Rethinking Pink

I’m not a girly girl, never have been. I grew up wedged between two sisters. I was the middle, uber-eccentric child. I never wanted to play ‘princess’ or had any desire to wear dresses, experiment with make-up, or play with dolls. Instead, I would strong-arm my sisters into playing ‘work,’ my best friend (I use this term loosely) in grade one was a boy named Michael, and my fashion accessory obsession at that age was a pair of boyish, navy-blue tap shoes- quite the opposite of pink with frills. Luckily, my parents never expected us to fit into any North Americanized, gender-defining context growing up. But even with a generic upbringing I felt and still feel the pressures of falling into a specific category. I constantly feel the expectation from society to check off all the boxes that illustrate a carbon copy of what the personification of an ideal female looks like: a nice, soft-spoken, modest, domestic ‘queen’ with a fit, curvy physique (but not too curvy and not too masculine) who isn’t overly ambitious, and not too assertive.

These ideological constructs are, arguably, evermore anchored down for females than they are for the opposite gender (in my opinion). Any variation from the idealized form is more widely accepted and celebrated for men than they are for women. For example, if you meet a man who is hyper-sensitive and in tune with his ’emotions’ than the average dude, most women will likely praise him for being attentive, self-aware, and empathetic. However, a woman who is bold, career-oriented, unwilling to marry or have kids at a young age, or wants to wear pantsuits everyday might commonly be considered less desirable, intimidating, unattractive or even unfeminine; which ultimately equates to being less than. Ashley Rous, a YouTuber I follow, recently nailed it on the head for me when she said that “girls hold little cultural capital.” When you start to think about our cultural strongholds, you begin to see the problematic value we place on things that men typically find interesting (aka society takes them as serious interests), while things that women tend to gravitate towards are labeled as rom-coms or chick-lit (aka society views it as ‘frivolous’).

This whole idea of gender conformity is never more obvious than when one is pregnant and ready to bring a child into the world- at least pexels-sides-imagery-3697601that was the case for me. Everything from bedroom décor and accessories, to toys and clothes, are hyper-simplified into two rigid categories: boy or girl. But these labels don’t only mean pexels-polesie-toys-4484865boy or girl, do they? No, each label is chock-full of preconceived notions, typecasts, and societal expectations lasting far longer than the infant stage of life. Will you raise the tough, strong, outspoken, sporty boy or will you nurture the sweet, polite, sensitive girly girl? Decision-making is squarely based around these two perpetual dichotomies: blue or pink, cars or dolls, dinosaurs or bunnies, dresses or overalls, etc.

While all this might seem innocuous at the outset, I wonder if it is just that ‘harmless’ pebble thrown into a murky body of water that will eventually become a tidal wave of stereotypes heaped upon our kids. The same ones we embattled as children ourselves- us girls who wanted to get dirty and play baseball, and the timid boys who preferred to read or play quiet games. It seems this is how the ferocious beast is fed; the cycle of gender conformity begins at birth and it never quite ends.

This all weighed heavily on me when my husband and I found out we were having a girl. I already had visions of how I wanted to raise my daughter with privilege but a different type of privilege: the ability to be whoever she wants to be without gender-defining characteristics (for as long as possible). At her young age, she lacks the ability to conceptualize the bigger world outside of her immediate self so I will take advantage of that narrow window of time and emulate the type of world I wish we lived in. While I can’t change all that is wrong with our society or what she will eventually be told by popular culture, I can at least mirror back to her what (I believe) self-love, contentment, and body acceptance should look like.

Trust me, I didn’t set out to dress my baby girl in blue overalls or shove a truck in her face. All I did was not play into this stereotype of #girlmom. I wanted to figure this all out on a neutral playing field. However, what I found most confounding were the reactions I would get from other moms of girls: You’re not going to put her in a dress? You don’t want her to wear pink? Don’t you want her to look sweet? How will people know she’s a girl? Don’t you want cute pictures?

One of my dear friends thought it was silly (bless her heart) when I said I didn’t want to project these super girly ideals upon her. And I get it, after all, we were looking at my two-month-old at the time. What harm can you actually do to the mental health of a two-month-old who doesn’t know their toe from their nose? But it was misinterpreted that I didn’t want her to be a girly girl when in fact I wanted her to be whatever type of girl she wants to be when she has the ability to decide: sporty, ginger, scary, baby, or posh (see, she already has great variety there)!

This transition into motherhood has shown me how engrained people are with gender beliefs. They assumed because I didn’t dress her in pink dresses 24/7 that I was purposelypexels-karolina-grabowska-4887157 choosing to make her look a certain way. When in actuality, we dressed her in the practical clothes that were handed down to us (whether it was from the closet of my older nephew or the closet of my husband’s older niece). We just weren’t going out of our way to buy her pink bunny toques, pink bedsheets, pink onesies, pink tiaras, pink wallpaper for her room, etc. In my house, things like trucks, dolls, Legos, cars, and dinosaurs are not gender-specific toys.

The reality is there’s nothing wrong with being a girly girl or even the colour pink, it’s the negative ideas it represents and all the wonderful characteristics it excludes that I have an issue with. At the end of the day, if my daughter grows up loving dolls and dresses, her father and I will be proud of her. If she wakes up tomorrow only wanting to wear Superman capes fashioned from tea towels, her father and I will be proud of her (it would be weird but we would still love her). If she ends up loving football but cheering for the ‘wrong’ team, well, her father will be deeply sad and quietly disappointed but he’ll get over it. My only hope is that she will always have the courage to follow her heart and take the paths that bring her the most joy and satisfaction because that is all that matters.

