Tuesday, September 2, 2014

On Gender and PINK

Note: I am well aware that, ironically, there is a lot of PINK in this post. 

Today I hit 20 weeks of pregnancy. Only 20 to go. It's going too fast and too slow.
20 weeks. Photo credit: Ellie

Michael and I have been imagining life with three girls. We know one thing, we're in for a ride!
Their baby sister is in for quite a treat to have these two as sisters.

Since Ellie was born, we've had several discussions about gender and what our role as parents can be to enforce or break down stereotypes. It's a difficult place to be, and now we're going to have three girls. THREE. 

We want to celebrate having girls while simultaneously celebrating each of their uniquenesses and abilities. We want to do our best not to send them damaging messages that say girls are only for pink and princess and cooking and not getting dirty and looking pretty. 
It's more than OK to get dirty, even while loving pink!
Up until recently, Ellie didn't have a concept of dividing things between gender. Lately, however, she makes comments that princesses and pink are for girls, and Cars (as in the Disney movie) are for boys. I think this is based on her observations of the birthday parties she goes to, which include pinatas of said characters based on gender. 

We try to have gender neutral toys. We have blocks and trains and trucks and puzzles and books that are not specifically pink or "girly." (That's in quotes, because even saying "girly" has a connotation, but one that we all immediately understand.) We also have an abundance of pink and purple and sparkles and princesses. We have a kitchen set and dolls (which we would totally have if we had boys too!). And just, LOTS of pink. It happens, and I have no problem with that, as long as we're intentional to point out that our girls are not limited to these. 
I recently watched a video portraying adults being treated with the gender stereotypes we place on children, showing how ridiculous it would be to treat adults in the same manner. "Boys will be boys," we say, when they're rough housing. Girls or women being stern are considered rude, boys or men being stern are "showing leadership skills." Girls=pink. Boys=blue. Period.

In a book I'm reading for a group through our church, the cliche Christian author explains how women are butterflies, flitting and fluttering in the wind, susceptible to the tiniest breezes, and men are strong, stable buffalos, able to withstand 50 mph winds. Why must we paint gender in such concrete, dangerous boxes? 

We send our children subtle messages. Girls are "cute" and "beautiful" and we comment first on their appearance before anything else. With boys, we may say they're "handsome," but more often the first comments are about how tough they are, or what great athletes they are, that they are "studs" or "dudes." And we wonder why so many women struggle with their appearance and why men feel such a need to appear "rough and tough."

From an article I read recently: "Past research has shown that strict adherence to traditionally gender-stereotyped toys may curtail the development of certain skills and strengths. Stereotypically-feminine toys foster nurturance and role-playing, whereas stereotypically-masculine toys promote greater mobility and manipulative play. Thus, children who play with a variety of toys and activities may have a wider repertoire of skills and abilities."  

I'd like my girls to explore manipulative play, something that encourages creative thinking and problem solving skills. Why should that be limited to boys? And conversely, why can't boys explore role-playing and be nurturers?

At the end of the day, we have two sweet, precious girls, and another one on the way. Our girls love to ride bikes and do puzzles and get dirty and build blocks. But they also love, more than almost anything, to dress up in dresses with sparkle "glass slippers" and be princesses. That's OK, as long as they know they can do it all, and they aren't limited to what society tells them is appropriate simply based on their gender.
The sky is the limit for my intelligent, creative, quick-learning, fun-loving girl.
And yes, she's beautiful, too.