Gender-ing

During the reader survey someone commented that they loved hearing about how I am raising a feminist son. It was an interesting statement because it doesn’t feel pointed? Me raising a son who values me as much as he values his dad? Raising a son who values and respects women as intellectual equals, as people who have rights over their bodies and are not owned, theoretically or otherwise, by anyone just seems… normal? But then again, it is hard to escape those small social pressures that all build up to placing boys and girls in neat little colored boxes.

Traveling with a toddler is rough. Depending on your toddler the traveling itself can be the hardest part, but with Gabe that is not the case. He is awesome on planes, and he mostly sleeps in cars, and he is generally a pretty good sport about it all. The hardest part for us is the amount of STUFF involved in traveling with a todder. With a small child they can carry some of their things and they can sleep in beds and they can poop in the toilet. With toddlers, none of that is true.

So in prep for our trip to Maine we decided to get an umbrella stroller which is a fraction of the weight of our already very lite big stroller. It would be easier in crowded places and less of an inconvenience in restaurants, etc. Overall it seemed like a really great investment and – spoiler alert – it is! It was! It has been! Two thumbs up for umbrella stroller usage.

When Kamel went to get pick out the stroller I was home with Gabe so Kamel texted me photos of the strollers available. Some of them had random patterns, some of them had themes. Some of the random patterns were really loud and made me twitch. So Kamel took pictures of two of the themes. One was a really awesome green/yellow/truck themed stroller. The other was a purple/pink/fish themed stroller. I asked Kamel if the fish one came in any other colors, because as much as I am pro all the things that are not blue, I do have some reservations (which annoy me, these reservations annoy me… but I’m talking real talk here, so there it is) about putting gabe in overtly “girly” things just to make a statement, or even seemingly to make a statement. I’m not putting Gabe in a tutu, for example. And not because I am opposed to boys in tutus, but because Gabe doesn’t want to be a princess or a fairy or a fairy princess (like I did, every year for Halloween, except for that one time I was a pumpkin). I will put him in dance classes when he turns 2 because he never stops dancing and if he wants to be a prima ballerina then I am supporting the shit out of that.

Anyways, back to the point of my story. There were no other fish themed strollers.

The thing is, Gabe loves fish. He loves them hard. We watched Finding Nemo about 5000 times just in the 5 days we were in Maine. He also loves dinosaurs and anything he considers a “ball.” He does not like trucks or trains or boats or super heroes. He just really likes fish.

So we bought the stroller with the hot pink straps and the purple fish pattern and it is SO GABE and he loves to push it around the house and he was so excited when we brought it home, pointing and saying “fish,” fish,” fish,” fish” on repeat.

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I want to raise a son who is cool with My Little Pony. I also want to be honest about who he is. If he doesn’t LOVE My Little Pony, I’m not going to make him watch it just to break the gender norm. But I’m going to watch it with him in the mean time because that show is amazing. We also watch a lot of Dinosaur Train and aquarium videos on YouTube.

The color pink does not grow vaginas.

Trucks are not boy toys.

Colors and hobbies and likes/dislikes are not reserved for one gender over another. But it is so easy to fall into that world. It is the easy way. It is hard to check my own little gender stereotypes at the door and advocate a fish stroller for my kid. And ya know what? Gabe probably would have been just fine in the truck stroller. I mean, it’s a stroller… so really this story is about me practicing advocating for my son. But! I bet he wouldn’t have been as excited with the truck stroller as he was about it the pink/purple/fish stroller. I bet it would have just been another stroller picked out by mom and dad.

Gabe is going to be who he is going to be, and I’m going to try and figure out constructive directions to point his interests. And as a parenting technique I make a conscience effort to not label things “girly” or “for boys” or whatever. The world is going to try to stuff him in a tiny box at some point or another. He will be labeled and assessed and peer pressured. I’m going to TRY and leave my sphere of influence in the realm of “be a good person, trust your gut, make positive life choices.” I mean, I’ll probably fuck him up in tiny ways as well, nobody’s perfect, but at least my intentions are well meaning.

