Wanted: Rainbow Baby

26

13 October 2012 by thaliakr

SBJ in orange.

Just like reading the comments section of any Guardian opinion piece, shopping for baby clothes makes me world-weary. Every time.

In every single shop I’ve entered, a good 90 per cent of baby clothes come only in blue, pink, beige or white. The remaining 10 per cent in the boys’ section comprises camouflage and trucks. Sometimes camouflaged trucks.

I quite like blue, now that I’ve recovered from six years of blue school uniforms. SBJ has been given some gorgeous blue clothes, from powder blue hipster stripes to this vibrant royal blue Charlie Chaplin onesie. If he ever gets a sister, I’ll happily hand down these lovely things to her.

SBJ in blue.

And I appreciate that my desperation to see a rainbow in his suitcase is something of a #firstworldproblem. Who cares what his clothes look like, if they’re warm and clean and ethically produced? (You understand that all three of these ‘essentials’ are somewhat aspirational.)

The problem is what his clothes are a symptom of. If I want to buy him anything other than blue or colourless, my choices are pink (and mostly frilly), which isn’t personally to my taste for a boy or a girl, or military or mechanical themes, which send the message that soldiers and engineers are the top two career options for boys. It’s just all so limiting.

SBJ in red.

And he’s a baby, for heaven’s sake! Though I accept things may change later on, at the moment he has absolutely zero preference for guns over dolls, or for Lego over cooking utensils. Why do manufacturers and retailers feel the need to box my little boy so flippin’ early?

We’re dying to find out what SBJ will get excited by (apart from stairs, radiators and the forbidden pitchers at Grandma’s), but we also want to let him figure that out for himself. We won’t tell him to be a programmer or nurse or lawyer or clown and we don’t want clothing companies telling him either.

SBJ in yellow

SBJ in yellow

(I’m describing the problem for baby clothes. I gather it gets worse and problematic in a different way as kids get older, and boys’ clothes feature more aggressive themes.)

When I was at the stage of pregnancy where strangers ask ‘what are you having?’ and we answered that we didn’t know the baby’s sex, I was a bit surprised at the number of people who then said ‘oh, so you’re buying yellow and green, then?’ The allocation of colours to genders has become amazingly pervasive and rigid in the half-century since pink became a girl colour.

(And good luck even finding green or yellow! Unless you want some combat gear.)

SBJ in purple and green.

Fans of QI (or, you know, knowledge) may have learnt that as late as World War II, magazines in the United States were advising pink for boys (a bit like blood, but pastel?) and blue for girls (associations with the Virgin Mary?). Not till the 1950s did the current match-up become popular in the United States.

So it’s not compulsory, and there’s no reason it can’t change. A Mighty Girl has a directory of clothing retailers who broaden the options for boys and girls. Small businesses are the best bet locally (many medium-sized NZ clothing businesses seem to default to pink-blue-beige). When I find a rare item in orange or purple, I’m starting to buy it immediately for the next baby of my acquaintance needing a present.

And failing that, I guess I could just learn to sew. One day…

Ok, rant over. For now. You probably knew all that already.

In the words of Michael’s awesome tumblr: You know what I think. What do you think?

SBJ in green and blue

For more on how we ‘over-gender’ our kids and their books, toys, adjectives and clothes, you might like to read:

When Words Fail

Is This Toy for Girls or Boys?

I’m Not Bossy I Just Have Better Ideas

Can Your Daughter Be a Hero?

A Mighty Need

If you have other examples or stories of gendered toys to share, please leave a comment below. Ranting encouraged :) but all opinions welcome.

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26 thoughts on “Wanted: Rainbow Baby

  1. Daina says:

    Perhaps you’ll have to virtually visit us over at CoochyCoo.co.nz Thalia – we can do you scrummy NZ merino in pretty much any colour (or combination of colours) that you can think of :)

    • I was thinking of you guys, Daina! I’m interested to hear how much your market demands the pink/blue deal. I saw your beautiful colours!

      Do you find pink, blue and cream are your top sellers for baby sizes? Or not at all?

      I noticed you do have a colour=gender section for your value packs and wondered what drove that…

      So many questions! Give us the inside scoop!

