Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Pet Peeve #253.

My cousin James’ wife recently gave birth to twin boys. My mother in on a gift-buying binge for them, as usual whenever a family member breeds. When we were in Halifax, my sorta-aunt Donna was looking for baby clothes for a new boy of a friend, too. She was also in the process of crotcheting baby blankets for her two pregnant daughters, but was overwhelmed because she felt the need to make four blankets: two pink and two blue. Not knowing the sex of the babies, she felt she needed two of each colour, just in case.

The three of us went to Winners, a perfect place for a great selection of infant’s clothing. Mum went to Newfoundland yesterday, and she’ll be there for about 3 weeks. She wanted to bring some stuff back to the new babies. She needed two of everything, of course. I found a matching pair of those t-shirt things that snap in the crotch – garments I from now on shall call “pooper-pants”. The ones I was holding up were white, red and yellow striped. My Mum wrinkled her nose and said, “Are they too feminine?”

It’s time. It’s time I address this annoyance on my soap box, a.k.a. Sweet Nothings. I think I can officially count this compulsion to strictly clothe infants in pink or blue according to his or her sex as another pet peeve of mine.

What the hell kind of difference is it going to make if a boy wears pink, or at least, not blue. And if a girl wears blue? Are people afraid their kinds will turn out to be… horror of all horror… homos? If a boy has a pink baby blanket, do people think his first words would be "hello, goigeous!”? And a girl will be drawn to flannel and crew cuts? Jesus… I think we’re giving these kids a little too much credit, aren’t we?

This is actually a much bigger debate. It involves gender and gender identification. Ok, to dork it up here for a moment: do we remember the episode of Star Trek: TNG where the Enterprise encountered the society with no gender? It made the Starfleet crew really uneasy. (That’s right: all philosophical and academic debates can always come back to ST:TNG.) I think the preoccupation with engendered-colours is not for the sake of the child, but to save face for the parents. Like Picard’s crew, people feel a great deal of dis-ease if a person’s gender cannot be immediately identified.

Why, though, should we expect to know the sex of an infant? (A side thought: is this why some parents pierce infant girls’ ears?) Why should we know, and what difference does it make? This baby is only just alive and we need to know his or her sex? These persons have no secondary sexual characteristics, no decipherable language, no skills or feelings or opinions. Hell, they can barely focus their eyes! Why is there a concern that he or she will grow up somehow confused because he or she wore the “wrong” colour in the months after it exited the womb?

I think this idiocy has gone too far. I look awesome in pink. I also look good in blue. I hate that a man with the same skin tone, eye and hair color as me would shy away from pink because it’s “for girls,” or worse, far, far worse, “for fags.” Some girls I have met are in the same boat, refusing to wear pink because of all it stands for. “It’s too girly,” they say.

Sure, I guess I have no need for gender-identification through symbolic colours with the hips and D-cups, but still… (I know this weakens my argument that infants have no gender identification and should not symbolically assign them a sex. Uncle.)

I know that somebody that has any background in gender studies would be able to tear this Peeve of mine full of holes, but I want people to think about this. I’ve learned enough about symbology in my two Religious Studies degrees to understand that it’s not just a colour, just like it’s not just a cross, and it’s not just a flag, but it’s got much deeper meanings, such as gender and religion and country. Still, isn’t it a bit ludicrous to assign so much importance and distraction to specific wavelengths of light? What a bland world we deserve to live in. Wouldn’t that be so much easier? I’d have one less pet peeve.


Holly said...

You are completely correct! And, I think, right on the money when you say that the initial goal of infant gendering by way of colours, etc., is done for the parents, not the kids. The parents, since they are breeding, probably have some traditional ideas left, even if they don't think they do, and many of them have deep-seated fantasies involving a "tuff l'l boy" and a "pretty little girl", and they bring this into their kids' lives. However, they also do it for their own parents and older relatives who insist on knitting/buying pink crap for girls- when it comes to children, people don't often want to be seen as "experimental". That is why so many young parents return to church after they sprout.