20 thoughts on “Gender-ing”

  1. Love this, Lauren. And his face in that picture! Ohmigod. Clearly it’s the perfect pattern for him. And this: “The world is going to try to stuff him in a tiny box at some point or another. He will be labeled and assessed and peer pressured. I’m going to TRY and leave my sphere of influence in the realm of “be a good person, trust your gut, make positive life choices.”” Yes, yes, yes. You guys are doing a fantastic job.

  2. “so really this story is about me practicing advocating for my son” Yes!!! I love this whole thing so much, because there have been times where my impulse is to bend gender norms to make a statement, but that’s not the point, and I need to rein myself in. But, at the same time, when it occurred to us that EDB didn’t have any dolls (or really any human toys at all, just stuffed animals), I didn’t spend the $$ or time it would have taken to find a “boy doll,” I just grabbed the cheapest pink baby doll I found at Target. And he loves her. For me, the key is to really listen to him and what he wants/needs, and not impose anything on him one way or the other. Just like Gabe and his fishy stroller! Hooray!

  3. I loved this post! I wish I can make a few of my mexican friends read it and understand it… And you need to copyright this: “The color pink does not grow vaginas.” !!!!

  4. Amen! Gabe and the fish and any color they come in. 🙂 His face is the cutest thing in every picture where there are fish.

    I really love when parents allow children to make choices and it can help stop tantrums when the toddler/baby feels like they had a hand in the decision. That said, Elliott needed a straw cup. Rather than just pick a cup for him, I held up the two options–a pink/green combo or a blue/orange combo. Now, I love blue. I would buy blue stuff regardless of what gender child I had. In the spirit of choice-making, I put both cups in front of Elliott and asked him which cup he wanted. He was eleven months at the time and not really talking, so I just went with whatever he grabbed first. He grabbed the pink cup. He does great with his straw cup. I feel good knowing that I’m not pushing pink on him to “prove” that it’s not a “girl color” and I like that we’re allowing him to make choices early on.

  5. I have been sewing for a spate of new arrivals and have found myself edging towards the gender stereotype colours and it has annoyed me ive done it. I’ve also found it seems to be acceptable to dress a baby girl in blue / green but less so for a baby boy to be in pink. Not sure why but those are my observations.

    That stroller looks awesome: )

  6. Oh, man! Is there anything better than that “yay, fishy stroller” face?! I think parenting really throws into relief those ingrained, socialized gendered beliefs that you didn’t even really realize you had. It’s a good challenge.

  7. I love this post, and honestly, hadn’t even thought about whether you were “raising Gabe to be a feminist” because it just seems so… normal. Although, I did appreciate, “It is hard to check my own little gender stereotypes at the door and advocate a fish stroller for my kid,” because I feel like even though *I* don’t think pink/purple are GIRL-ONLY, I would worry about what OTHER parents or kids would think about my boy in a fish stroller or my girl in a truck stroller or whatever.

    Also, his “YAY FISHY!” stroller face is my favorite. <3

  8. Love love love!

    Hattie learned the signs for car, truck/bus and motorcycle first, because she looooves those things. Garbage day is her favorite! It took me forever to teach her flower and butterfly, though. So much for nature following stereotypes. 😉

  9. I love that deliciously happy Gabe face. I think about what if my 9 month old guy wants “girl” things when he’s old enough that we can tell his preference. While I totally want to give him whatever he likes and see his similar happy face in all its glory, I also am concerned about people being mean to him for having it. I don’t want some asshat out there to rip his innocent little happiness to shreds over his “girl” thing that he was in love with. Sort of how you talked about the pain in watching other kids be mean to Gabe on the playground. Oh, the torture of loving another human being so very much.

  10. I love this!!! Gabe and the Fishies Forever!! I love it 🙂 Showing options and letting them, for the most part, choose things – is all we can do. You are doing a great job!

