Years ago I met a pretty awesome woman. Granted, I was twelve years old and she was my summer camp counselor so maybe she had an unfair advantage in my "coolness" perception, but twelve years later she's proven my original judgement spot on. Early this month she premiered a video I'd love to share with you about the fashion industry and beauty ideals for girls and women. This topic is of great importance to me, as a woman, a childcare worker, a role model, and most importantly as a new mother.
When I was pregnant, my husband and I made the decision not to find out the sex of our baby. Beyond the practicality of building a neutral collection of baby supplies as first time parents, and the fun of letting everyone guess, this decision had a lot to do with the values I hope to raise my children with. From the moment we learn the sex of a person, most people, consciously or otherwise, make a million assumptions. Culture says that a baby dressed in blue is a boy; he will grow up to play sports, maybe hunt; he'll be dirty, he'll be tough. Pink is reserved strictly for baby girls who will grow up to enjoy playing with dolls, wearing make-up and pretty clothes. For the rest of her life, people will make assumptions about my daughter, unfortunately that's just the way the world is; I didn't want those assumptions to begin before she was even born.
Because how do I know who she will be and what she will like, or even if she will always be a "she?" It's far more important to me that she has respect for herself and others. That she grow up feeling accepted and loved. That she feels confident about being herself and safe enough to explore and try new things.
I hate how vastly different gendered baby clothes are and the fact that if I dress my daughter in "boy's" clothes everyone assumes she is a boy. The gender difference seems so much more polarized for infants and young children. Boy's clothes are covered in monsters, sport equipment, trucks and slogans advertising baby's toughness. I'm sorry, but regardless of sex, babies are snugly, delicate, beautiful gas and poop factories, not tough. It's perfectly acceptable for adult women to wear pants and sports jerseys, so why not baby girls? On the other hand, some of the options for baby girls range from admittedly cute to outright outrageous. I was seriously put-off when we spotted lacy, leopard print baby dresses emblazoned with phrases proclaiming that baby is a "diva." "Diva," really? I get that for some people, "diva" is a symbol of pride and empowerment, but it also has negative connotations and in contrast to the surrounding "boy" clothes with puppies and baseballs, this bedazzled confection struck me as far too grown up and sexy for an infant.
Yes, my daughter wears dresses and bows on her head because for now I'm dressing her and I think those things are cute and because that is what people have gifted her and I'm in no position to turn down clothing in perfectly good condition. But she also wears jeans and a baseball shirt which reads "Team Daddy" and I draw the line at clothes I deem inappropriate for an infant regardless of sex. When she is older, I hope gender will have little influence over the toys she plays with, the activities she enjoys and the clothes she chooses to wear. As she grows up I hope she'll see both her father and mother as role models. That she'll learn confidence from the way Daddy tells Mommy she's beautiful even though she never wears more make-up than the occasional swipe of lip gloss or mascara even though her face is scarred from blemishes. That she'll watch Daddy wash the dishes and cook dinners while Mommy drives the tractor through the garden plot and wonder what people mean when they make jokes about women in the kitchen.