Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Pink or Blue? The tricky path of gender stereotyping.

This post has appeared today over at Mum's Lounge Billboard, alongside other posts from terribly talented Australian bloggers. I encourage you to go check them out, maybe find a new reading love you may never have seen otherwise. Mum's Lounge is exactly what it says - a little corner of online mama goodness. I heart.



“Oh isn’t he cute?” says the lady next to me at the deli.


“He must be teething” says the grandma as we pass in the pasta aisle.

“Aw what a sweetie. How old is he?” asks the woman next in line at the checkout.

I get it a lot, the baby chat. They’re like magnets and people love to stop and talk about them, myself included.

The only thing wrong with this situation is that my baby is actually a little girl.

Sometimes the t-shirts in the boys section are just cuter. Sometimes she’s wearing hand-me-downs. Sometimes a blue outfit is handier on a rushed morning. And it’s interesting to see the reactions of strangers when their social cues are thus mixed.

I was intrigued to hear recently of the Canadian couple who are refusing to reveal the sex of their child, insisting it is not their place to impose stereotypical roles onto it. I like the idea of not boxing a child away into a pigeonhole, but to be honest, this just sounds like a lot of work! Having to double-think everything that comes out of your mouth before you say it sounds like it would be tedious and stressful. I’d be the first person to slip and say “he” needs a bath, or something is in “her” room.

My own experiences with the awkward silence that takes place when the well-meaning commenter struggles to figure out whether my child is a boy or a girl in the appropriate time frame has made me really think about how images help us make sense of our world. Pink and blue clothing seems to help differentiate otherwise very gender-neutral-looking babies, and socially, we are programmed to digest this information and categorise it as part of processing our environment.

Having said that, I don’t always want to buy things that are pink, sparkly and covered in butterflies just to make social interaction easier. It’s either a cupcake or a rocket ship, and sometimes I just want something not so stereotypical. While I appreciate small talk being much less awkward when the topics are clearly defined and easy to read, but life’s so much more than a random supermarket conversation.

Do you tell people when they've mixed up your kid's sex? Or just let it slide to save them embarrassment? Are you annoyed at pink vs blue in kid's clothing stores?


45 comments:

  1. If they ask "What's HIS name?", do you say "Abe"? Haha

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  2. Yes, I am so sick of the gender-colour thing! My son is 10 Now and it was also hard to get bright interesting, non truck covered clothes for him! When he was six I had a daughter and my world turned PINK! I dont like pink much, and its so hard to get away from. I want yellow and green and red clothes in the world, she wants everything pink because pink is a girls colour and blue is a boys she tells me. She is only 3. You walk into target and nearly all little girls clothes are pink. Man it is annoying! 

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  3. I said "Hey Blinkin", not "Abe Lincoln".

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  4. It drives me spare. I've been buying a lot of red lately, because I absolutely love it. People don't get as confused lately now that she's in dresses and things, but I really don't like pink sparkly butterflies. I want something else! TIme to make my own, I think!

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  5. Nice to finally hear someone raise this, (though I did read about the Canadian couple and, yes, sounds like a helluva lot of effort.) Though not a parent myself, this pink vs blue is VERY annoying, talk about steer someone into stereotypes/norms from day dot. I do find it unbelievable how the majority of parents seem to follow suit with this without question. As for saving someone embarrassment, what's wrong with letting them know and assuring them there's nothing to be embarrassed about, unless you truly were trying to define your child in the socially appropriate gender colours?

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  6. I personally just can't stand the stomach-churning, anxiety-ridden embarrassed feeling when somebody makes a social faux-pas... if I'm never going to see them again, I always think what's the harm in letting some old biddy think she's a boy? I'm sick to death of the narrow choices though. If it made a difference, I'd sure tell people their assumptions are dead wrong!

