This is the brown…

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.

Argh.

9 thoughts on “This is the brown…”

  1. This is such a great photo!

    My daughter, whom I mentioned earlier, wore pigtails from the time she was Kavi’s current age until she was about ten or so. It let her keep her hair long (her choice) without a lot of grooming problems, especially when she did things like climb trees, play in creeks to catch crayfish, etc.

  2. My eight year old, when she was three, announced that she wasn’t going to wear dresses or skirts anymore (too hard to climb in). I was told to thank her relatives and inform them of her new clothing preferences. She’s now been known for several years as a “girl who likes boy things” and prefers really comfortable boy clothes. And the color pink has been banned from the house (which isn’t a problem, not her color.) We had a long talk one time about what it was that she disliked about girl clothes, and it seemed to boil down to pink, flowers and ruffles. So we stay away from that part of the store.

  3. Clothing is a small piece of genderizing children. If Kavi likes dresses go her! While not a girls bikini fan I do love tankinis from the quick potty run perspective. The more important piece (and socially much harder quite frankly) is not shutting off means of expression because of gender. Boys can cry, boys can dance, girls can climb trees and take karate if that is who they are. As the kids get older that will be your more challenging battle.

  4. I struggle with this too. V. wears dresses and skirts all the time, far more than any of the girls she socializes with, and at this point I let it go. I work hard to use different praise-adjectives, though: that dress is so pretty, your arms look so strong, I love that color, I like to see you help your friends, thank you for being so helpful. Maybe that’s a way to address the “how do I look?” question? One day “you look beautiful,” another day “I love how springy your hair is,” another day “You look ready to do some great painting”–or whatever is right for her.

    I agree that shutting off expression is a huge issue, and will be a bigger deal for Anand. Helping him know that his emotions are okay will be a big deal. V. right now is working out the fact that with the boys, she can push and shove because they don’t care, but the girls will get upset and cry, which leads to the weird dynamic that she gets in trouble for pushing the girls but not the boys. Social interaction is really hard.

    I am much quicker to mediate comments like “Boys have short hair”, which are clearly said as a test, to see how I’ll respond.

  5. We are going through this exact same issue, and it enrages me too. One day, my kid actually told me that one of the girls in her preschool class had said that “if you do girl things, that makes you a girl.” I told her that the only thing girls could do that boys couldn’t was give birth, and the only thing boys could do that girls couldn’t was pee with their penises. I know it’s more complicated than that, but I tried to keep it simple.

  6. Interesting. I remember being constantly taught as a small child that boys don’t cry. Then I was criticized seriously when I was eight years old because I did not cry at the funeral of a great aunt whom I really loved. It was really confusing.

  7. A few days ago, Alice started to say something about how boys and girls are different (I can’t even remember what it was), and I said to her “You know, people will tell you all sorts of things about boys and girls being different, but just keep in mind that most of them aren’t true!” She didn’t have a quick answer for this, which I hope means that she was mulling it over.

  8. Its odd, it just seems to start younger and younger. The magazines seem to gravitate towards younger bodies too… thinner, straighter, younger. And yet there is this whole padding where you don’t need it thing. I think its a trickle-down effect, from the increased sexualization of teen clothes. I have one young lady in my CCD class who is usually dressed like a fashion plate… Boots with heels? When did little girls start wearing heels? Remember Seventeen? When we were that age, it was talking about kissing your boyfriend. Now it talks about having sex with him!

  9. While I am totally against sexualizing children, I think some of this could be considered preparing/training them for when they are sexualized. (Not in some creepy brothel way – in the way that play is training for real life for kids). Otherwise puberty can come as an even bigger shock than it already is!

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