Take a look at these shirts, and think about whether or not there’s any question as to which gender baby they’re meant for:
For some perspective, these are all onesies that I found in the baby girls department of a major retailer. They’re all available starting in newborn size. Now, I love a funny kid shirt as much as the next parent. My kids have been known to sport such gems as “Boy Genius”, “Charm Courtesy of Dad”, “Peace, Love, and Cookies”, “Kickin’ it Preschool”, etc. What bothers me is the readiness to cast newborns into roles of what we deem desirable for their gender…from birth. The idea of gender roles and gender norms for children is something I’ve been interested since I took my first child psych course as an undergrad. As recently as 100 years ago, there was virtually no distinction between clothing for male and female babies. Babies were all generally dressed in white (easy to bleach!), and all wore gowns (easy to change diapers!) and since having a separate nursery was uncommon, the world of “nursery decor” was pretty much non-existent. The whole idea of casting babies and toddlers into very distinct and rigid gender roles is…new. (As an aside, if you’re interested in reading about this kind of thing, this article is a great start!)
This all makes me wonder why we, as a society, started to differentiate infant genders not only by color, but by literally printing gender-specific traits onto clothing for our babies. And perhaps more specifically, when did we agree to stick our daughters in shirts that proclaim them to be tantrum-throwing, boy-crazy, and materialistic little divas?
All this line-drawing between boys and girls really bothers me as a parent. I happen to have a son who is a fantastic shopping partner. He even carries my bags into the house for me! Where is his “Mommy’s New Shopping Buddy” shirt? Can you imagine the looks I’d get if I put him in the one above? In recent years, the diving line between pink versus blue has seemingly taken over the baby and child world. Why? My theory is that the world of marketing plays a strong role. Since there are almost no gender-neutral baby clothes out there anymore, aside from neutral layette designed for parents who opt to keep their baby’s gender a surprise, parents are practically required to buy two wardrobes if they have both a son and a daughter. Even jeans come in very specific boy and girl “fits” starting in infant sizes. Regardless of the reasoning, it’s getting more intense all the time. Even my not-quite-three year old can identify “boy things” and “girl things” when we’re out shopping. I’d guess that even younger children could do the same. I do wonder sometimes about the subtle messages we are sending our children in our recent quest to keep the genders separate. Let’s let our kids be kids!