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  7. I get this A LOT too. Lily is 20 months and has never had much hair. Now that she is starting to get some hair it is very curly and sticks close to her head so she's not very girly looking.
    I'm not a girly girl at all and will not wear pink and going in to Target or Big W just drives me insane. Everything is pink, sparkly, or awful, awful bright colours. Lily wears mostly neutral colours or sometimes boys clothes. She wears dresses quite often but they are normally cute, not pretty.
    I normally try and make a comment such as "she is 20 months old" but often people ignore it anyway. 
    Our mechanic is across the road from us so we quite often see him around. He still thinks Lily is a boy and I haven't a heart to tell him differently. I'm worried what will happen when she is wearing a dress when we see him (somehow we've avoided that situation so far). 

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  8. Oh my gosh and that's way long and he'll be even more embarrassed when he realises his mistake! Augh but how do you tell him? I agree with the cute, not pretty thing. I don't mind a bit of pink or whatever, I just don't want her head-to-toe in it, every day.

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  9. Well, that's sweet of you to save face for others :) However, what if they do eventually find out and their feelings of embarrassment are perpetuated by realising you were trying to, er, protect them? Surely it aint the world's worst faux-pas, if not made to look like one. 

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  10. Totally on the same wavelength as you with this one! Both of my boys regularly wear red and grey (just cos I like it!) and my toddler has long curly blonde hair and is constantly being called a girl! "How old is she?", "What a pretty little girl", "Let the little girl have a turn"! I think it's pretty funny. I know that I've let his hair grow and also dress him in red which can be confusing so I never get annoyed, I just laugh and sometimes correct them.  I like that at this age, my two kids can just be kids rather than focus on just boys stuff.  My toddler pretends to breastfeed his teddy while I feed his brother, he loves playing with tea sets and dressing up in tiaras!  He also is extremely boisterous, rough and loves kicking balls and wrestling, but I think it's good to expose them to a wide variety of things rather than just "boys" stuff.

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  11. haha yeah, I think I'm more trying to protect me feeling that way when making other people feel embarrassed! You're totally right though, if it were someone who was going to find out in the end, then I would and should correct them. I let it slide if it's a random checkout chick or someone we never expect to see again. It is far from the world's worst faux pas and they probably need to be told. Might make them re-think the assumptions they're so quick to make.

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  12. I'm bringing Abby over to play, they sound like tons of fun! I don't get annoyed, at all - how on Earth are they supposed to know without the prescribed social cues from which they can draw a conclusion? I'm just intrigued as I've never thought of this before, and am now seeing a lot of people make assumptions as to gender. I'm more interested than annoyed! Humans fascinate me :)

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  13. I always approach it by saying to the baby (no, I'm not expecting it to answer me) 'aren't you gorgeous! What's your name?'

    Then I beam expectantly at the parents, who usually take pity on me and provide the necessary cues so I can gush some more, applying gender-appropriate compliments.

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  14. haha so do I! Or I just start talking and hope that the parent will drop a hint. It could all so easily go downhill.

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  15. It's a freaking minefield.

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  16. People seemed to get cross with me when they guessed wrong. I ended up picking a boys name staring with the same letter as I got so sick of it. Really rolled off my tongue just as easily cause of the first letter. They were happy, I didn't care, bub was months old, so she didn't give a fig LOL.
    FMIDK

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  17. I only speak up to people who I know we will be interacting with again. Greenie still gets the "she" now at 2 years old! Bluey got the "she" when he was a tiny baby. It didn't matter if he was in blue (Greenie hardly wears blue. I'm not a fan of the colour and having one kid wear it was enough for me, so I avoided it big time).
    It's surprising how little gender neutral clothing their is. Especially for older babies and toddlers. I have brought girls clothing for Greenie, it was grey and green, and had a bird. It was neutral in my eyes! Well closest thing to it. And i'm friggen sick of everything having to be trucks or cars or blue, or dark colours.
    for this reason I am a huge fan of etsy and WAHM's who can customise clothing for my kids.

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  18. Same! I think online is the best place for clothes. It's funny how much people get confused.

