Wanting to raise a child in a gender-neutral way is tricky. I guess I should have known. Of course it would be tricky. I was daft!
My first little gender-bias jolt was in the first month. I was a bit blue during that time, and I didn’t have some natural “motherly instinct” to talk or sing to my newborn. I would put music on, so we weren’t hanging out in silence, but I wasn’t chatting or singing to him. That felt stupid. It was like he didn’t even know I existed, so why would I sing or talk to him? Then one day, I was reading a study about the differences between girls and boys, the way that they are raised and treated, and how it affects them, and it mentioned that people talk to newborn girls more than boys. Oof! I had already been guilty of that. Even though it felt stupid and embarrassing, and I still felt sad, I forced myself to talk and sing to him.
Then, the clothes.
I didn’t want to dress my baby boy in blue – then we received a million gifts when he was born, and they were mostly blue baby clothes. It felt ridiculous to put them all aside and purchase “unisex” baby clothes.
I occasionally purchased items. It wasn’t too difficult to find baby clothes that were colourful but not overboard “girly” (frills and stuff).
As my bub got older, it became harder, though. Toddler boys’ clothes are 80% blue, grey, black, and in the 20% that’s left, there’ll be things like a red T-shirt that has a huge grey shark on it, or a green T-shirt that has little black digger trucks on it. Y’know?
Whoa, what a difference if I looked in the girls’ clothes section! Aqua, pink, red, orange, yellow, sequins, silver, gold, lime, peach, purple… so many fun colours, and even more than that: fun pictures! A yellow and green pineapple on a navy-and-white striped shirt. A pink ice cream on a light blue shirt. Red bunnies on white pyjamas.
My bub didn’t yet recognise a picture of a dinosaur, or a digger. But he loved ice creams, and fruit, and biscuits, and teddy bears, and bunnies.
I tried, here and there, to buy some clothes from the girls’ section. There were no pyjamas with bunnies on them in the boys’ section. There was no T-shirt with an ice cream on it in the boys’ section.
(And boys’ shoes are the worst. Navy, navy, navy, or black. Or some black with that navy? If I want something colourful but still kinda unisex, I can basically only get some red boots or sandals, because all the girls’ shoes – which are super fun and colourful and also have glitter and sparkles and lights!!!!!! – are over-the-top girly, with frills and bows and girly-shoe-shapes. Argh.)
Toys were easier. I tried to choose any and all toys, without bias, from the toy library. Dolls, trucks, tea sets, car games. That was fine. But one day, we were at a friend’s house – in her little girl’s room – and my kid picked up some toy jewellery and curiously started putting it on – I hadn’t thought of the other things that girls would get, that my boy hadn’t ever tried.
(Side note: Oh my goodness. The feeling of guilt, regret, and bad parenting when you think you have let your child down – when you have not allowed them to experience something they could have experienced and maybe would have enjoyed/loved it. I know it will sound totally stupid, it’s just toy jewellery! – but there was this tiny, strange feeling of loss for my kid. I have had that regret on the smallest scale possible a couple of times; I can’t imagine what it is like for guardians who can’t provide significant things for their children. It would be heart-breaking.)
Anyway. We have been plodding along since then, and I’ve paid more attention to the other kinds of experiences that girls get, but boys don’t.
And now… my kid is over two years old, so we’re gradually entering the world of him having preferences and making his own choices. A new tricky terrain. For example, I showed him pictures of kids’ drink bottles and asked him which one he would like, because he needs a drink bottle for “occasional care”* this year, and I was curious about whether he had developed any preferences yet.
He looked at all the photos, then pointed.
He walked off to do something else. His decision had been made. He liked the drink bottle with flowers on it. So then I was left with the ramifications of my offer: OK, if I buy him a drink bottle with flowers on it, will he be teased at occasional care? Will he get a couple of months in, and refuse to use it anymore, because he’s started idolising the older boys, and they all have superheroes on their drink bottles, and he only wants one of those? Am I overthinking this? UHUH OF COURSE.
(But, you know, that’s what happens when you write thoughts down. They tend to sound ridiculous. They were fine in your head, when they were private and took one milli-dilli-hilli-second to think up.)
So, that’s where I’m at, so far. In the end I couldn’t find the drink bottle with the flowers, so he has a blue and pink drink bottle with dogs on it. He loves it. So far.
* Occasional care is 3 hours a week. I have signed him up for it because I think he’s going to find it really interesting, and so I have one morning each week when I don’t have to think of something to do (and be his guide).