So this week in my inbox, along with petitions from the anti-horse-and-carriage folks (signed), anti-ex-gay-torture-clinics-in-Ecuador folks (signed), and a request to “like” United to End Genocide on Facebook (done), landed a little gem of a petition from MomRising.org, urging moms to protest Gymboree’s gender-obsessed clothing—specifically, boys’ onesies that say “Smart Like Daddy” and a girls’ version that says “Pretty Like Mommy.” Seriously, Gymboree? What’s with sticking infants in sexist gender stereotypes? the petition asked. I signed it, of course, because the onesie sayings are seriously egregious. But oh, MomRising. If only it were the one store guilty of such nonsense. Been inside the kids’ department at Macy’s lately? Or Old Navy? Or even flicked through the Hanna Andersson website? Hyper-pink on one side. Dull blues and tans on the other. It’s assaultive. And it takes a focused determination to reach across the aisle and shop on both sides for your one boy or girl.
At a time when societal definitions of gender are becoming more and more blurred—at least from my queer perspective—it seems that gender lines for children (certainly for children’s clothing) are getting more and more aggressively defined. And it’s the marketing of those rules that’s got toddlers brainwashed with ideas of what is and what is not okay for little girls and boys. And the repercussions of that, to me, are chilling.
It’s all been on my mind lately, even before the Gymboree petition, as I’ve been trying in vain to buy a new pair of shoes for my 3-year-old. In vain, because Lula has suddenly discovered her hyper-femme, girly-girliness, and only wants footwear that is pink and shiny and sequined. And my partner and I are not so sure how we feel about it.
I grew up on the girly side—I had shiny black Mary Janes and loved dresses and lived for evenings spent with pretty babysitters who would blow-dry my hair and polish my nails. For my partner, wearing a dress was a punishment. A bad one. So we understand that kids are hardwired toward different ends of the gender spectrum, and if Lula wants to dress as a tiara-wearing fairy for Halloween and eat her dinner in a tutu and lavender feather boa from her dress-up bag, then by all means, we support it. I mean, at least she has a gender-nonspecific imaginary friend (“Her name is John. She’s from Africa. And sometimes she’s a he.”) and knows the difference between Miss Richfield and Dina Martina (thank you, P-town!) and has an amazing Uncle George who wears pink Converse high-tops.
But still: pink sequined Mary Janes? No can do. We’re not even entirely sure why, but we’ve been processing it all week, natch, and we think it goes something like this: Just by walking into a shoe store, Lula’s being sold a bill of goods—gentle little impractical-for-winter Mary Janes in sparkly pastels for her, cute and rugged little butch booties in chocolates and grays for John (well, not exactly for John, but you get my point). When I suggested a pair of the cozy brown booties, she said, “Mama, those are not for girls,” and it stopped me cold. We’d never told her that, she doesn’t watch TV, she’s not in school yet, and—the clincher—I was wearing my unsexy but beloved brown Dansko clogs at the time. Still, she’s somehow learned it. And we want to spend lots more time letting her know that it’s actually not the truth—not our truth, anyway. And then, just maybe (and if she’s not moved on), some sequined shoes.