13 February 2012

It's a boy! It's a girl!

A friend of mine recently gave birth to her second a child, a daughter.  I wanted to send her a greeting card and a small present for the little girl.  The department store was packed with rows of cards that celebrate every conceivable life event and those for new arrivals took up a whole stand.  You could find a style to suit every taste: elegant, jokey cartoony, kitsch, sweet, retro.  I was spoilt for choice but still couldn't find one that said just what I wanted to say.  I was looking for a card that wasn't obviously 'girlish.'  In other words, one that wasn't awash with pink colours, pretty flowers or suchlike.  I wanted something more neutral, that wasn't redolent of gender stereotypes.  Could I find anything?  No!  I searched for ages and messed up the neat rows good and proper.  (I could hear an irate shop assistant huffing and puffing behind me as I undid all her organisation.  Buy, hey, I'm the customer and it's her job to tidy up shelves, right?)

In the end I had to compromise for a sort of pinkish composition with fluffy bunny rabbits but was disappointed with my choice.  Why are we forced to choose between the two extremes?  From day one, the boy/girl dichotomy is reinforced relentlessly, with no overlap or grey area in between.  It starts in the maternity ward when the nurse wraps the tiny ID bracelet around the infant's wrist: girls get a pink band and boys blue.  

Would it be so bad if we could find a greeting card in pale green, or lemon, or peach?  Why do toys have to be restricted to Bob the Builder or Barbie?  If parents buy articles for their unborn children in colours that are not blue or pink, they have to find a ready answer to the question: Don't you know the sex of your child?  And what can you answer today with the existence of ultrasound?

I'm not sure how most parents would react to gender-neutral gifts.  I suspect most would simply feel pleasure at receiving a gift, rather than peeved because of the colour/style.  This may also be helpful if we genuinely want to encourage our daughters to consider "typically male" jobs in engineering or science.  If a little girl always gets a Barbie doll and makeup at Christmas, then we have no right to complain when she shows no interest in technology and science.  If boys received toy kitchen sets as children then perhaps they might not be so averse to preparing lunch and ironing a few shirts now and again - even if there is a female relative/friend in the household.  I know that what I'm proposing here is pretty radical (to some ears); the macho types, who wish to perpetuate their kind, could accuse me of raising pansies and destroying the whole fabric of society as we know it.

As a footnote, the gift that I bought to welcome little Anna was a colourful picture book, complete with scrunchy, fabric pages that make a noise as you turn them.  I hope she gets the habit.

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Squeaky Door by Elizabeth Chairopoulou is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.