Our culture is obsessed with gender. From the moment a new life enters the world, we feel the need to bombard them with “appropriately” colored gifts as a way to reinforce the gender we have assigned. I was aware of this phenomenon before starting work at a baby store, both from my experience as a babysitter and from my gender studies background, but I wasn’t fully aware of how serious people get about their child’s gender.
We carry a variety of items in our store, including clothing that is both clearly gendered and gender neutral (or so say the colors). Despite the obvious trend of pink for girls and blue for boys, it still blows my mind when people refuse to buy something because it’s the wrong color.
The other day, a customer came in looking for a gift for a two month old baby boy. I showed her our collection of baby socks, which come in a variety of patterns and colors. I recommended my favorite pattern, a combination of brightly colored stripes and polka-dots. However, when the customer examined the label and noticed that the socks were labeled “girls”, she refused to buy them.
Why do we care so much about what colors our children wear? As far as I’m concerned, babies don’t have a gender. Until they are able to make their own choices about their gender presentation and how they identify, all they really have is a sex. So why do we get so caught up on pink vs. blue? Perhaps it reflects on the parents as those who refuse to adhere to the gender/color norms are often considered abnormal.
So how did it all start? According to an article in Smithsonian Magazine, the pink/blue dichotomy is a pretty recent phenomenon. Back in the late 1800s, boys wore their hair long and often sported white dresses and patent leather shoes. Gender-neutral presentations were considered appropriate, and boys and girls often dressed very similarly. It wasn’t until the 1960s that girls began to dress like their mothers, and boys like their fathers. According to the article, however, the pink for girls and blue for boys association was almost happenstance – it could have gone either way.
Despite our obsession with adhering to social norms, I vow to try to convince people to buy pink for their boys and blue for their girls. I’m just doing my part… a small step towards gender equality!