This is the brown girls-riding-horses shirt I mentioned in Sunday's gender color entry. (If you missed it, this entry will make a lot more sense if you read that one first.)
I love this shirt, and Kavi does too (because of the horses). It's layered over a white long-sleeved shirt today, because it's cold in Chicago. I would have put her in jeans, but she doesn't like jeans -- I think they pinch her waist. And her brown leggings are too small for her now. So a wool skirt and tights, which is warmer than leggings anyway -- practical. Loose enough to run in, and while a long skirt's not great for climbing, the kids are inside now for the winter, and there's nothing to climb. But even if it's relatively practical, the skirt also makes the outfit a lot more feminine (plus, it has flowers). Kavi's hair is down here so you can see how long it is -- it's down to almost the middle of her back, and she won't let me cut it right now, because long hair is pretty. It'll be up in a ponytail in a minute, because that's a lot neater and more practical for school.
I think part of my frustration with all of this is that it seems weird to gender children. It's almost sexualizing them, and while there's a whole different post to be written on the subject of children and their sexuality (they have some, I gather, and we as adults will have to cope with it, and it freaks me out), I think most parents, most of the time, are not consciously trying to sexualize their children when they dress them.
But isn't that the whole point of gendered clothing? To highlight masculinity and femininity, for the purpose of attraction? There's a social and I think fair-most-of-the-time biological presumption, that most human beings have a sexual response to those markers of sexuality -- broad chest and shoulders indicating upper body strength, breasts (in all their glorious forms), reddened lips, lush and/or muscled asses. And our more gendered clothes and make-up are designed to heighten those markers. The double-breasted suit, to offer an impression of upper body strength. The short skirt, showing off long legs (on some people -- not me, sigh). All designed to make us more sexually attractive to people who are going to be attracted to overt manifestations of gender. Which is, supposedly, most of us.
And of course, even if you're not actively trying to get laid, it carries over into our day-to-day lives, this sense that if you look more "attractive", people will respond better to you. The man in the great suit will be the one to get the prestigious job. The beautiful woman with long flowing hair is the one who takes a fabulous author photo, which sells more books. (I'm looking at you, Jhumpa Lahiri, and I'm sure your publicist was delighted.) So there's a general social pressure to perform gender all the time, to appear masculine or feminine. The androgyne gets paid in no social currency for their appearance, and may even be penalized.
So, okay. Fine. That's the way a lot of our world works, and I might have problems with it in a whole host of ways, but fine. But why do we then impose it all on children? Why do we care? Can't we just dress them in a host of cute bright colors and let them be non-gendered and adorable? This where I note that I hate seeing toddler girls in string bikinis -- in fact, bikinis of any kind on pre-pubescent children sort of piss me off. And yet, a lot of people clearly see them as cute. Let us not even discuss all the overtly-sexy little girl clothes out there, which make my stomach churn.
But again, I am not immune to the programming. I'm asking all this as the woman who loves to see her pretty daughter twirl around in her pink ballerina dress, her long hair caught up in a high ponytail.