Rais­ing our kids to be unique

Little Treasures - - CONTENTS -

When I was preg­nant with my first daugh­ter, life was good. I was saved from shop­ping for an en­tire new hu­man by a big box of pink hand-me-downs from a friend of a friend, an amaz­ing woman who had never met me and whose gen­eros­ity saved me a for­tune. She only knew one other per­son who was hav­ing a baby at that time, but as they were hav­ing a boy, the clothes were the wrong colour. Lucky me! Imag­ine my sur­prise then, when I first met the ba­bies from my an­te­na­tal class and one, dressed in a pink one­sie, wasn’t a girl. The Chi­nese mum ex­plained: “Pink isn’t for girls in China.” It was a sort of eu­reka mo­ment – ‘pink is for girls and blue is for boys’ is not an in­nate truth. It’s a cul­tural con­cept. So how did this come about? In the 19th cen­tury, ba­bies tended to wear white dresses for the first few years of their lives, with other colours and styles slowly seep­ing in af­ter that. In the early 20th cen­tury, pink was of­ten rec­om­mended for boys as it was bright and dar­ing (as males were per­ceived to be) and the serene pas­tel of blue was con­sid­ered more suit­able for girls (think Alice in Won­der­land’s dress). My grand­mother al­ways used to tell me that this changed af­ter the war when a sur­plus of pink fab­ric was tar­geted at women as the larger pop­u­la­tion, but I can’t find any­thing to back up her claim. One thing we do know is that when pre­na­tal test­ing was nor­malised in the 1980s, man­u­fac­tur­ers saw an op­por­tu­nity. If it was deemed so­cially un­ac­cept­able for boys and girls to wear the same clothes, hand-medowns from brother to sis­ter or vice versa would be­come a thing of the past, re­sult­ing in twice as much shop­ping. At this time, pink for girls and blue for boys was for­mally set­tled upon and it stuck. Now, in the ma­jor­ity of clothes stores in New Zealand you do not need to be able to read to find the girls’ sec­tion, just fol­low the pink. For boys, look for blue. So what’s the prob­lem with that? Is there one? As one mother of two, Rachel, ex­plained to me, “Pink is fine. I have no prob­lem with pink but when ev­ery sin­gle, for ex­am­ple, piece of swimwear is pink, it’s re­stric­tive, it sends kids a clear mes­sage of who they should be, which is not nec­es­sar­ily re­flec­tive of who they are.” Some­how, some­where along the way, pink and blue stopped just be­ing colours. In­stead they’re boxes that de­note what girls and boys can wear, what toys they can play with and even how they should be­have. So what do par­ents do when their chil­dren sim­ply do not fit into the box as­signed to them? For Rachel the an­swer was to create an­other box. She was teach­ing gender and sex­u­al­ity at schools and the gen­dered na­ture of cloth­ing kept rear­ing its head. For years she wished some­one would do some­thing about it. Even­tu­ally this com­bined with her frus­tra­tion at be­ing forced into the girls’ sec­tion to buy her son clothes in his favourite colour – hot

pink. In 2015 she set up Free­dom Kids, an on­line gender neu­tral clothes shop to pro­vide “all the clothes and all the colours for all the kids”. She is part of an in­ter­na­tional trend. Last year John Lewis, a Bri­tish de­part­ment store, got rid of the gender la­bels from its clothes and has also stopped seg­re­gat­ing kids’ clothes in the shop. Tar­get, a gi­ant chain from the United States, is do­ing the same. Un­til then it’s up to us as par­ents to find other colours for our chil­dren. Jac­que­lyn, a mother of dif­fer­ent sexed twins, has had an in­ter­est­ing jour­ney away from pink and blue. From preg­nancy she ex­pected to have to fight equal­is­ing bat­tles on her daugh­ter’s be­half but in ac­tual fact has ended up fight­ing far more for her son. As ba­bies, the kids were dressed more or less in a gender nor­ma­tive fash­ion, but when they got older and started voic­ing their own pref­er­ences at around three years old, she lis­tened, be­cause, “Why would you care about what young chil­dren want to wear?” And what she heard was her son beg­ging his sis­ter to wear a par­tic­u­lar dress be­cause it was so beau­ti­ful; his twin sis­ter just wasn’t in­ter­ested. So Jac­que­lyn made sure that her boy knew he could wear it in­stead. As a re­sult he’s worn a dress (or a fairy cos­tume) most days for the last two years. For this fam­ily, break­ing free of gender norms just made sense as, “Gender is a con­struct and it’s so crazy. They’re twins, who have been to­gether their whole lives, have been treated the same, yet their out­looks are so dif­fer­ent. Gender is a lazy way of view­ing chil­dren.” I love the idea that gender norms are short­cuts that can stop us from lis­ten­ing to our kids. My ba­bies are ten months and two years old and al­ready I’ve found it’s an area in which I need to be vig­i­lant. At Christ­mas last year, I tried to think about what Santa might bring for my tod­dler. I knew she liked twirling so I went out and bought her a big puffy skirt. Bril­liant. What else might she want, what else had she men­tioned? And then I re­alised that she had been talk­ing about Spi­derman and Bat­man for about a year and we had never once re­sponded to that in­ter­est. On Christ­mas morn­ing she loved the skirt, but she re­ally loved wear­ing it with her Spi­derman eye mask. Princess Spidey roared and twirled and saved us and twirled. And for my baby? Well, she’d had a tough start to life, so needed to know that liv­ing would be worth it. Good­night Sto­ries for Rebel Girls by Francesca Cavallo and Elena Fav­illi are tales of women do­ing amaz­ing things and are ex­actly what I want her to hear be­fore she goes to bed. I get other book sug­ges­tions and ideas for em­pow­er­ing toys by fol­low­ing A Mighty Girl on Face­book. This was rec­om­mended to me by Tessa, who also has two girls the same age as my lit­tle ones. The site is ded­i­cated to “Rais­ing smart, con­fi­dent and coura­geous girls” and links to great ma­te­ri­als from around the web. One night it fit­tingly sent me to a


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