  11. We had a stroller moment, but for a tiny doll’s one. He’d seen a couple at friends’ houses and he loved them. But they very, very rarely come in colours other than pink. Purple is rare; blue or green are almost impossible around our locals. So he has a pink one. He loves pushing it around with my old cabbage patch kid it in (my two sons, playing together so nicely). And when he whinges he doesn’t want to ride in his own stroller when we go for a walk, he’s happy to push his tiny baby stroller around. He’ll keep walking for ages with it. We’ve had funny looks and a few people commenting about his pink stroller, mostly from older women. Aren’t we worried we’re going to turn him gay? Uh…. no. I tell them he’s practicing to be an awesome Dad.

    1. Yes! I also have stopped naming stuffed animals “this is the mommy (insert fish, turtle, etc here) and the baby!” Now I call certain animals “oh that’s daddy fish!” etc. Because Dad’s are no where to be found in kid literature or in child play. It is always mommy mommy mommy, but I want Gabe to see a Dad presence too as comforting, loving, etc. Not just mom.

  12. I’d also love to hear more from you on this topic. I hadn’t realized, going into it, how hard it would be to be gender-neutral. Why must all the baby things come in ‘girl’ and ‘boy’?! And yet, at the same time, I’ve found myself less willing to put my 15-month-old son in something that could be considered ‘girly’ than I expected. He has a sleepsack and a cloth diaper that could be considered such, and a pink water bottle, and for some reason I’m worried about people judging us for that. And it bothers me more than it should with other kids mistake him for a girl on the playground when he’s in a pink polo or a blue-and-yellow onesie. I’ve also realized, recently, that we’ve probably given him different toys than we would if he was a girl, without intending to. He loves anything with wheels, so has several trucks– but he also would love a doll stroller. It’s so hard to figure out how to let a child choose things when as the parent, you by default have to make some choices in regards to what to buy/have in your home in the first place. And it’s hard to look at things objectively, knowing that you’re surrounded by stereotypes and want to push against them, but not use your kid just to make a point. PS– I’m trying really hard to condition myself to think ‘kids will be kids’ and not ‘boys will be boys’ when he does something stereotypically boyish– for all I know, all toddlers do such reckless, loud, silly things, and I don’t want to give the impression that it’s only okay for boys.

    1. I’m just about exactly where you are with our 18-month-old guy. Right down to the “loves wheels, so we gave him trucks” realization!

      I’m also trying to check myself when I have certain reactions to things he does. “Nice one!” when he burps, “Such a strong baby!” when he lifts something heavy… stuff like that. He’s our first kid, but I’ve got all these sticky-notes in my brain now for if we have a girl later on. Burps will not *suddenly* become yucky or physical strength unimportant—and I’ve got to remember to hold myself to that.

    2. I often correct Kamel when he says “he is such a BOY!” I say “He is a TODDLER” because he is being a toddler! And this is a great idea to get him his very own tiny stroller. He would LOVE IT.

  13. <3

    This is something I'll be fighting quite a lot with the family who genders every-damn-thing and thinks "You should have a girl b/c … " "You should have a boy b/c…". Ugh.

    There's a load of conversation behind this but suffice to say, I've quite clearly stated that any of our kids will wear the colors that I like because they're the colors I like and it doesn't matter if it's a boy, a girl or a puppy: the colors do not the child make. Colors will not make a girl girly, a boy boyish, a girl into a boy, a boy into a girl … they do not have that power except for what people insist socially. And a kid, like Gabe, is going to like the specific things they like for their own reasons.

    We will be deliberately mixing and matching "boy" and "girl" hand me downs because you know what? Clothes are clothes.

    I vividly remember HATING frills because they came in white and pink which showed stains and blood; I wanted to be in blacks and greys and trousers because those colors hid blood and I needed pockets. This was me at like, 7 or younger. And my mom was fine with that because no matter what she put me in, I'd climb trees and fall down and bleed on things. So I had to put up with frills when it mattered to her and I got my trousers the rest of the time. This feels fair.

    And toys, OMG. Well, we'll get there when we get there but suffice to say, kid's gonna have the opportunity to experiment with all kinds and screw those companies that insist that this is for boys and this is for girls.

    (cue grandparent shock) (I don't know why they're always surprised by these declarations of mine, it's like they haven't met me.)

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