  2. Fiona says:

    Not sure where you can get it these days…but Bright Bots have very cute clothes that are often lots of bright coloured stripes etc, minus all the gender specific pictures :)

  3. Daina says:

    Hi Thalia – yes we definitely sell most of pink for girls and blue for boys. Because it is not always immediately obvious what gender a baby is, I think a lot of parents tend to stick with the societal conventions of these colours (how many times have you heard people say “I was walking downtown with little Bob and a lady came over and told me what a pretty little girl I had, he doesn’t look anything like a girl does he?)

    As a semi-random aside, have you ever considered the societal gender conventions of names? After all, SBJ doesn’t stand for Sweet Baby Jasmine :P

    Since that seems to be what people want we do the value packs that way with cream/pinks/purple for girls and cream/khaki/blues for boys – there is the option to tell us if there are particular colours you don’t like though, so you could ask for a girl pack with no pink. People who haven’t found out the gender and are buying in advance usually get cream, particularly for things like singlets where they aren’t seen anyway, this seems to make them comfortable with putting that colour on either gender and keeping them for subsequent babies with no concerns too. We do sometimes get people who don’t like cream and buy the pretty periwinkle blue thinking that it is more acceptable to put a girl in a pretty blue than a boy in pink!

    We do also have the facility to make up things to order, and we do sometimes get requests for green, red or brown – and occasionally orange or yellow. Each to their own. With buying new I guess you have the luxury of choosing exactly what you want, I know my babies wore mostly hand-me-downs for the first couple of years and they were predominantly blue. The gifts we were given were largely blue too, a few white things as well but they have not lasted as well through 3 boys as they definitely show stains more.

    Personally I hate pink and was saving a stash of mostly reds and purples in case I had a girl. I love blue though (no PNGHS uniform related issues here) so I’m good with 3 boys! You will find as they get older that they will start to have their own opinions. Mr 4 loves blue, Mr 3 has an obsession with purple and Mr 1 lacks the facility to tell me his colour preferences at this stage although clothing-optional is the way he likes it at the moment :)

    Just like your musings about gender-based interests/toys, kids will make up their own minds at some point. I think all you can do is to give them a wide variety of experiences & options and then see how SBJ develops his own style and personality and how he expresses that. And don’t get too hung up on clothes, they only get ripped and covered in mud and paint later anyway!

    • Thanks, Daina, that’s really helpful. I hadn’t thought about how lots of parents want their short-haired baby to be identified as the right gender, and how social norms of colours help that.

      So good to have someone in the know!

      Quite right about names. We thought about that a lot too. I think for us with names for boys and girls, just as with colours of clothes, choice of toys, etc, we don’t want to box anyone unnecessarily or cut off life options. (This is slightly cheeky and not too serious) I read someone giving a test for choosing a sort of dignified girl’s name – would it work as a real life Princess :) ‘Prince William and Princess Talullah-does-the-hula-in-Hawaii’ … there’s a tip-off. But I prefer the test of whether the name will work well as a judge. All rise for Justice Talullah-does-the-hula: again, tricky.

  4. Frank says:

    I’m with you all the way Thalia! I often get people assuming Lachie is a girl, although he does have what I think are some very manly clothes, and he also has a lot of blue. I think it’s the teething necklace that does it.
    As well as the pink/blue thing, I also hate the branding! I was given a voucher for a well known NZ children’s wear retailer and couldn’t find many boys clothes – that weren’t emblazoned with their name. Bleuch! And then there was the price and the fact that all their clothes are probably like these: http://www.theonion.com/video/gap-unveils-new-for-kids-by-kids-clothing-line,14135/

  5. Georgie says:

    It took me a while to get over the PMGHS blue too, Thalia!

    I was frustrated at the lack of non-pink for girls when Hannah was born, but did initially make her some non-pink but still girly stuff. However, you can’t seem to fight their innate nature. For all our trying to teach her blue and green and yellow and red, what was the first colout she could consistently identify and name? Pink! And it wasn’t long after that that the only thing she wanted to wear was pink. Particulary the hideous lurid shades. At 5 1/2 it seems to be finally wearing off, thank goodness, and she is getting interested in purples and greens. Hurrah for diversification!

    • Georgie says:

      Whoops I mean PNGHS blue – that is what happens when you are typing in the dark in your child’s bedroom!

