by Tracee Sioux
Which of these babies is a boy and which is a girl?
Before I had children I thought it would be easy enough to avoid genderizing my babies. Numerous studies provide evidence that baby boys and baby girls are treated in a vastly different way. (Growing A Girl, PAP Report on Sexualization of Girls, Dove Campaign for Real Beauty White Paper.)
I won the baby lottery in that I was blessed with one girl and one boy.
I felt it would be easy enough to combat the nature versus nurture gender influence on my babies. What I didn't count on was the immediacy of the nurture genderization that was beyond my control.
I also had the unique perspective of having same-age, opposite-gender cousins to compare treatment in the present sense. More simply: My daughter has a male cousin born 3 weeks after her and my son has a female cousin born 3 weeks after him. Without picking on my mother-in-law, whose influence on my children I consider positive and invaluable, her behavior toward my children is the most marked in its gender-stereotyping so I'll use her to illustrate.
Within days of the birth of my son and his female cousin she could not stop talking about how "all boy" my baby was, as compared to how "all girl" his cousin was. My son, in my opinion, was a pretty as any girl baby. I really believe if we took them to the mall with Zack in a dress and called him Samantha everyone would believe he was a girl and therefore treat him accordingly. She believes he is somehow inherently boy-like.
Babies, whether they are girls or boys, eat, sleep, poop, pee and cry. That's it. There really are no scientific gender characteristics aside from genitalia. Yet, the way they are treated from the very second they pop out of the womb is vastly different.
What I realized is that it's a mute argument because you can't insulate them from gender-stereotyping. Not even for the first five minutes.
Have you ever been in a store with a new mother and someone says, "What a cute little boy."
One mother I was with said, I have her dressed from head to toe in pink, the blanket is pink and the headband is pink and has a bow. How much more obvious can it be that she's a girl?
Mothers feel it's imperative that even strangers understand that their baby boys are boys and their girls are girls.
With my girl the clothes available were pink, ruffled, bearing photos of dolls, teddy bears, bows, and dance emblems. The clothing very often bore some comment on her attractiveness like cute, adorable, sweet.
I think my son wears something with a ball, bat, net or truck picture every single day.
My boy scored some blocks, trucks, puzzles, tools and a video game system for his first birthday. My daughter got some dolls, a stroller, cooking paraphernalia, fake heels and a tea set for hers.
Adjectives used to describe my infant daughter included pretty, sweet, adorable and precious.
Adjectives used to describe my son include tough, big, smart, strong and cute.
What I realized is that you can't stop people from treating your children in different ways due to their gender. Not in reality.
In the real world it's ungrateful and rude to tell people not to buy your daughter girl toys. You sound like an ass if you say please don't call her beautiful, call her smart. You really have little control over what friends and family say to your kids. You can't go around policing every toy, clothing item or word. There's also an argument that you don't really want to criminalize girl toys or positive feedback about girlness. The goal is not to make them boys after all.
My husband and I are as guilty of gender-stereotyping our babies as anyone. My first instinct with my daughter is always to tell her to be nice and get along.
It's not nice to hit.
Yet my son is encouraged by the whole family to flex his muscles and be physically aggressive and growl. My husband likes to show his aggressiveness off to his friends, Get him Zack!
I even gave him a very aggressive masculine hair cut with his spiked Mohawk, while my daughter isn't allowed to cut her hair short.
While I've given up the idea that it's remotely possible to insulate our kids from early gender-stereotyping, I think it's important to be conscientious about applying "masculine" adjectives to our daughters too. It's important that we make a habit of telling our daughters that they too are smart, competent, strong, fast, brave and tough. It's important to expose them to the "masculine toys" like video games, puzzles, math games and the computer.
For that matter, it's pretty funny to watch Zack run around in my red peep-toe pumps and play house with the baby dolls. Sweet and gentle are adjectives I like to use with him.
One of the babies in the picture is a boy. One is a girl. Which is which? What makes you think so? Look to the sidebar to participate in a baby-gender poll.