13 October 2012 by thaliakr
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.
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.
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.
(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.)
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?
For more on how we ‘over-gender’ our kids and their books, toys, adjectives and clothes, you might like to read:
If you have other examples or stories of gendered toys to share, please leave a comment below. Ranting encouraged :) but all opinions welcome.