The Kiddy Pool: Pink, Blue, and Shades of Gray

Every week in The Kiddy Pool, Erin Newcomb confronts one of many issues that parents must deal with related to popular culture.

For weeks now, we’ve been preparing my daughter for the impending arrival of her sibling (circa June, though I optimistically like to tell people late May). We talk about things that babies do and potential names for her little brother or sister. This time around, we’re hoping to find out the baby’s sex, in part to help prepare my daughter with the official name and language to greet the newcomer. When I told her we’d soon find out if the baby was her brother or sister, she enthusiastically said “and then we can change which one!” I can see we still have a lot of discussing to do, so it’s lucky I’m only halfway to the due date.

Aside from the name and the pronouns, there’s not a whole lot that matters about the baby’s sex at this point. Our nursery set, baby gear, and early infancy apparel are all “neutral,” in part because we thought more of the practical finances of not re-purchasing than we did of choosing a gender-specified theme. Yet our refusal to find out the first time really irked some of our family members; there was the usual good-natured guessing but also some pressure that I found strange—like one person who told us we could always tape a bow to a baby girl’s head at the hospital (don’t worry, we didn’t). I’m uneasy about the same pressures with this pregnancy, because while I believe that gender is beautiful and God-given, I don’t think it fits the narrow definitions we culturally assign, especially to babies.

I think the pressure to categorize children says more about the adults than it does the children; and, no, I’m not talking about parents wanting to know their babies’ sex, which to me seems like an exciting way of getting to know a child before birth. Like so many things, it’s not the knowledge of the baby’s sex that is problematic for me, it’s why we want it and what we do with it—and those motivations can be as mysterious and varied as individuals. Consider for instance, the history of the colors that seem obviously gendered to so many of us today. It wasn’t until after World War II that pink was allocated for girls and blue for boys; around World War I, the color schemes were just the opposite (with blue deemed daintier, and thus more appropriate for girls), and early twentieth-century parents chose white for all their children because it was easy to bleach (and, I imagine, hand down). It’s not that earlier parents didn’t care about the sex of their children, but that the way that sex gets expressed through gendered expectations isn’t nearly as historically static as we might like it to be.

I’m excited to find out the sex of my second child, to finalize a name with my family, and to engage in more interesting discussions with my daughter about her new sibling. The baby’s sex is an important piece of information to me right now (partly because it’s the only one I’m going to get for a while), but the complexities of this child’s character will keep manifesting long after the nursery set is outgrown.

About Erin Wyble Newcomb

Erin Wyble Newcomb earned her Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction and Women's Studies from Penn State University. In addition to parenting her daughters, running marathons, and making things with glitter, she teaches in the English Department at SUNY New Paltz. Follow Erin on Twitter @ErinWyble or at http://phdmama.com/.

  • http://goodokbad.com/ Seth T. Hahne

    I made certain we found out both our babies’ sexes before birth for one reason (others generated themselves later): choosing a name. Saddling a human person with something as set-in-stone as a name is a tremendous responsibility and the idea of having to generate two plausible names just struck us as a ridiculous undertaking. There are enough pressures on prospective parents that having to come up with a second name for just-in-caseys seemed the polar opposite of reasonable. And what happens when you get really attached to the girl-name you chose but instead discover that you’ve produced a son?

    On further reflection, other details prove sex-discovery to be the wiser alternative. When we discovered our first child to be a daughter, that lopped off entirely our need to sound out where we stood on the circumcision issue. One more headache (when we really didn’t need more headaches) removed. By the time our second child was discovered to be a son, we were on our game enough that circumcision was an issue we’d have time to research and reason through. We were given space to think because we were apprised of our baby’s sex. We could also begin researching various details that associate themselves sexually. So that’s nice.

    I do tend to give parents a hard time if they refuse to discover the baby’s sex (I knew one family who accidentally found out and was angry about it) because there is absolutely no reasonable explanation for it. It’s always some arbitrary thing that they believe makes sense, but never really does.

    “We want to be surprised!”

    Well, you will be surprised whether you find out your child’s sex at five months or nine, right?

    “But it’s just not the same!”

    That’s true, I guess. In the one case, you have time to react in a mature and positive way to information that clearly matters TONS to you. In the other, you have plenty of chance to let your the emotions of your reaction colour the already hyper-sensational experience of childbirth.

    “But I’ll love my baby whether it’s male or female!”

    So you have no preference? You husband has no preference?

    “Well, yeah. We already got a daughter and he’s dying for a son, but it doesn’t matter! We’ll love it so much!”

    So why does it matter if you find out now or after it comes out?

    “Because! We want to be surprised!”

    *headdesk*

  • Shantae

    Finding a blog with well presented info is always great, so thanks for blogging


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