      • Thanks, Georgie! My Girls’ High days followed two years in navy blue at Intermediate Normal too. My primary school in Wanganui also had a grey uniform. No wonder I wear a lot of orange now…

  6. Angela says:

    I have long been fascinated by the I-hate-pink thing and have been thinking about it all morning since reading this post! I have no problem with pink. In fact… I *like* it (except for the hot pink and fluoro versions). It’s funny, because it seems to be everywhere, and obviously people are buying it, yet (particularly since becoming part of the mother/baby world) I have met person after person after person (all women) who hate pink, and I feel *totally* uncool saying that I like it. I am however, bored with pink, as we were given so much pink stuff for Esther when she was born – actually the 1st nine out of ten presents were pink clothing items. While I wouldn’t want to challenge the opinions of those of who have commented here, I can’t help wondering if pink wouldn’t be so hated if it had just been treated as another colour. Do we hate it because there’s so MUCH of it, and do we hate it because it represents girly girliness (something I think is often looked down upon, particularly in comparison to manly manliness, but that’s a topic for another day)? I wonder if it was so hated by women in the days when it was a boy’s colour.
    Esther wore a full brother-hand-me-down ensemble the other day, reds, blues and yellows. Yesterday she wore pink and grey. Today she is in blue and cream with a bit of ribbon and ruffle. I try to just treat pink like any other colour. As long as 1/2 the population are buying it by the bucket load, and the other 1/2 are hating it, that’s never going to happen! We have a lot of pink days here because we have been given a lot of pink. As soon as I throw it all away and go and spend my limited budget on other colours I am elevating pink to a status that makes it different to everything else. I would have to say though, that I do hate purple and have ducked and dodged the purple stuff we’ve been given, so I can understand the desire to do so, fortunately it’s only a couple of items for me – a shame for those of you who may hate 90% of what you have been given!
    I wonder if all the people buying all the pink are those buying presents for someone else?

    I too dislike the logos, graffiti, camou stuff on boys clothes and have worked hard to avoid it. It can be done – as you have shown in your pics above. I stuck to the baby section rather than little boy section for as long as possible. R is three now and I can see it will get harder, but it’s still working here.

    • So many directions to take this discussion in! I’m trying to remember that I don’t have an end-date for the blog and we have plenty of time :)

      Just to be clear (though I think you realise this), I don’t want to stop anyone wearing pink, I just want to increase choice so that anyone can wear anything, and so that girls and boys aren’t given untrue messages about what girlhood and boyhood consist of. I don’t mind girls being dressed as princesses sometimes as long as all girls don’t have to be princesses all the time – which is fairly close to the reality!

      Some days I quite like pink! I bought a onesie with pink roses for SBJ that he doesn’t fit yet (so it isn’t pictured). What I hate is that I had to think really hard about buying it for a boy (and I feel a bit defensive even now, so I’ll stop before giving you three paragraphs explaining why I got it!)

      You’re quite right that the anti-pink feeling goes well beyond anything deserved by the colour itself. And if it were just random colours – like tomorrow we decided it was green for girls and orange for boys – that would be one thing, but the fact that along with the colours (which is a dominant theme for babies, and changes with bigger kids) goes lacy/frilly/princessy for girls and fighty/mechanical/tough for boys is something that worries me.

      I think Daina is very helpful in highlighting that pink-and-blue buyers are a) buying presents for foetuses and b) wanting to make sure a short-haired baby is correctly identified, gender-wise, which makes more sense to me than the restrictions that show up as kids get older.

  7. Alex says:

    I had been mulling over a response to this post, but typically took too long – I think you’ve covered just about everything I was going to say in your response to Angela, Thalia!

    I am mellowing towards pink, at least in clothes, and becoming more accepting of it being just another colour. I wear it, sometimes. Isabelle wears it quite a lot – partly through hand-me-downs, but also some items I’ve chosen because, frankly, they suit her. What I really can’t stand, though, are the “Daddy’s little princess”, “Mummy’s little cupcake” style slogans that often seem to come as part of the pink-n-frilly brigade. Yeuk. (I also object to the equivalent in boys’ terms, but they seem less ubiquitous.) I think what still bugs me most is the pretty vs practical distinction, where girls’ clothes (and shoes – don’t get me started on shoes!) seem designed to look nice, while boys’ clothes seem more designed for running/jumping/climbing trees – but this cuts both ways: I find it far easier to find my daughter something to wear to a party than to find something special for my son to wear. And yes, I loathe the army-lite camouflage outfits that fill a lot of the boys’ racks at shops.