*For all parents out there who choose to raise their children differently or according to their own beliefs, this post is not aimed at shaming anyone or questioning anyone’s child-rearing methods. This is just one person’s journey (mine). More importantly, let’s just teach our children to be accepting, empathetic, and kind. Thanks so much for reading.

 
 
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13 thoughts on “Rethinking Pink

  1. I’m not a parent, but I plan to take the exact same approach if I ever have children. My parents did something similar, allowing my siblings and me to choose our clothes, toys, and activities… there is so much external pressure (and likely even more now than a decade or two ago), so I love the idea that the home can be a safe space when your little girl can be whomever she wants to be.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow! Great article. If you ever decide to write a parenting manual, this should be one of your key chapters. You make so many excellent points about society’s expectations for women and children. As a guy, I have seen too many of these double standards for women.

    It takes a long time for some of these stereotypes to be leveled. For example, early in my teaching career, I seldom saw girls encouraged to pursue their interest in science.

    My oldest brother married a woman who wanted to keep her maiden name after marriage. At the time, this was a radical thing. Over time, these stereotypes diminish, but it takes strong women with conviction to knock down these walls.

    One of the obvious double standards between the genders has to do with appearance. Men who go gray are seen as “distinguished,” yet how many women color their hair because they are viewed as “old?” It’s definitely not an even standard.

    Men do face certain pressures to act a certain way as well. As you point out, males do sometimes receive praise for showing sensitivity. Yes, we’re not all cavemen. 🤣 On the other hand, men can knock each other down for not being “male” enough. We’re supposed to be tough all the time. I have also heard women say they’re looking for a “real man” instead of the soft, wussy, sensitive type.

    I’d say that your daughter is lucky to have parents who are not trying to make her fit into some preconceived societal box. We can’t ask children to become independent if we don’t afford them choices.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much for the feedback Pete! I totally agree men don’t have it that easy either! My husband and I are definitely trying to be conscious of all of this as we raise our daughter! I’m not perfect either, I don’t always get it “right” but I think recognizing the bigger picture is always helpful! 🙂

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      • I think, in general, society’s rules favor men. It’s great that you and your husband are raising your daughter to be a free, independent thinker.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. That is so insightful!! Wow, so many good points that I’d never considered but seem so true, like the stuff about rom-com and chick-lit!! Deep!!

    I think you’re a great mommy to your little girl!! It’s great to help her decide on her own who she wants to be or how she wants to be that way instead of shoving her into a girly box!!

    I’m not girly myself and I never have been!! I don’t understand fashion and makeup and hair and perfume and purses and boots. I don’t get it AT ALL. When I was younger, I tried in different ways to master those things, and it was hilariously disastrous. In good news, I ***think*** I’m attractive without makeup, which is good, since I don’t know how to use it.

    My little sister was raised in the girly dresses, like a little princess. Totally different from the handmade overalls from my grandmother that I wore. My sister was always in a frilly dress. She grew older and became a master of the feminine arts–all that stuff that baffles and mystifies me. So there could be something to the whole concept of the formative years and clothing worn.

    One thing I think is funny is that whenever parents don’t know the gender of their kid yet, they decorate everything green. 😀 Green must = gender neutrality, or something!

    Great blog post!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha thanks, Charlotte’s room is a grey-blue (mainly because it may not be her room forever, didn’t want to repaint at any point in our lives lol, and it is the same as the rest of the upstairs)! Everytime I think I should feel guilty for not giving her something, I always think “meh I survived with much less, she’ll be fine” LOL… maybe not a good way to measure parenting but it’s worked so far! 🙂 Thanks for reading!

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  4. This is so true! Gender conformity expectations from women are so much higher. When my sister and I say we don’t want to have biologic children my grandparents are shocked but when my cousin brothers say it they just nod along. 🙈

    I love your approach to parenthood. My parents did the same with us. We could play with whatever we wanted – dolls or trucks. My mum would dress me in a dress one day and the next in overalls or pants. By the time I was 12 I was a tomboy! I’d keep my hair short, wear baggy clothes from the men’s section and play basketball rougher than the boys. But my parents didn’t expect me to change that. I did eventually become girlier but that was of my. own choice once I was in my 20s. 😊

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    • That’s amazing that your parents didn’t put any pressure on you and your sister growing up (re: grandparents, unfortunately we can’t please everyone). Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your story! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Interesting perspective that I can relate to. I had my son first so when I had a daughter, I didn’t want to do all the stereotypical things (although I’ll admit I did do most). My enlightening experiment started with her lack of interest in her brother’s toys. She wanted dolls and girly things. I allowed her to decide instead of society or me deciding for her.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s amazing! My sister has a boy (first) and a girl (second) too and my niece has some tomboy tendencies but she’s also girly too! It’s lovely to see their personalities come through in their interests based on what they see/learn around them! Thanks for stopping by! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Yes! Rock on, mama! I have 3 boys and I’m always consciously trying not to put them in “masculine” boxes. I want them to be the fullest extent of who they are – whatever that looks/feels like to them. I think it’s so wonderful you and your husband have been mindful of gender fluidity & expression since birth 🤗❤️

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