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  19. When my middle boy was born with LOTS of hair I frequently received comments about how pretty my little girl was. Honestly it didn't worry me too much and I rarely corrected people to save them any embarrassment. Even dressed in blue with a blue dummy people still mistook him for a girl because clearly boys can't possibly have lots of hair!!

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  20. Actually I'm annoyed that despite the gender split being 50/50, girls' clothing seems to represent at least 75% of the offerings!

    But my last memorable supermarket experience was somewhat different to yours, in that (while I would often put my daughter in greens and powder blue), the day I had her in an over-the-top pink floral number a Russian woman asked me if it was a girl or a boy? I'm guessing her paradigm was somewhat different!

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  21. Oh you're so right... it's all girl stuff! But I would have been taken aback if it was over-the-top and people were still confused :)

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  22. I hate gender specific clothing.  When the girls were little I managed to buy two matching sets of tracksuits.  They were blue with pink trim or pink with blue trim.  I often mixed them up on purpose and people would look at her and get totally confused.  Yes, I corrected them.

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  23. Frog was referred to as a boy a lot when she was between 1 and 2yo. Because I'm practical person who sees no place for frou frou dresses or WHITE and pale pink in a toddlers wardrobe! Especially one who liked the outdoors so much. What bugs me is if it isn't pink and frilly people assume boy, even though there are many many beautiful and obviously girls clothes in other colours. Although, that said, it's getting harder to find them in chain stores, where everything is just YUK.

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  24. Yes, Maisie gets called "mate" and "sailor" and "little man" all the time! She looks great in navy and red and green and even grey. When I corrected a woman recently, she said angrily "well how am I supposed to know if you don't dress her in pink?" I think perhaps people shouldn't assume and should approach babies as just that. Babies. Gender is irrelevant at this age. Pink and Blue are a relatively new phenomenon, created through advertising in the last century. Prior to that pink was considered a boys colour. I find it so interesting how attached people have become to the stereotypes. I've blogged this too as a response to my daughter being called a boy because she was wearing a blue dress!

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  25. I'm thinking I probably need to more, despite how awkward I will feel. It might make people re-think their assumptions and realise not everything needs to be be safely pigeonholed in society's cues.

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  26. Everything really is yuk. I'm finding Cotton On to be good, things are five bucks and reasonably cute. but I tend to go to the boy section, as their stuff has cool stuff on it and it's not a goddamn fairy or something.

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  27. It didn't happen to my girls, because they've always looked very girly, but I remember my brother being cooed over when he was in the pram, with people thinking he was a girl. He had the most amazing long, dark eyelashes and curly hair. He still has the eyelashes, but is now bald. Muahahaha.

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  28. Oh yes, my cousin had insane eyelashes! It's wasted on boys I think haha... I want them!

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  29. Veronica @ Mixed GemsOctober 14, 2011 at 3:40 PM

    If my girls are mistaken as boys, I do usually correct the person but in my experience, a lot of people tend to ask instead of assume. I hate the pink/blue distinction. I've written about it before. I have two girls and try to avoid pink, especially the pastels, if I can preferring purple. I also dislike lots of frills, ruffles and lace. I'm not a girly girl myself so am, admittedly, biased. I was so thrilled the other day to see a new range of cream and pale green clothes in Target. I really dislike this pink/blue distinction in toys too. Grates on me bigtime!!

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  30.  Once while walking down the street, a woman said to my child "I love your Superman shirt." And then turned to me and said "I think it's great that your not conforming to gender stereotypes and letting your little girl wear blue," I smiled, oddly I'm sure, as she kept walking, I had no time to correct her. We were breaking gender stereotypes I guess, by letting our SON have long hair which he loved and was very proud of. :-)

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  31. I can't stand sequins! That's my bugbear. I don't dress overly girly, but boy I love my pink and frills... just not necessarily on baby clothes. THE TOYS! The toys deserve their own post x

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  32. This has made my day... go you non-conformist, you! Even if you are confusing people haha. Some boys look so damn adorable with long hair xo

