I have written on this blog in the past about various issues pertaining to raising children in the best way possible, and I’ve written about gender issues. Today I get to write about both!
We set examples for children in many ways, including ways that we aren’t even aware of. Children can only know what we teach them, and there is an overwhelming amount of environmental reinforcement in our society that teaches kids that boys are tough and smart, and that girls are frail and pretty. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
There are some very simple ways to counter-act this messaging, and one of those ways is by not dressing all boys in blue and “masculine” colours, and not dressing all girls in pink and “feminine” colours. We also shouldn’t have kids wearing clothes that say “smart like daddy” and “pretty like mommy”.
Last year, expecting mother Jenn Neilson walked into a store to buy clothes for her unborn child, and was stunned that her options were literally just blue, or pink. But there are plenty more colours than that, and babies like all colours. Jenn is among the growing movement of people who feel this needs to change, and she decided to do something about it (the most important step!).
She put her money where he mouth was, and she started a company – Jill and Jack Kids which has a KickStarter that you should check out. Jill and Jack Kids is an environmentally friendly baby clothing company that doesn’t just feature two colours, but 4 to start. And the designs themselves promote gender-neutrality and gender-equality, which is great. One of the shirts is captioned “half of all T-Rexs are girls”, and hey – that’s a fact!
Not only are the clothes environmentally friendly, but since they are gender-neutral, they also work as great hand-me-downs, meaning you buy a lot less clothes in the end! And they’re built to last, so you can stretch your clothing bucks to the maximum and save some money for college funds.
If you are thinking to yourself “so what, how does the colour of kids clothes matter? they don’t even know what colours are yet!”, well, that’s the thing. As I said, kids only know what we teach them, so if as long as they can remember, they’ve worn certain colours, and the kids with different parts than them wear different colours and are treated differently, they notice, and they respond. As a friend of mine has said, “we raise boys and girls instead of raising people“.
I just did a very quick internet search for “how does clothing colour affect kids gender?” and here is a good, short explanation from Yahoo answers, that explains gender conditioning and the social pressures that follow:
If a girl wears a skirt, it’s fine. If a girl wears pants, it’s fine. When I guy wears pants, it’s fine. When a guy wears a skirt, there is something wrong with him! Wearing clothing, listening to certain kinds of music and even television shows fall under this ‘gender bias’. Having a certain ‘norm’ forced on you can be rather troublesome. Like a girl who wants to ‘code and hax’ rather than ‘curl her hair’ may be frowned upon by her more ‘girly’ peers, where as she may appeal more to ‘the guys’ now.
That’s a very simple explanation, but you get the idea.
On a more complex scale, this comes from a WikiPedia article title “Social Construction of Gender Differences”:
Gender identity is not a stable, fixed trait – rather, it is socially constructed and may vary over time for an individual. Simone de Beauvoir’s quote, “one is not born a woman, but becomes one” is applicable here. The notion of womanhood or femininity is accomplished through an active process of creating gender through interacting with others in a particular social context.Society typically only recognizes two genders. Therefore, when transsexuals want to have a sex change operation, they must prove that they can “pass” as a man or woman – so even the choice of changing one’s gender is socially constructed. The fact that these individuals want to be one sex or the other speaks to the “’essentialness'” of our sexual natures as woman or as men”
Diamond and Butterworthshow how gender identity and sexual identity are fluid and do not always fall into two essentialist categories (man or woman and gay or straight) through their interviews with sexual minority women over the course of ten years. One woman had a relatively normal early childhood but around adolescence questioned her sexuality and remained stable in her gender and sexual identity until she started working with men and assumed a masculine “stance” and started to question her gender identity. When ‘she’ became a ‘he’ he began to find men attractive and gradually identified as homosexual as a man.
The perception of sexuality by others is an extension of others’ perceptions of one’s gender. Heterosexuality is assumed for those individuals who appear to act appropriately masculine or appropriately feminine. If one wants to be perceived as a lesbian, one must first be perceived as a woman; if one wants to be seen as a gay man, one has to [first] be seen as a man.
So, that, I would argue, is why this is important and why it matters. Kids don’t know any better so we should try to be careful about what we teach them as facts of reality.
EXTRA: May 23, 2014 – I recently interviewed a Queer Adult Entertainment Performer named Mara Dyne for my podcast, and we spent a good chunk of the interview talking about what gender is and means, and highlighting some of the problems related to it. The interview is clean (no swearing), but obviously the subject matter is a bit heavier. If you might be interested, here are the promos to give you an idea:
You can find show notes and subscribe here.