However, this is far from universal, or reversible, or 100% detrimental. When I was a baby, the only pink things I wore were gifts from relatives... Otherwise, I wore whatever my older brother wore, because we did the hand-me-down thing. In turn, shocking everyone, my brother wore a lot of what my older sister had worn. My parents' view: "He's a freaking BABY! He's not gonna grow boobs because he wears lilac!"

However, there is hope. Did you wear a lot of yellow and pinks when you were a kid? Has it ruined you? Clearly not, as you have the sense to see the silliness of this. Thus, though undesirable to continue, colour identification of boys and girls doesn't always churn out idiot children... Just sometimes.

We'll have this licked some day. I'd be pleased, despite what some educators say about black and white being the most stimulating colours for infants, to see every baby covered in every possible colour. That's kinda the way it should be, when you are a kid and can still get away with vulgar tastes.

What did you get the baby? A gender-neutral toy piano?

Catherine said...

Thanks for the tome, Holls. My sister and I were older mother's daughters, so we were always decked out in frills and smocking. Mum sure succeeded in making us pretty - we were wicked cute; little toe-headed girls in matching dresses. Still, I don't think that thrust-upon prettification wounded me, just as if they'd put me in Harley-Davidson gear.

Oh, and: Me? Buy those kids a gift? I'd rather give them something practical: a cool older cousin role-model to give then rude nicknames and slip them a flask at my wedding.

Holly said...

Have you seen Citron's film _Daughter Rite_?

I'm not too much into feminist film, but if you look at that piece as a comment upon how parents shape us, it's really very good.

My folks weren't into shaping their kids directly... More interested in feeding us and making sure we did our chores. They didn't give a rat's ass what we wore when we did it.

Probably why I'm always so sloppy now...

(Oh yes, and sorry for the length of that last one.)

Catherine said...

Nah, never seen that movie. And egads, don't apologise for the length of comments - it takes the pressure off me!

Lynda said...

I totally remember that episode of Star Trek: TNG.

Krista Sparkles said...

I think that mothers feel compelled to dress their children in gender identifying colours so save themselves from having to answer the same stupid question over and over again from annoying strangers. Have you ever taken a baby to the mall? It goes a little something like this.
Stranger: ooooh what a cute baby! Is it a boy or a girl?
mom: boy
Stranger: how old is he?
mom: 6 months
Stranger: oooooh, such a cute age.
Step into the next store and repeat above conversation and repeat and repeat....
When I used to take Owen out (ok he was probably in a baseball hat or a tshirt with a truck on it) and people would say "oh he's cute, how old? I would shrug and say 'I dunno" just to see their horrified expressions.

Catherine said...

K, I totally agree. This is why, when I have children, I'm going to either become a hermit for 5 years or move off the grid to the Alberta outback. Sure, the kid won't be socialized, but I can avoid ad nauseum situations like you described. And tantrums in Wal-Mart. Those too.

Laura said...

Okay, so why the question 'Is it a girl or a boy?' You're right, as adutls now, we all know what gender each other is identifying with so it seems silly to be so obsessed with it. But think- would anyone mistake you for being the gender you're not? What cues are we giving the rest of the world that we're girls/boys? And as open-minded as we like to think we are, have you ever not known the gender of the person with whom you were speaking? It's silly, but most people NEED to know, because we've been programmed to figure that out in the first moments we meet a person, even when we don't realize we do (until it's not clear to us!)
Until it's okay for adults to be ambiguous, I don't think we're going to see much change in babies. After all, we're stuck in the gender trap that was part of our socialization as infants.
Great debate Catherine- too bad I won't be at the computer for a week! Check out 'The Story of X', a silly little story about parents trying to raise their child without a particular gender, and all of the ways societal institutions force them to choose one. OH! And Deirdre Kessler is giving a talk on 'Tomboys ' and all of those other gender labels at UPEI tomorrow afternoon. Call the Women's Centre for times, I forget!

Catherine said...

Yeah, Laura - I'm afraid you're right. See also Barenaked Ladies' song from _Gordon_, "What a Good Boy." It says babies barely take their first breaths before people are telling them they're "strong" or "pretty."

Holly said...

Not my parents- they didn't call us pretty or strong, just "Deductible," or should that be "Expenditure"?