By Lauren Keenan
Before I had children, I was going to be the best Mum in the entire world. Of course I was; I had read a book and seen an article about parenting online. Ergo, I knew all the answers.
One thing I was never going to do was raise children who believe pink is for girls and blue is for boys. I knew that the pink/blue divide was an artificial construct invented by savvy manufacturers to sell more clothes. I wore dull shades of brown growing up, and wearing “boys” colours didn’t send a stealth signal to my pre-pubescent body that I was to turn into a man instead of a woman. After all, the pink/blue divide has as much grounding in science as the Easter Bunny.
Then, I had a boy and a girl, and things got complicated.
Gendered play and the pink/blue divide are so prevalent in society it’s hard to know where nature stops and nurture begins. Studies with rhesus monkeys show that male monkeys prefer mechanical toys, and female monkeys prefer dolls. To an extent, that’s been my experience: while both my kids play with everything, my son gravitates to monster trucks and trains. My daughter, on the other hand, plays ‘babies’ and ‘cooking’. But, how can I ever know whether or not that’s just confirmation bias at play? Plenty of boys play with dolls, lots of girls love trains, and my sample size of two is hardly representative. Maybe I’m just noticing because it’s a stereotype? My inner feminist was reassured: I was not failing.
Then, my son said he wants to be a geologist when he grows up. My daughter? A beautiful princess. This wasn’t said in a normal voice, either: her eyes glazed over and she twirled as she said ‘princess’. My inner feminist crouched in the fetal position, thumb in mouth. The red haze descended: there are no studies of rhesus monkeys where female monkeys want to be princesses. There are, however, toys and clothes marketed for little girls emblazoned with the word. A clothing chain I once visited had collections for small boys entitled “tough guy”, “tomorrow’s heroes” and “flying high”. The collections for girls? “Mademoiselle”, “folklore fantasy”, “home sweet home” and “autumn princess”. Nice messaging, corporate giants. I blame you and your ilk for my daughter wanting to wear a dress that looks like a meringue on crack.
I realized just how much I had failed in my attempts to resist the pink/blue divide of doom when we received a box of secondhand clothes from a relative. The clothes spilled onto the floor; the children leapt upon them in manner of a crazed feeding frenzy. Without speaking to each other or me, they decided whose were whose strictly along colour lines. Aggressive gender marketing of children’s goods: one point. My ideals: zero. My inner feminist: drowning in the proverbial wine glass of pity.
What, then, was I to do?