As someone whose dissertation was entitled ‘The Social Construction of Masculinity and Femininity through Fashion and Clothing’ (or something along those lines, it WAS almost 20 years ago) I was intrigued to come across this article in Smithsonian magazine.
These days, when you visit the home of someone with a newborn you can generally deduce whether the baby is a boy or a girl just by looking at the colour of the greeting cards displayed around the house. Similarly, children’s clothing stores are divided along gender lines with rails filled with pink on the girls’ side and blue for the boys. According to the article, however, it was only in the early 20th century that certain colours acquired gender connotations and until the 1940s blue was generally associated with girls while pink was mainly worn by boys.
Some argue that gender specific colours help to perpetuate traditional masculine and feminine stereotypes from the moment a baby is born. In Sweden for instance there is a big and very vocal gender movement, and some daycare nurseries operate a gender neutral policy where children are encouraged to dress against stereotype and are never referred to as ‘he’ or ‘she’. Maybe I’m not looking in the right places, but I have not seen the argument taken to that extent in this country.
I do remember that some people thought it was strange that, as babies, I put both my boys in (navy blue or white, never pink!) tights as they were born in the winter and socks never stayed on for long. Until he was three and a half, my eldest son’s favourite colour was pink but then he started preschool and suddenly decided that it was ‘for girls’.
I have to admit to sitting on the fence of this debate. While I think gender stereotyping can be very damaging, especially in the education system and workplace, I’m not wholly convinced that adopting a gender neutral dress code is the answer. When, after two boys, I had a girl I promptly bought a pink cover for the buggy and I was so excited about finally being able to cross over to the ‘girlie’ side in stores that I didn’t even contemplate dressing her in boys’ clothes (although I probably had enough hand-me-downs to last several years). She often wears jeans or leggings but I’m not sure I would ever pair them with a dinosaur or monster truck T-shirt. Whether this is because I’m a slave to social convention or simply because I myself tend to dress in feminine clothing is open to debate (and I suppose one could argue that the latter is a direct result of the former).
That’s not to say that I expect her to behave like a ‘dainty little girl’. She’s as likely to play with the cars and trains as with the dolls and tea set and I’m hopefully bringing all my children up to believe that, as long as they work hard, they can choose any profession they want. Maybe I’m an idealist, but I don’t think we should have to dress the same in order to be equal.
What do you think? Does it matter whether we dress our children in pink or blue or are we enforcing gender stereotypes by doing this?