My kids’ clothing is oppressive.
Okay, so probably not intentionally. I mean to say my kid’s clothes aren’t men’s rights activists or something. They’re just intended for a certain gender, and before I had a daughter, that made reasonable sense to me. My son, who was born first, has lots of cute clothes that refer to him as “Captain Cutie” or “Mr. Adorable” or “Penis-owner Crime Stopper Guy!”
My daughter, by virtue of being second, also has a lot of these clothes, because hand-me-downs are nature’s way of saying “we love you but not like brand-new-clothes-love-you“. And that’s fine, because spending money on brand new clothes for kids is for suckers anyway, though I digress. This all came about when I was sorting their old clothes into piles for a garage sale. I put a small onesie into a “girl” pile (mostly because my daughter had most recently worn it) and my wife suggested that “it’s a boy’s onesie”.
I looked at it – it was red and blue striped, with a little octopus. It was cute, and aside from the coloration being considered male (dumb), I wasn’t sure how an octopus was inherently masculine; I mean, do they even have … wieners?
The answer, if you’re wondering, is that octopuses (the correct plural, by the way) can change sex at will, and also change their appearance from male to female to avoid jealous murder by rivals, but again, I digress. How was this octopus onesie not suitable for the “girl” pile? If anything, octopuses are the most gender-fluid animals, so it should be good for either kid.
The root of this of course comes from the fact that we were already sorting clothes into “girl” and “boy” piles. That speaks to a much larger issue of indoctrinating gender stereotypes – which colors are masculine and feminine, which animals reflect boys vs girls, etc. That’s something that’s kind of odd, but it’s pretty widespread, and although I yearn for the days when we don’t balk at a child feeling incorrectly gender-designated at birth, I don’t fault parents or even clothing manufacturers for continuing certain gender conventions. Changing those themes is something we’ll need to tackle as a society; I don’t need a piece of clothing to fight that battle for me.
And yet there I sat, staring at this little onesie, wondering what pile it should go in, if people would be confused if they found it among the girls’ clothing items on our garage sale table, and also if maybe I was overthinking this whole thing. My daughter walked up and, taking her pacifier out of her mouth, pointed at the shirt and said “that’s octopus! That mine, daddy!” I smiled but then she took the onesie and walked off, because irrespective of gender, my daughter can sometimes be a bully.
As I deftly avoided the judgemental eyes of my wife, I began to think about what gender models meant for my kids. Both of them like dinosaurs, throwing balls, roaring, playing with dolls and blocks, princess books and monster books alike, and both seem infatuated with makeup. What does this mean? Do I need to make a “boy traits vs girl traits” diagram and see where they fall? Is there a spectrum for gender, or does gender, like posting political Facebook statuses, not matter at all?
We actively seek out toys that don’t conform to gender; those tend to be the least boring toys, anyway. I avoid any phrasing that suggests a specific gender “doesn’t do that”, i.e. playing with dolls. I subject my children to music that has both male and female vocalists, across all genres. Do I do these things because I’m some incredibly left, ultra-liberal crazy person?
No, I do it because I love my babies and I want them to do whatever makes them happy.
The absolute last thing I want is for my kids to grow up with a narrow view of who they can be and what they can accomplish. If my daughter grows up with throwaway role models like the Kardashians, then she might think she can’t be a great scientist, or a fantastic artist, or an incredible…sports…person (I covered this in a previous post about being a fatherless father, but I don’t know much about sports). Likewise, I don’t want my son to feel inferior if he wants to do something “traditionally” considered a woman’s role, like teaching grade school, nursing, or opening a bakery. I don’t want to raise my children with the notion that something they love doing or are good at is somehow wrong because of their sex or gender.
I think my overall lesson from this experience was that I don’t want my children put into a box by society or by branding and certainly not from stupid, gender-specific octopuses. Your babies are born, they grow up, and somewhere in between they might actually listen to you for five, maybe ten minutes. If part of what you’re saying to them is that they can only do so many things or act in a certain way because of something that they had no control over – like their sex at birth – then you’re both wasting your time to help build their confidence, and also eroding their faith in themselves and their abilities, and probably a little bit of their faith in you. And now it’s the dead of winter, that garage sale is long over, and that octopus onesie is…I don’t know, on the cat or lost in our creepy basement, but the lesson it imparted remains:
You can do or be whatever or whomever makes you happy, regardless of whether or not you were born with tentacles.