Before Maya was born, I was really hesitant to buy her anything pink. I avoided the onesies that said “Little Princess” or “Diva in Training” or “Daddy’s Little Angel” I bought neutral browns and greens and yellows and I shopped a lot in the boys’ section. It didn’t seem fair that all the girls’ stuff had kittens and purses and shoes on it, while boys could choose from zombies, guitars and racecars.
But then it got annoying to have everyone mistaking Maya for a boy. And it was shocking how differently strangers treated “boy Maya” than they treated “girl Maya”… one man in the grocery store actually pinched her 6 month old leg and said “he’s a sturdy one, isn’t he?” and a few minutes later someone made a scary face and tried to “toughen him up”. Yikes.
And some of the girly stuff kind of grew on me. I have a weakness for poofy little skirts. And dresses with tights. I don’t wear these things myself, but they are SO cute with little toddler knees poking out. But once SOME pink and purple came through the door, it was like a tidal wave. I couldn’t really dress her in a pink shirt with orange pants… so in came more pink and purple. It was easier since almost everything she owns matches now!
I’ll admit that I worry about the princess obsession that looms on the horizon. I’m not alone in my dislike of everything princess: the commercialism (Disney!), the helplessness (“I’m waiting on my prince!”), the stereotyping (all girls like pink!). Maya’s toybox wouldn’t give away her gender: books, a baby doll, toy cars, puzzles, teddy bears. Her ears aren’t pierced (and won’t be until she’s old enough to ask for that). She is too young to realize which of her toddler friends are boys and which ones are girls, and they don’t really influence each other yet. I imagine I might get another year of blissful toddler time before Maya realizes that she’s a girl and she wants to define herself as one through every choice she makes. And I’m prepared for some of those choices to irk me, like when she wants to wear a gown all day or she stops playing with a toy that’s “just for boys”.
I understand that there ARE gender differences. I’ve seen little girls play with cars: there is a Mommy Car and a Daddy Car and a Baby Car. And I’ve seen boys play with Barbies they have imagined into swords. I’ve also seen children ostrasized by other kids for not playing like their typical gender. As parents it seems that we have to choose between going with the crowd and helping our kid fit in with her friends, or turning her into a gender neutral child who may struggle to make friends, and why? Because her parents disagree with traditional gender roles. You don’t have to go far to see what happens when parents use their children to make a statement, such as the case of “genderless” Sasha whose parents didn’t reveal his sex for 5 years.
Personally I think it boils down to more than pink onesies or racecars. Maya is going to learn gender roles from us, her parents. If she sees that either parent can give her a bath or make dinner, she will expect the same in her own marriage. If Simon shares his hobbies of mountain biking, rally cars and music, she will learn to love those things too. My husband isn’t waiting for a boy to share his interests with, and Maya will benefit from his knowledge. And when we have a second child, they will be treated the same, regardless of their sex.
To me it seems like boys may be getting the worse deal lately. I hate the “boys are dumb” shirts that are marketed to little girls in a pseudo-feminist style. So much of pop-culture spreads the idea that men are idiots and just need a woman to keep them from doing something really stupid. And the double standards are sickening: A mother who lets her son dress up like his favourite (female) cartoon character makes national news (I LOVED that blog post, by the way), but little girls are told that they can do anything boys can.
A few friends have recommended I read Cinderella Ate My Daughter, and my hold just came in at the library. I’m going to read it and share some of my thoughts about it as I go along. It looks to be a really interesting and fun read, and maybe it will prepare me for the land of girldom that comes beyond genderless toddlerhood!
Do your children follow strict gender roles? How do you encourage/discourage this?