut the flannel it makes this satisfying sound. It feels strange to be dismantling the bits of cloth we used to wrap him in.

There is no time. There is never any time. But take it anyways.

I have to go, he’s after the books again.

Equity In Coparenting Land

I have a young baby, and I spend a lot of time talking with other people who also have young babies. The vast majority of those people are partnered, and are coparenting with their partners. And there’s one topic that comes up pretty much all the time. Who does what? Which parent takes on which role? And why? And more importantly than all of those questions, who is doing more? Who is resentful? Who is Burnt out and at their wit’s end?

Most of the time, most people seem to agree that the answer to that question is “moms.”

But it is a hell of a lot more complicated than that.

I recently read an advice column on this very topic. Both the letter writer and the columnist are (apparently) heterosexual women married to men. Both identify as mothers. In both cases, the mother’s husband appears to also be the child’s father and the mother’s coparent. I spell that out because, while most parenting writing on the internet (or like, everywhere) will treat those details as obvious, they aren’t actually. And that’s a little bit of why I’m writing this and what we’re going to get into with this. I’m going to encourage you to click through and read the actual column, because I actually think there’s some good stuff in there.

But if you don’t, here’s a really inadequate summary:

Q: My husband and I agreed to split childcare 50/50, but I always do more!

A: That is really hard and it happened to me too. You have to keep working at it, and make sure it isn’t you who is defaulting to doing more.

There’s also a really good bit in there about running your parenting relationship like a socialist country. That was my favorite part. But I think it doesn’t go far enough, and I think the heteronormative nature of both the question and the answer get in the way of discussing real equity.

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So now, without further ado, I bring to you…

 

The Postnuclear Guide To Equity In Coparenting Land

How to parent with another person (or persons!) without getting screwed
1. Recognize that you are a coparent.

Knowing is half the battle. If you aren’t a single parent, you’re a coparent.

You have a coparent, or possibly several coparents (you lucky duck…). When we are talking about your parenting relationship with another human being, we need to remember to frame it that way. We are talking about coparenting. You may think this sounds obvious and I’m just repeating myself, but this is so important. We often have more than one connection to many people in our lives. It may be that you are romantically involved, cohabitating, and legally married to your coparent! That’s cool, and that probably makes your life a fraction easier since that’s basically what society expects. But we’re not talking about those things. Unless, that is, you want to.
But if what you want is to talk about how you parent together and how you can make it more equitable, the first step is going to be thinking about it in those terms. As soon as you frame it as “my husband is a feminist and he’s so nice, but he never gives the baby a bath!” or “my partner just defaults to letting me clip our daughter’s fingernails because she’s scared to do it.” You’re on the wrong track. I’m not saying you can never refer to your spouse that way while talking about parenting, but I am saying that we would all probably benefit from not conflating roles.

2. Use Socialism as much as it works for you.

Each according to their needs, each according to their abilities. This is probably a your mileage may vary type situation, but in my family, we just run our entire family as a collective. We are a three member collective. One of those members (it’s the baby) has a whole lot of needs and not a lot of abilities, and that’s ok. The other two members have needs and abilities that vary. I have the ability to breastfeed, whereas our kid’s other mom does not. I also have the need for a really ridiculous amount of food to sustain all the breastfeeding I am doing. So guess what my coparent does? That’s right, she feeds me. She doesn’t do all of the cooking, shopping, or meal prep in our family, but she does do a lot, because that is a way she can support the thing that she cannot do (the breastfeeding).
Other families may have different ways of working with similar issues. I know of families who made the choice to bottle feed precisely for this reason. You do you, but thinking about making sure that each of us gets our needs met really does help.

3. Fifty/fifty (or thirty-three/thirty-three/thirty-three!) is an overall measure, it’s not necessarily about individual chore items or individual days.

I mean that’s the thing, right? When does it balance out? There could potentially be a lot of  different ways to make that work. Children don’t have the same needs throughout all of their childhood, and parents don’t have the same needs and abilities throughout all of their parenting lives. So really sit down and hash this stuff out with your partner/s. If, for example, you are taking time off work to stay home with a baby and breastfeed, what does it take to balance that out? Your partner might not be able to balance it out right now, and pretending that they can just by doing “their share” in their little bit of time off from work will make you both miserable. But in some families, it makes sense to take turns. One parent might take two years off from their career for child related duties, but after that time, the second parent steps up (and thus, steps down from work).

You need to be thinking big picture if you want to achieve actual equity.

