When I was little, my favourite outfit was a pair of blue jeans, and a neon yellow golf shirt with coordinated fabric belt. The vibration between the dark indigo and vibrant yellow is something that sticks in my mind quite clearly. I was what they called a “tomboy”, because I liked traditionally “boy” things, like cars. I was definitely into cars. I still am.
But I was also into Barbie. Back in the 1980’s, Barbie didn’t wear exclusively pink. Certainly there was plenty of Pepto in her wheelhouse, but the Barbie Corvette I got at a garage sale was grey. My favourite Barbie outfit was black with a beige floral print. At some point in the 1990’s, these sorts of colours were no longer en vogue for a little girl’s toys or clothes. Everything became pink.
My nephew once declared to me he was not able to pick a purple marker from the box because “it’s a girl colour”. When I pressed further, I was informed in addition to pink, that purple, silver, and white are also in the girls’ category, while all other colours are boys’.
I’ve never been comfortable with this idea. Colour being assigned a gender seems as arbitrary as days of the week being assigned flavours. Now that I’m a mom, I’ve noticed that icons have assigned genders too. Dinosaurs, aliens, construction vehicles, baseball: boys. Unicorns, rainbows, flowers, butterflies: girls. This seems highly unfair to me. Don’t boys like rainbows? Don’t girls play baseball?
When the twins were on their way we hesitated to tell people their gender, knowing that if we revealed two girls were coming, we’d be gifted a sea of pink. I actually like pink. I wear pink! My problem with how pink is used with little girls is that it seems there is no other option. Pink pants matched with…a pink shirt? So we said that we preferred gender-neutral goods. Of course we gratefully accepted gifts of frills and pink floral prints. But the upshot of requesting gender neutrality, is that we can pair those pink onesies with grey pants, toning things down a bit. Family has taken to shopping the boys and girls sections while hand-me-downs are from both genders as well. This means we have an eclectic mix of colours and themes in our twins’ wardrobes.
It also means that the inevitable questions come. “Is it a boy and a girl?” people ask. “How old is your son?” I recognize colours function as a signal to other people of the gender of your child. As a young girl, I was mistaken for a boy many times. (It likely had something to do with that Annie Lennox haircut I got at 8 years old.) It didn’t bother eight-year-old me. Why would it bother my six-month-old children?
Women do have an advantage in this regard. Women—to a point—can get away with wearing men’s clothing and not suffer the ridicule of their peers. This is unfortunately untrue for men. It’s a shame that little boys who love rainbows and unicorns have their options limited by the judgement of others.
Society seems so focused on putting kids into categories. I don’t know why I was a tomboy, and I certainly don’t want to force that identity on my girls. What I know is, I want them to feel free to play with dinosaurs, or to explore dressing like a princess. If I can hope for any outcome, it is that my kids feel confident in their identity outside of their gender. There are more important qualities to focus on. Let them be known as smart and brave kids, ahead of being known as pretty little girls…or boys.