I fought the law (and the law won)
Today I did a focus group for a major baby clothing brand. I went in, got free lunch, yapped about my opinions, collected $100 and went home. These were all good things.
The focus group members were comprised largely of moms who attend the same rather progressive, rather AP friendly daycare. (AP is attachment parenting for those who don't know). There are a lot of moms who breastfeed, homebirth, wear their babies, send their kids to daycare in small fake vintage rock t-shirts. These are moms who in theory, I should have a lot in common with.
So the major clothing brand showed us fabrics and designs for their next line of children's clothing (perhaps a year out? Since they said spring). They were divided into two sets: girl and boy. Uh oh, you are saying, I see where Jenny is going with this. Yes and no.
To begin with, we were asked to describe how we dress our child. I explained that we were not preppy and favored bright, busy, colorful, fun clothing. We wanted our child to look like a child, not a mini adult. I also explained that my child was extremely small with a tiny waist and we liked knit outfits because the mini-adult clothing just fell off. I finished by explaining Ollie's recent obsession with pink and how he had picked out pink mittens, tights (for England), and most recently a pink polo shirt. The group leader found it peculiar that he had preferences at 15 months. Now, while I like to think my child is precocious, left to their own devices doesn't any kid gravitate towards certain things in stores? The other moms seemed ambivalent about my indulging my son's pink obsession.
The girl clothing they showed us was floral, hearts, or strawberries. Largely. It also had phrases like "smile" or "sweet" on it. There were capped sleeves, ruffles, rick rack, ribbon bows, and other adornments. Occasionally the above words would be plastered over the ass of the pants like a Juicy Couture sweatsuit. Several of the pajama sets for 4-7 year olds looked like adult lingerie, with spaghetti strapped bodices and tiny little boyshorts. It was largely pink or yellow.
Most everybody took issue with the words on the butt. Nobody was thrilled about the words in general, honestly. I expressed dismay that the girls stuff was universally so overdecorated that it would be hard for a boy to wear, but there was zero sympathy.
Then the boy stuff. For the most part, it was pretty awesome. There was the occasional typical sports crap ("daddy's little allstar") but mostly it was big, bold, graphic prints in fantastic color combinations. It was in every way much cooler than the girl stuff. There was the occasional "neutral" piece that was yellow or green (of course). To which the other moms all agreed that they wouldn't put their boy in that. I guess it was too girly?
Ironically, one of those very same moms wanted to know why the girls clothes couldn't be more like the boys clothes. Why couldn't it have fun, dynamic prints with bolder colors.
So the semiotics of the girls clothes were sweet, cute, passive, and quiet.
The boys clothes: bold, big, aggressive, full of action.
The women wanted the girls to be able to be more like boys. No problem. Feminism is all about women getting to be bold and full of action.
The women wanted the boys clothes to stay exactly the same, the boys in those clothes to stay exactly the same, and were even uncomfortable with the gender neutral pieces.
So how exactly are you planning on redefining gender roles by changing girls and telling your boy to stay exactly as macho, repressed, and frankly, homophobic as the culture has ever told him to be? Why should girls get to be strong and active, but there's no space for a sweet, quiet boy? That, my friends, is screwed up.
I'm not going to say that men have it worse in our culture. That's nonsense. There's the pay disparity, the whole rape and abuse thing, the lack of child care options, and the oversexualization of women (apparently down to age 4 now). But I will say that there are significant gender issues to deal with as the mama of a boy too. Why can't I buy Ollie a pink shirt with a fire truck and a dog on it (his holy trifecta)? Why is it a problem if I call my baby boy beautiful? He is beautiful. The old ladies don't need to freak out and correct it to handsome when they find out his name is Oliver. I want to raise my son to be who he is, whoever that is. I'm not worried about wearing pink affecting the sexual orientation of a fifteen month old. And it saddens me that these otherwise hip, cool mamas mostly were.
To sum up, I present a picture of Ollie in his pink polo shirt, chilling out with an afternoon beverage. Looking as yuppie as can be (see now raising a yuppie, that I need to worry about):