Earlier today, I took my 9 month old out for a walk around the neighborhood. We passed by a (well-meaning, I’m sure) woman who declared, “Your baby boy is so cute!”
I do not have a baby boy. This is what my daughter was wearing at the time:
(This picture shows a baby sitting in a stroller wearing a blue bucket hat, a grey shirt with a picture of a container of french fries and “small fry” printed across the front, denim shorts, and blue/green shoes.)
Her outfit does not strike me as particularly masculine. I mean, maybe if the shirt said “Daddy’s big boy!” or something similar, one could reasonably deduce that the child inside was, in fact, a boy. But “small fry”? I bought it because that’s my nickname for her!
This is exactly what I’ve been fighting against since I found out that I was having a girl. I made sure to tell family and friends that I did not want the pinksplosion for Small Fry because I think it’s rather disgusting to cram baby girls into a narrowly defined gender role. You’re determining her importance in life (be pretty for other people) before your child even has the chance to develop a personality. That is unbelievably fucked up.
For the most part, everyone has been really understanding. Small Fry has very few pink clothes (the ones that are pink are hand-me-downs from friends of friends and J’s coworkers) and she has almost zero toys specifically for girls*. But about halfway through my pregnancy, I was asked what I was going to do when she started picking out pink clothes for herself. I said that was fine; when Small Fry is old enough to form an opinion, she can wear what she likes. I have no interest in forcing her to wear something that she’s going to hate just to score some feminist cookies. But more to the point, the question was asked with a sneer (remember, he asked when not if), as if I should just give up and buy pink clothing because it’s inevitable. Because she’s a girl and that’s what girls like.
Which brings me to point numero dos: If a baby is not wearing an obviously feminine outfit, it must be a boy because whereas boy just are, girls have to have their femininity proclaimed for all to see. Hell, Small Fry received bibs (bibs!) that are pink and yellow and say “Little Princess” across the front. A piece of cloth with the sole purpose of catching vomit and drool proudly declaring that the wearer is a girl is just about the most absurd thing I can think of and I am a fan of absurdist fiction. The larger implication is that if you’re not letting the world know that your baby is a pretty princess with every piece of clothing that she wears, then your unspoiled republican must be a boy. Everything, including styles that would be neutral on an adult, that isn’t coded for girls is automatically for boys.
Being adorably feminine is what is expected of baby girls at this point in their lives– their developing physical skills or brand new sense of humor and fun, or any number of things that makes a baby wonderfully unique simply aren’t as important as being a girl. And, sadly, unless there is some major change coming soon, this will be true for the rest of their lives. My daughter will be judged on how pleasing she looks and how well she fits into her gender role before all else.
I have an idea: Instead of declaring that your baby girl is a “drama queen” with all of those horribly sexist implications, why not tell the world that your baby has a sweet laugh? Why can’t we compliment strangers by telling them that their baby is cute and leave gender right out of it? We should be celebrating the fact that all babies are awesome instead of feminizing (and sexualizing) baby girls.
*Except for the goddamned singing purse.
Alexandra is the Hivemind’s benevolent overlady, who resides in that strange dimension where she has both too much time on her hands for her own good and she doesn’t have enough hours in the day to get everything done. She is currently reading Bad Monkey by Carl Hiaasen.