Saturday, June 22, 2013


Since having a baby, I've become extremely sensitive to how gender is portrayed in nearly everything I buy for my daughter--clothing, shoes, toys, etc. It is actually quite horrifying how much gender programming takes place--literally--from day one. Nearly all of Helina's clothes contain some shade of pink and are adorned with some sort of frilly accent. Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against the color pink (I'm actually wearing a bit of it now), nor to I hate bows or frilly accessories (I own plenty of that stuff, too, and it is a known fact that I LOVE sequins and velvet), but as with all things, I strive for moderation.

I am very aware that the world my daughter lives in is trying to facilitate her developing into a well-behaved, young lady, who likes dolls, the color pink, and being super sweet, so I try very hard to provide her with a balanced perspective. I buy a good mix of toys, clothes, and books that run the spectrum in terms of gender messaging (i.e., fairy princesses to cars & trucks), but it is very difficult to find things that aren't overly "girl" or "boy." Take a walk through the girl's section of a department store and notice how many things read "Diva," "Princess," and "Born to Shop," while the boy's section features clothing and toys that center around activities like fishing, sailing, and being mechanical. Even worse, boys' clothing and shoes are much more practical than the girl equivalents. It is as if from the moment females are born, they are being stuffed into uncomfortable shoes and made to wear outfits that don't allow them to do much more than sit around and have people comment on how they look.

Even more disturbing to me though, is that despite my awareness to this phenomenon, I find myself extremely responsive to (perhaps even dependent upon) the gender programming I've been inundated with since I was little. Heaven help me if I see a baby wearing gender neutral clothing. Much like a neutered dog, if I don't have a clear visual clue that indicates someone's gender, I have no idea what it is. I even find myself thinking Helina looks like a boy when I dress her in boy clothes:

So what does this have to do with sailing? Well, I will tell you what this has to do with sailing... it is extremely difficult to buy sailing-themed clothing for baby girls (yes, that's right, this is a post about shopping--I was born to shop after all). You see, apparently girls don't like sailing--they only like mermaids (duh!). Now, I'm not going to lie, Helina has several nautical-themed outfits; however, most of them are dresses (not practical for crawling) or are so fancy that I don't want her to wear them. (I kid you not, as I watched Eric sloppily feed Helina the other day, all I could think was "Be careful! She's wearing Ralph Lauren!!" Then, I hated myself for being the kind of person who exclaims things like, "It's Ralph Lauren!") Had Helina been a boy (or had I been inclined to dress her mostly in boy clothing), her nautical wardrobe would be much more practical and three times its current size. Boys just make out better when it comes to sailboats.

The other week, while buying father's day cards for my dad and Eric, I caught yet another glimpse of how these gender stereotypes follow us throughout our lives. I was overwhelmed by the number of cards that featured sailboats. Just one month earlier, when I perused cards for my mom, I saw a grand total of 0 cards that featured sailboats, yet an endless number of cards that were pink and centered around shopping. (In addition to sailing, the other top subjects for father's day cards were fishing, beer, and sandwiches--what a simple little existence we've carved out for men.)

In general, I find these gender stereotypes a bit tired and look forward to the day when the world is a bit less predictable. Until then, I know that--at least for the foreseeable future--I'll be able to find Eric a fitting father's day card, even if I can't find Helina suitable sailing attire.

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