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  33. My little boy has small, fine features and had beautiful blonde ringlets until he was 3. People who didn't know him but who I showed his picture to would say things like, "but I thought you had a boy!". He once got in an arguement with a child at a birthday party because the child did not believe he was a boy. People would often say what a pretty  girl he was, despite his usually being dressed "like a boy". He liked his hair until he got tired of explaining he wasn't a girl. It made him so angry. I didn't want to cut those beautiful curls but I didn't want to torture him either so we chopped it off. Now he's 6 and rocking short spikes. No one ever confuses him for a girl now.

    I say yay for gender benders as long as the kid isn't suffering to prove the parents political point.

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  34. that is an excellent point! I'm all for letting the kids be kids, but would not use them to further my own beliefs or anything like that.

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  35. I love pink and blue... Not because they're gender specific, but just because I love buying pretty things for my daughter and handsome shirts for my son! But my daughter does wear her big brother's old blue shorts *gasp* And his red jacket, and a navy blue hoodie jacket that was from the boys' section. I've had people call my son "she/her" when he was a little baby and in yellows. I've had people call my daughter "him/he" when clearly in girls clothes *shrug* You can't win!

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  36. I still can't get over the fact that some people just assume straight up! I always try to figure it out by using non-specific talk, and wait for the parents to give a hint :)

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  37. I think people default to boy. Because they somehow think that it's more offensive to call a boy a girl than the other way around. I get it all the time with Piper, even when she is wearing pink butterflies! But especially if I have her dressed in blue or black or something non-pink. 

    On the one hand, as her mama, she looks so girly to me I can't relate to anyone thinking of her as a boy. If Riley is with me she will be deeply offended 'that's not a boy! That's my baby sister'. On the other, I don't really mind so sometimes I don't even correct people. Or I will do so just by using female pronouns. At which point they apologise profusely and I tell them not to worry about it because all babies look the same anyway (I totally don't believe that but it seems to put people at ease).

    The hardest part is the look of disappointment people I have that I have two girls as opposed to the holy grail of a girl and a boy.

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  38. Haha I always think Veggie Baby looks like a boy in a dress! She's beautiful and has lovely eyes, but is really quite boyish. She just looks too dressed up in a dress, i guess. Not everyone is au fait with babies and how they're supposed to look, so I guess for some it's understandable to say silly things. But that whole "disappointed without a boy thing" is a crock.

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  42. Hi there, very pleased to come across your blog today. I'm not a vegetarian but appreciate and insist on meat-free food a lot. Getting back to your post, I get tired with gender stereotyping when it comes to toys. In fact I get very angry when someone says my boys shouldn't be playing with prams and dolls. I like classic pale pink clothes on girls (just not the glitter, sequins and frou frou) and beautiful soft blues are gorgeous, but it's the extremes that I don't like. Funnily enough I recently wrote a post on my blog called 'Butterflies are for boys too'. I guess lots of us are thinking the same thing! Vanessa

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  43. Hi there! and welcome! I'm the same - I'd be furious if somebody told my kid what they can and can't play with, according to male and female social roles. I've known lots of little boys who very innocently love princess dress-ups, and girls who like trucks. They're kids, and they're toys. Chill out, everyone! Butterflies are definitely for boys too :)

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  44. Thanks for the post - I initially tried to dress my little 8 month old babe in non-gender specific tones, eschewing pink, but after receiving mountains of pink clothing from family and friends, its now easier to just pop her in whatever is handy. And who wants to see all those pink clothes go to waste? It kind of talks to your post on mummy ideals that you have prior to actually being a mother, my only mama mantra now is "never say never" ! Thanks for the blog - its great!

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  45. Oh my gosh, I have so many pink hand-me-downs! My sister was so excited to have a girl she went all out. I'm knee-deep in glitter, butterflies and sequins. But i have to team them with black leggings or shorts or something so I'm not puking pink. So glad you like the blog!

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