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