Part Five of I-Don’t-Know-How-Many in a series of posts inspired by “Miss Representation.” If you haven’t seen the trailer for this movie, and you have 8 minutes, please watch it here now.
I used to be afraid to have a boy.
Wait. Allow me to re-phrase.
I used to be afraid to give birth to a male child.
That’s better. Yes, the prospect of having a son scared me more than having a daughter. No matter how many people told me boys were easier (they’re not, by the way…) I was still afraid. I had this theory that it was tougher to raise a boy to buck gender stereotypes than to raise a girl to do the same thing.
Call it a sign of the times that I wasn’t afraid of raising a tough girl – the Feminist movement of the Sixties and Seventies, and of generations further back, had cleared the way for my girl to hear that she had options besides housewifery. Expectations for girls had been so incredibly broadened regarding education, attitudes and careers. I couldn’t say the same for the boys, though options for boys were wide to begin with.
Put more simply, it had become more acceptable in society for girls to do “boy” things than for boys to do “girl” things. This bothered me for many years before I became a parent, so I guess it made sense that I’d approach the parenting years with this anxiety.
Fortunately, I took comfort in the notion that I was not solely responsible for my potential son’s upbringing and attitudes. I realized that the guy I married would have something to do with it. If the huz was any indication, any boys I birthed would have a great example to follow. Their dad had mastered the art of being manly without the BS macho posturing that often goes along with it. He had no need, patience, or use for it. So I relaxed a little, and, it turns out, I was right to entrust any future male offspring to the guy I married.
Our eldest is a girl, and the other two are boys. When she was a baby, I dressed her in blue and green, but not necessarily to make a statement. She’s a redhead – those colors looked best on her, and pink washed her out.
When our first son came along two years later, E’s first words to me were, “Mommy, put that baby back!” But she grew to like N, and eventually was more than happy to share her stuff with him, including her nail polish. He wore it. When she outgrew her pink, satiny, Cinderella nightgown, she gave it to N. He wore it. When she outgrew her flower socks, she gave them to N. He wore them.
The huz and I had no problem with any of this. I did field quite a few comments from some other pre-school moms, along the lines of, “Oh, my god, my husband would FUH-REEEEEAK OUT if my son wore that!!!” This was to be expected. I mostly said things like, “Why?” or “Oh, how sad for your son…” and moved on.
Quite a few years later, I was helping out at the elementary school’s Grandparents’ Breakfast. It’s always on a Friday in November, and as we live in Baltimore, I wore a Ravens jersey. A pink one.
One of the grandmothers passed through the line and expressed dismay, bordering on disgust, that I was wearing a pink Ravens jersey. “Why does it have to be PINK??? Just because a GIRL is wearing it???” She (I’m guessing) had come of age when the Feminist movement did, and I sensed her frustration stemmed from the “Pink = girl” and “Blue = boy” mentality. I share this frustration, but from a different angle.
So, I said, “I feel like rather than banning pink from a girl’s color spectrum, it would be more productive to ADD pink to a boy’s.” Make it okay for boys to wear and like things that are – you know – PINK.
Not just during Breast Cancer Awareness month. Not just the professional linebackers. Ray Lewis can wear pink and no one will mess with him, I assure you.
The little shy boy? He should be allowed to wear pink if he likes. The little athlete? He should be allowed to wear pink if he likes. The girl? She should also be allowed to wear pink if she likes.
I had dinner with two great girlfriends of mine, and we had a spirited discussion about it. One was dismayed by the concept of pink legos and pink toolbox toys marketed to little girls. She couldn’t quite put her finger on why, but it troubled her to have things set up this way. I agree with her.
The other defended the use of pink this way, positing that making the toys pink doesn’t make them less valuable – especially if it gets girls playing with “traditionally” boy things. There is nothing wrong with a girl liking pink. I agree with her, too.
Then there was the conversation I had with my adult niece and her girlfriend. I relayed to them the story of this grandmother at the school breakfast. My niece’s girlfriend said, from a purely practical point of view, “Well, I just think it’s stupid that any team jersey would be made in a color other than that team’s colors.” We got to talking about it, and came to the conclusion that there is something demeaning about assuming that the only way a girl will like something is if it’s pink.
This is what (I am guessing) bothered that grandmother. This is what (I’m guessing) bothered my friend at dinner.
For me, the problem is when pink is considered “less than.” When girls are considered “less than.” When boys (and girls, by the way) who like pink are considered “less than” because that means they’re acting like GIRLS. Tomboys are fine, but boys who do and wear and like GIRL things? That’s what draws scrutiny (and legally sanctioned discrimination) on all levels – social, educational, professional. And that, above all, tells me that in this world, women are valued less than men. THAT, to me, is the problem.
About a month ago I was in the orthodontist’s office with N, who is now 13. He was there because he had eaten some forbidden food and broken off one of his brackets. The orthodontist was an older gentleman who was gently chiding him for not following the rules. He joked with N, saying, “It’s okay this one time, but if you break another bracket, I’m gonna make them all PINK.”
My son, not missing a beat, looked him straight in the eye, smiled, shrugged, and said, “I like pink.”