Since we learned we’re having a boy this time around, I’ve started taking a closer look at baby boy clothes. I found myself wanting to look into and test some of these silly boundaries that are restricting choices for boys. Maybe start a clothing revolution!! … but let’s start small.
According to clothing manufacturers (based on what is for sale in any department store or children’s clothing boutique), the items listed below are what seem to be the general consensus for acceptable imagery references sorted by gender (NOT my personal preferences btw and not a complete list, feel free to add).
- For Girls – butterflies, flowers, ballerina, cats and kittens, horses and ponies, hearts, moon, cupcakes, ladybugs, zebras, pink, rainbows, strawberries, watermelon, popsicles, “princess”
- For Boys – robots, dogs, camouflage, dinosaurs, monsters, cars and trucks, pizza, sharks, alligators, baseball, football, lions, firetrucks, “hero”, worms, motorcycles, rocket ships, surfers (*and for some reason WAY more shirt/pants separates for infant boys v.s. more onesies for girls – can anyone explain that to me??!)
- Gender Neutral (mostly on infant clothing) – frogs, monkeys, ducks, turtles, birds, stars, soccer, bears, elephants, bananas, giraffes, guitars, green, yellow (However, do note that all the animals will have a bow or a flower if it’s a “girls” outfit).
So what if your little boy that really likes cats? Sorry, you’ll have a hard time finding them on a boys t-shirt unless they’re much larger felines like a lion or tiger. Or what if your daughter likes big trucks? (mine is a huge fan of buses and garbage trucks). Well, it’ll be near impossible to find a shirt with a big truck in the girls section unless, if you’re lucky, there’s maybe a pink one.
I think few people would say it’s wrong for boys to appreciate the beauty of nature, so why isn’t it “masculine” to have a bunch of flowers on your little guy’s onesie? And every kid I know, boy or girl, will go insane for a rainbow sprinkled cupcake, but only girls get those pictured on their outfits (girls actually seem to have a lot more food images, interestingly). And zebras are only for girls but elephants are fine for either gender, apparently. Who decided this stuff?!
Clearly, graphics on baby clothes aren’t really about what the child likes – or even necessarily what the parents like. Instead it seems baby clothes are designed just to present an image, as early as possible, to announce to the world in no uncertain terms that your child is definitely a boy or a girl (although as my mom likes to tell me, she had me dressed completely in pink and people would still come up to her and comment on what a cute little boy I was – apparently the curse of a totally bald baby). But the more brands stick to the same colors and graphic formula, the easier it is for most people to know what gender baby you’ve got without having to ask and the easier it is for parents to “safely” pick out clothing. But why is this so important? So you brought home a zebra print outfit for your little boy with red hearts on it – are the other 6 month olds going to burst into tears if you dare place his confusing ensemble on the same tummy time mat as theirs? Will he or any of his drooling friends even remember what anyone wore back then?
I remember hearing about a couple in the UK who decided not to tell anyone the gender of their child to prevent outside bias and to let him/her make their own discoveries regarding personal interests and preferences (gender neutral toys, no TV, etc) – people went insane about it! Psychology lecturer, Dr. Daragh McDermott, said in the linked article above, “It’s hard to say whether being raised gender-neutral will have any immediate or long-term psychological consequences for a child, purely because to date there is little empirical research examining this topic.” But the public had certainly already decided it definitely would harm the child – why are we so sure? Why is it so important to make sure your child knows that they are definitely a boy or definitely a girl before they can even speak? Especially when it’ll probably become pretty obvious to your observant toddler that they have parts that look more like either mommy or daddy, and when sexual identity during puberty, or sometimes even before that, can throw a loop in even “simple” gender identification.
Dr McDermott added, “That being said, the family setting is only one source of gender-specific information and as children grow, their self-identity as male, female or gender-neutral will be influenced by school, socialization with other children and adults, as well as mass media.” So it sounds like no matter what parents do, kids are going to eventually be exposed to this super gender emphasizing culture we live in anyway – and yet the majority still felt that withholding the child’s gender was tantamount to child abuse. Very interesting.
In theory I don’t think there was anything wrong with what that UK couple did (I don’t know all the details of what their everyday life was like, etc. so I might be opposed to some of the specifics, but let’s not go that deep into it). If you want your child to feel free to explore and like the things he/she likes without someone saying they can’t, just because of their gender, that’s great! And I do believe it’s extremely hard to avoid unintentional bias from other people (I can’t even count how many times has my daughter been called a princess by strangers).
Actually I think lots of people try to be a little gender neutral; there are always neutral clothing and bedding sections in baby stores filled with green and yellow – and nobody complains about that. But unfortunately, after baby is born and as they start getting older, parental attempts at gender neutrality are usually directed more towards girls than boys. People now have no problems saying, “oh, I don’t buy pink stuff for my daughter” or “We only give our little girl Legos and tool kits to play with”, but you hear very few people say, “Of course my son can wear a tutu if he wants to.” And you can see this in society too – it has been socially acceptable for women to wear pants and to show more than an ankle for years, but men still cannot wear skirts or even show their legs off in shorts if they’re in a professional business setting!
Don’t worry, I’m not going to hid my son’s gender from him. I am hoping, though, that having an older sister will expose him to things he might not have been exposed to if he were an only child. For example, I might not have just gone out and randomly bought him baby dolls, but if his sister happens to have one and it becomes his favorite toy, fine. Likewise, if he never wants to go near any typically girl things, at least I’ll know he had the chance to do so – and I’m equally not going to suggest he drop the toy cars and cardboard swords and play with something else just because they’re too typically boy-ish.
I just hope that I can at least instill in my son the confidence that he can like and play with whatever he wants, no matter what anyone says (which I think boys have a much harder time with than girls). I want my kids to be happy. And I want them both to know that while there are a few things that are only for girls or only for boys: (childbirth, unfortunately, still only for girls) a pink backpack or a scary dinosaur lunchbox, ballet lessons or a pet tarantula, these can be for anyone.
Visit my Pinterest boards too for my ongoing exploration of these ideas.