4. Make space to talk about it, have a fucking meeting.

I’m so serious about this. Meetings are what make our family GO. If you don’t schedule time to talk about these issues, than it’s always up to the coparent who feels slighted to bring these things up and make space for the conversation… which is even more labor! If you’re stuck doing 80% of the childcare when you agreed to 50%, but you’re afraid to bring it up because it will start a fight or hurt someone’s feelings, that is doubley unfair.

Also? When parenting gets rough, when you really really need to both/all feel supported, that is when you will not be able to find time to talk about this stuff. Meetings may seem annoying, but meetings mean almost never having to say “we need to talk” when you are both exhausted and the baby won’t sleep. In my family, we have a regularly scheduled weekly meeting. Sometimes we miss it! The weeks we miss it are, without fail, the most frustrating for everyone. No matter how much we needed that hour for something else at the time, I always always always regret missing family meetings.

5. Fight against the cultural forces that destroy equity.

This is going to be really different depending on your family structure, but our culture encourages an attitude of “default parenting.” Basically, we’re operating under the (disastrous) premise that no matter how many parents a child has, there is always one parent who does the bulk of the parenting, and who is the default for all kinds of parenting tasks. If you were raised in this culture (like I was) you can’t just say “we believe in equality” and expecting that default parenting will not take over your life, you have to actively fight against it. It sucks, but so does working against any kind of injustice. Here are a few things that might qualify a parent as the default parent:

Being the parent who gave birth to the child.
Being the parent who breastfed/breastfeeds the child.
Being a woman, especially if parenting with a man.
Identifying as a mother, especially as parenting with a man.
Not working outside the home.
Not working as many hours outside the home as your coparent/s.
Not making as much money as your coparent/s.

If you have read my rantings about nuclear families, you are probably noticing something right about now. That’s right! Although nuclear families hold a place of privilege as the “norm” in our society, the more nuclear your family is, the more likely you are to be pushed into default roles. So if you are a woman, who is married to and coparenting with one man, who gave birth to your child and are staying home with them to breastfeed… guess what? Our culture is going to try to make you the default parent. That doesn’t mean that your family structure is bad! It does mean that you have to push back.

What do I mean by the forces that destroy equity? It’s the stuff both inside and outside of your coparenting relationship that constantly reinforces the notion that one parent is the primary parent. When your mother in law says “that’s just the way it is, babies prefer their mothers” tell her she is wrong and hand the baby to your coparent. When you catch yourself saying “I just can’t calm her down like you can!” remember that there are lots of ways to calm a distressed child and it is actually difficult for all parents a lot of the time… and then get back in there.

My kid has two moms, which makes this stuff a little bit easier, but it is still a struggle. I’m still the one who gave birth to him, I’m still breastfeeding him, and I’m the parent who is home with him most days. Some people like to treat my coparent like she’s a “dad” or some other kind of a part-time parent, and we have to be really really clear that that is not the fucking case. Standing up to others, and repeatedly affirming what our actual parenting division of labor is, helps to remind us and keep us on track.

6. Hold yourself accountable for your assumptions.

This is related to the last one. But look, there are going to be times when you fall into stupid assumptions. Regardless of what side of this you are on, you’re going to find yourself slipping into the default sometimes. That’s ok, it doesn’t make you bad, it’s just part of the reality of living in this culture. Holding yourself accountable for those assumptions can be humbling, but it’s also necessary and pretty simple. You just have to acknowledge it. I like to say “I’m sorry… I don’t know why I was assuming that?” and then my wife and I smile because we both know damn well why. And then I stop assuming that it’s my job to pack the diaper bag or whatever.

7. Expect your coparent/s to do the same, and don’t be afraid to hold them accountable if they aren’t holding themselves accountable.

Sometimes, your coparent/s, who are also human, will be the one making stupid assumptions. Call them out. It doesn’t make you a jerk, and it definitely doesn’t make you a nag (hello, sexist trope designed to keep women in their place!). Remember that you both/all want this relationship to be equitable, and you want them to call you out sometimes too.

“Remember that we agreed that when we are both with the baby, we both have to check in before leaving to do something else? I don’t just walk out of the room and leave you alone with our child for an undetermined amount of time, and I expect the same respect and courtesy from you.”

8. If you want it, don’t be afraid to force it.

When it’s been a long ass week, and everyone is burned out (my kid just cut two teeth, I feel you!) and those parenting scales start to tip… whatever you do, do not imagine that it’s inevitable. Do not sigh and say “well, this is the best I can hope for!” You, and your coparent/s, and your child/ren, deserve better than that. Equity is worth the trouble. Hopefully everyone in your coparenting arrangement thinks that it is worth the trouble.