    But what I hate even more than that is the pinkification of girls’ toys – why should lego/balls/artist’s easels etc have to come in pretty pastel shades, can’t girls play with blue and red and green anymore? Why do we have to have a “pink” version of scrabble? Why should a globe be recoloured so that even the seas are pink? That, I think, is a more worrying (damaging?) limitation of a girl’s palette than the clothes thing, and I will resist such items on my daughter’s behalf until she is old enough to make her own mind up. If at that point she opts for the pink versions, then I suppose I’ll have to bite my tongue and go with the flow… But I hope she won’t!

    Sorry. Here endeth the rant… and this is me having mellowed! ;-)

  8. This is such a great discussion, and there’ll be plenty more to come, no doubt.

    Thinking I might have to read this new book on the science of gender stuff in kids:
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2010/sep/18/boys-girls-gender-gap?fb=native&CMP=FBCNETTXT9038

  9. Caroline says:

    I know this is now an ancient post so apologies for the late reply, but I’ve just been clothes shopping for my girls. I actually didn’t find it too difficult to avoid too much pink – especially if you treat it as “just another colour” and don’t mind bits of pink here and there.

    I think I’d be more disturbed by the mini-soldier outfits for boys than I am for the pink for girls.

    Looking at the clothing options for girls though, I think it’s going to get harder as they get older. The 4+ clothing ranges seem to be full of over-sexualised and mini-fashionista outfits. What happened to childhood? I’m sticking with the younger-children ranges for as long as possible!

  10. Tracey says:

    This reminds me of a comment one woman made about the stroller blanket I made for Matthew. I had wanted to do it in blue, green and brown, but the blue yarn I wanted wasn’t going to be available until a month before his due date, and that wasn’t soon enough for my pregnant self who wanted everything ready by the time I was at 7 months. So I picked another shade of green, cobbled it together, thinking dreamy thoughts about his lovely “woodland” hued blanket…and this lady told me that she liked his “camo” colours!

    Honestly though, when I am shopping for clothes for Matthew, I would swear that there is at least one more rack of little girl clothes than boy clothes in pretty much every store I’ve been in. And there’s a lot of sports themed clothes for boys, which I’m totally not interested in. I like to look for options aside from blue, and sometimes I find them. Greens are nice, so are stripes, and some of my favourite baby clothes that have been passed on to me are blue and white striped. Super cute, says baby and boy very well!

  11. Linda says:

    Though my boys are now almost 20 and almost 15, this strikes a chord still! I resented like crazy the boxes most clothing puts kids in. It is especially preposterous for infants. As Tracy said, much of the boys stuff pushes sports themes when they are tiny, which isn’t horrible I suppose, but really, does he have to be a baseball allstar? Can’t he just be? How about universal themes, like nature themes?There is nothing wrong with pink or blue, it is just their repetition ad nausseum, plus the details that go along with them. It’s Daddy’s Little Princess for girls, and I’m a basketball superstar for boys. The. more violent themed stuff is worse when they are a little older, and to my eye often ugly, but at least I could find solid colors and simple patterns like stripes. While there is lots of cute stuff for girls, so much of sends the message that the most important thing for girls is to be pretty–and all too soon sexy. Seems like in the seventies and eighties there were more clothes that could be deemed gender neutral. Now every damned thing has to have a ruffle or bow or a ninja on it so there can be no mistaking which gender is supposed to wear it. You can buck the tide, but it takes concerted effort and sometimes more money. Kudos to the businesses creating better options.

    • Hi Linda! Great to hear your thoughts!

      I agree that this trend seems to be accelerating. And that it often costs more to avoid the bows-or-ninjas choices.

      Thanks for joining the conversation!

  12. Cara says:

    I have a 5 year old boy who LOVES pink. It’s never been my color. But, I’m always looking through the girls section trying to find pink but not girly. Puffy sleeves drive me crazy!!!!! He loves bling too, so that’s fine. But pink and sparkly isn’t enough. They have to add puffy sleeves, or lacey edges or a fitted cut. Drives me crazy. American apparel has been great for some stuff. Shiny pink pants in a gender neutral cut. Actually, he almost exclusively wears their leggings now. Leggings are a good way to change up color and not have to worry about frills and cuts.

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