I’ve been really appreciating this piece on the one-way quality of the unisex baby names trend.
Why is it that only girls are permitted to enter the playground of gender fluidity? Might it be because, despite all our talk about gender equality, we still believe deep down that the worst thing a boy could be is like a girl?
Another gem is Audra William’s piece Everybody in dresses : Why does gender neutral clothing always mean ‘boy’ clothes for girls? with a similar punch line :
If gender neutral clothes are only made for and marketed to the parents of little girls, it is less a sign of gender equality and more an indication of the misogyny that is so ambient in our culture. There is such a devaluing of anything traditionally feminine that we’d rather chuck it out triumphantly than ever demean our boys with it.
This has always been sociologically fascinating to me and is all the more practically and politically important to me now, as a mother. I have two boys, a preschooler who chooses his own clothes and whose favourite colour is pink and a baby whom we gave a so-called ‘girl’s name’ to because we loved the name and it works in the three languages that our families speak.
We aspire to raising our sons first and foremost as kids, which means having toy shelves filled with both trucks and dolls, having a variety of clothing options on offer, using gender neutral/inclusive words and subverting a bunch of the books we read so that they don’t internalize gender rules/roles faster than they need to (brainy girls are bossy know-it-alls! boys love breaking things! the pink one is for girls! fathers read the paper while moms cook! mothers are the ones who give kisses when kids hurt themselves! etc.)
It isn’t always easy. People are routinely puzzled by our youngest’s name and our eldest’s attire — convinced, perhaps, that : they misunderstood the names, we have a language barrier, we are joking.
When it became clear that our eldest would be needing a new jacket for the winter, I cracked open my laptop to show him, online, the options available at the store where I intended to buy the coat. Despite being a co-op and pretty progressive, the store sorts kids clothes as either for boys or for girls. These items are sized the same, but the colours and sometimes styles are different.
After scrolling through all of his options, he says, « I want that one! » pointing at the hot pink coat. I feel a mix of pride — this kid totally knows his choices are very different than those of the boy children he knows and is going full steam ahead — and worry. Worry that this world will eat him alive, make him feel shitty about his preferences, about who he is. Worry too about all the social discomfort that comes with folks misgendering your kid all of the time (because sometimes he cares, sometimes he’s indifferent.. and every moment cannot be a teaching moment).
I initially caved in to the pressure and got my beautiful long-haired son the turquoise coat. It had the ‘girl’ style, but wasn’t as uniformly hot pink as the pink one. I justified it by saying to myself, the bulk of the clothes he wears are already pink and this coat needs to be worn by two kids; kid number 2 has a so-called ‘girl’s name’, I can’t ask him to wear a pink coat if he hasn’t expressly chosen it. C’est trop.
I felt hella shitty about the purchase.
I showed him his new coat and he was indifferent at best. Then I read this piece about a mama not buying her son the pink sparkle shoes he wanted because she didn’t want him to find out that those shoes aren’t made with him in mind. She regretted the decision.
I should have used shoe-shopping to teach a lesson: “Be proud of who you are. Be unapologetic, love yourself and love the people around you.” I didn’t do that. I did the exact opposite. By not getting those shoes, I indirectly said, “Hide who you are. Be like all the other little boys and wear these sneakers. Blend in. Don’t have an individual voice. You won’t get hurt that way.”
I returned the coat.
And brought home the pinkest coat I had ever laid eyes on.
The coat is over the top and it is gorgeous.
And it is a stupendous tool for a parent wanting to learn to be more assertive and a better advocate for gender-creative kids.
What struck me during the holidays (when we interacted with oodles more people than we do in our normal day-to-day life on the farm) is the extent to which even when this kid was knee deep in cars (which, if he had his way, would be most of the time), the fact that he’s in pink overrides all other gender stereotypes people hold. Always. In people’s minds he is always a girl playing with trucks, which they think is cool. They never seem as comfortable with a long haired boy dressed in pink playing with cars. They are puzzled.
(And often not very attentive to my own use of pronouns)
So indeed, « no one thinks it’s quirky and charming if you name your son Clara. » And seeing markers of femininity on boys garners much disbelief.
That being said, this mama is going to try to stop overthinking it. These kids are fantastic and well-equipped. And to those who would have us make our eldest look « more like a boy » because they fear he’ll be bullied, I say, why the hell would I bully my kid.