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Does gender conditioning start from the womb?
It was a couple of months ago when I was trawling baby stores in a mall in Manila, hunting for the perfect baby shower gift for my 8 months pregnant friend that I realized that differentiation on the basis of colour was still a very real phenomenon. No, they did not have different products for Asian babies as opposed to Caucasian babies. And thank the powers that be for that small mercy. But all the stores were neatly partitioned into the blue section and the pink section.
Now, my friend had found out her baby’s gender, as is usual here in the Philippines and told us in advance. So the obliging sales assistants who showed me option after option for baby boy gifts did not have a lot of issues with me as a complete newbie to baby stores. Without a lot of ado I picked up a blue baby hamper. In a week, we all got together for the shower that had blue streamers and a blue cake and we were all predictably dressed in blue, which at that point did not seem like a big deal to me.
Now 2011 turning out to be the baby boom year that it is however, I found myself back in those shops a few days later, this time shopping for my pregnant sister-in-law. And because she lives in Delhi, there was no way of knowing whether I was going to have a niece or a nephew.
Consternation ruled as the salespersons showed me the prettiest of things in either pink or blue. Yes, I could pick up blankets in yellow or lavender and maybe onesies in white. But on the whole it seemed to me like, baby product manufacturers had decided that they did not need to widen their colour palate beyond pink and blue. What was worse, pink was for girls and blue for boys! And the more I searched, the more I worried about whatever happened to gender-neutral clothing for children.
Now having rummaged and scavenged through every cutesy store that caters to babies from 0-6 months, I realize that the colour divide is the norm rather than the exception. I find it tragic that an infant needs to be identified on the basis of gender that is conveniently announced through the colours she or he is swathed in. To me, the day a mother has to put a pink bow on an almost hairless, still soft head of an infant to declare that she is a girl is also the day that she says my daughter will have to dress a certain way and in certain clothes as she is female. Sure, I might be over-reacting. I’m going to conveniently blame it on my pregnancy hormones. But as I get closer to my due date, I wonder whether we are geared to condition our children to certain ways of thinking even before they are born.
At the baby shower I also met a mother of two, a son and daughter who proudly told me that her six-year-old son refuses to wear Pink or shades of pink as it’s for gays. And by the way, the mother was thrilled about it, even as her 9-year-old daughter pranced about in a peach coloured dress. The reasoning behind the mother’s happiness being that her son was obviously thinking in a ‘manly’ fashion and already thought himself different and superior to his pink wearing sister and homosexuals. How much he knew about homosexuality apart from gays being somehow inferior to him the six-year-old boy, I’m not sure of.
Now I understand the joys and thrills of getting to decorate your child’s nursery and room in a specific shade according to a theme. But do we need to go to the extent where a colour represents a specific gender and inculcating the idea that showing preference to the opposite colour is somehow perverted?
The weird thing is that the idea of blue for boys and pink for girls is not even that old, as this article from the Smithsonian and even a simple Google search will show. So why are we so obsessed with this gender based colour scheme?
Will our sons turn out to be gay if we dress him up in pink booties? Will our daughters come home with butch haircuts clutching on to their female life partner’s hands if we make them wear blue onesies?
Would that be so bad?
Or would we prefer gender appropriate colour clothed sexists and chauvinists as our offspring instead?
Pic credit: Richard Dunstan
Shweta Ganesh Kumar is a Writer and Travel columnist.
Her fourth book and first collection
I live in the US, and here you have a variety of gender-neutral clothes to pick from. Still, dressing them in pink/blue won’t have much effect unless you specifically associate it with gendered behavior, and you enforce that with your kids – and, honestly, I haven’t met parents who do that. Lots of baby girls wear blue – color coding gets restrictive for the boys, but then that’s true for all ages. Why don’t men wear pink pants ? I believe the color-coding obsession is over-hyped – we aren’t really obsessed with it as much as they say we are. Parents don’t dress kids in pink/blue with the express idea of inculcating girlish/boyish traits in them, and when they do, it’s not because we want her to make the tea, and him to mow the lawn.
Good to know that you have options and friends who aren’t too fanatical as far as colour-coding is concerned. But like you said, it does get restrictive for boys and men, who think twice before wearing a bright pink shirt because they think it might identify them as a certain type. Which come to think of it should not even be an issue, if certain colours hadn’t been used to define gender types.
More power to the parents who care two hoots about colour coding, but I think those like the mother I’ve mentioned in the article really need to rethink their parenting concepts.
Dearest mommy to be, am pretty sure this is yr hormones speaking! :))) just remember we are lucky, we can wear any color and get away with u and for little boys, pink can look cute (if u can find anything in that color for him! ;o) ) but just thought i’d comment coz in a few weeks, you will notice more and more ways of parenting styles that you may not approve of…and those will be of more serious nature than dressing them up and in such cases, its always better to think that parents know best and each parent will have their own style 🙂 so as long as the baby is not in danger…each to his own :))…wishing u all the best for the next few weeks and lots of sleep before … ;o))) hugs
Thanks for the wishes and reading and commenting. 🙂
I agree the hormones might have had something to do with it, but I still think parents need to be making their children open-minded and not really teach them that a particular colour means a particular gender.
I agree that parents know what is best for their children,but I doubt being blatantly homophobic will really help any child. And as parents I think that it is their responsibility to their children to ensure that they grow up with the right attitudes. After all physical normalcy and well-being is just part of who we all are na? 🙂
The article made an interesting read,esp. for someone who doesn’t follow the code. Newborns look cute and cuddly in or out of clothes. In fact the clothes look beautiful when they wear them. When buying for your little one all color and design options are open to you. Its when you buy for somebody else that the code takes over. Indu bought a pink something for Anay. She says she felt he shouldn’t be denied the cuter color simply cos hes male! As you said its the media of today that’s programming us to see boys in blue and girls in pink. Strong self confident men wouldn’t think twice about wearing pink either. girls don’t hesitate when it comes to wearing blue. or perhaps men allow their clothes to speak for them?
Thank you for reading and commenting 🙂
And I completely agree with what you’ve said. NIce to know that there are people out there like Indu who make a conscious decision to buy pink for male baby. I wish I’d made the same decision for my friend. But there will always be a next time 😉
Shweta, you are not overreacting. The whole colour-coding has gone crazy. What started off as a marketing gimmick – split the market thus selling two of anything instead of one – has become one more osified and unncessary way of dividing up the genders. Why should we not be buying into this? Because it’s adding another layer to the already pointless distinctions between boys and girls, making them out to be more different than they actually are.
@THE BRIDE – Thank you for reading and commenting!
It’s good to know that there are others out there who feel a slight sense of outrage at the apparent rigidness of it all.
Like the comment above yours, I guess the only way to go is to make conscious decisions to buy pink for our boys and blue for our girls so that it ceases to be something that can be used for diffrentiation anymore.
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This reminds me of an incident in Calcutta, where my sister was shopping for T-shirts for her 2-year-old son. The shop assistants were almost frantic in protest as she was picking up clothes in the girls’ section (the girls’ T-shirts had bright reds and pinks and yellows, while the boys’ ones were browns and greys). She found it very funny, but I feel sad for all the little boys who get to wear such drab clothes!
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