When we set up our…

When we set up our baby registry, Kev and I specifically requested 'not too much pink, please.' And dutifully, our friends gave us lots of clothes and blankets and washcloths in yellow and green and white -- even a little blue. Only a few pink items crept in, mostly from people who hadn't read our note. We didn't really mind having a few pink things -- it's not as if we were adamantly anti-pink. (The first thing I bought her was a little pink sweater.) We just didn't want Kavya to grow up too pink, too feminine, from the very beginning.

We've read the studies; we know how even the most commitedly egalitarian parents tend to praise their little girls for being sweet and quiet and gentle, and praise their little boys for being active and energetic and strong. We didn't want to be those kinds of parents. We wanted to raise a girl who was strong and independent and fierce, who wouldn't be afraid to stand up for herself and speak her mind. Pink was only a symbol, of course, but a pretty powerful symbol. It seemed worth avoiding too much of it.

Which is why I'm a bit dismayed to find that in the morning, when I take over from Kevin's night shift and change Kavya's spit-stained onesie (she's spitting up a lot these days, often in copious and entirely unladylike fountains -- and never mind the stuff coming out the other end), I find myself reaching for the pink. The pink onesie, the pink blanket, the pink burp cloth. And oh, every once in a while, an unabashedly pink dress.

They're just so cute, dangit. All those tiny little flowers, and the pink looks so nice against her tanned skin (she got a bit of my brown skin tones, but mostly she's still looking like Kevin). And for a few minutes, when she's nice and clean (before she starts spitting up again), it's impossible not to cradle her against me and tell her how sweet and pretty she looks. I want to surround her with flowers. And when Kevin tells her, "Now, be a good girl for mommy," as he hands her off, what he's really saying is be quiet, be peaceful, don't cause too much trouble.

This isn't what we wanted. Just one month in, and already, she's being programmed into just the sort of good girl we hope she isn't going to be. Sometime in the next few months -- by the time Kavya actually starts understanding what we say, rather than just the tone of voice -- we need to change the message we're putting across. So that she knows that we think a good girl isn't just sweet and gentle and easy to get along with. That sometimes a good girl is fierce and feisty and strong. That a good girl is brave, that she has the courage of her convictions, has passion and integrity. Even if that sometimes means going against what everyone else thinks. Even if it makes her a troublemaker.

If we can manage to get that message across, then Kavya can wear all the pink she wants.

5 thoughts on “When we set up our…”

  1. Delightful post! My daughter (the one who shares your birthday) went through several years of wearing pink frilly things AND climbing trees and playing in mud puddles in them!

  2. Our neighbor Susan helped shaped my thinking about this a lot. Her mother was very intent upon making sure that Susan was NOT going to be one of those pink and frilly girls. So she dressed her always in “neutral” greens and browns.

    What Susan wanted more than anything, as soon as she could express it, was a pink dress. And when she got that pink dress, she wore it everywhere, all the time.

    Some things you just can’t control, I guess.

    My goal, as the father of a girl, is to pass on a few neuroses as possible. I don’t want her to worry about liking and wanting pink or hating it. She can be beautiful and kick butt. She can brilliant and sweet. But, as our daughter, she should never let herself play second fiddle, and I plan to always teach her that she can do anything with her life that she wants.

  3. Special K has loved pink and now purple clothing ever since she could point and therefore indicate her clothing preference. And yes she loves flowers and honestly the most femme clothing ever.

    And she is pretty and gentle and sweet and loud and proud and brave and strong and very independent. I don’t like the word feisty because it’s generally only used for girls. Sometimes she gives hard hugs and sometimes she wrestles fiercely with her brother. I think a girl is not defined by the color or clothing she wears. I was afraid that wearing pink meant something confining but not to Special K. As Special K will tell you very adamantly “I’m not a princess!” I try to ask her what this means and I just get “I’m not!” I *think* it means that she is not a role in a fairy tale. She’s her own person.

    I also see nothing wrong with being good. I tell both kids to be good sometimes. IMO good boys and good girls are always valued. There are times and places for everyone to quiet and soft and gentle. Like say in a restaurant or when going to bed. And other places to be loud and boisterous like in a playground.

  4. Hi,

    I’ve seen a similar situation to what Paul described with Susan. This was in India when I was growing up – I went to a co-ed elementary school and one of the girls in my first grade class was always dressed in what were considered ‘boy’ clothes. She had just one frilly pink dress that she would wear every time the teacher asked her to wear a dress. Her parents had two older girls and wanted a boy desperately so chose to treat my class mate as a boy – it used to be really tough for her because she stood out so much especially because it was imposed on her by her parents.

    I agree that pink represents something girly mostly but I think there is a balance between liking ‘girly’ colors and things and yet being strong and independent with a mind of one’s own. I vote for looking pretty and being tough and strong all at once.

  5. I struggle with this too. Of course sometimes I would DIE to have V. be quiet and not make trouble, and sometimes I say it, and then I run back through the whole conversation in my head and…(Violet’s 15 months old, for reference, she understands a lot but she doesn’t really talk yet.) What I try to do is what you’re getting to in that last paragraph: “we think a good girl isn’t JUST sweet and gentle.” I make sure to say “tough girl” once for every time I say “sweet girl” (or whatever).

    One thing that helps, and that will be a lot easier once Kavya is doing more stuff, is that we pretty much praise everything new she does. I say she can’t take her shoes off and she reaches right down and starts to undo the Velcro? “Smart girl! You know so much! Uh, I still would like to keep the shoes on. Maybe?” T. is awesome about this, his first instinct is to show her how to do whatever it is better.

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