(S)Mothering, Gender & Judgement

I got the “look” today at the playground. Or, rather, the “looks.” The subtle, but real, gender-policing of my daughter and the unspoken judgement of another mom about my parenting.


Gender Policing:
The babylady and me were playing and giggling at the park on a rare sunny Seattle winter day. Like you do. The babylady was wearing a pair of yoga-like/athletic pants, a super-duper-cute Cal Berkeley hooded sweatshirt, a pink shirt hanging out and a pair of converse. A husband & wife arrive with their toddler child in tow.

After some time has passed we had the following conversation:
Me: “How old is your little one?” As always, being clear to be gender neutral (even though they clearly want the world to know the child is a BOY–see giant boots & monster truck apparel).
RandomParkLady: “He is 19 months. How old is your guy?”
Me: “SHE is 2.”
RPL with a ‘look’ of disdain & a ‘tone’ of superiority : “Oh, you can’t really tell because of her athletic wear”
Me dumbfounded : “You know, girls and women actually do wear athletic wear.” And I walked away.

Gender policing starts the second these little babes pop out. Actually, I believe it starts in utero but that is another post. The questions, the endless effing inane questions. “Where is her pink?” (uh, where is yours woman-in-blue?) to “Where are her mary jane’s?” (she is wearing a dress….is that not enough for you?) are, at best, ridiculous and constrictive and, at worst, harmful and painful.

The near-always assumption that she is a boy. It does not matter what she is wearing. We dress her in the full gender expression. She wears dresses, pants, jeans, skirts, t-shirts, sweatshirts, bikinis, board shorts & rash guards, as well as the occasional cape. Not usually at the same time, but you get the point. Furthermore, under the “Family Gender Clause of 2007: Pink For a Purpose” (see below), she does wear pink. Quite frequently actually. Not that it changes anything. Pink t-shirt. Orange shorts. Red velvet pants. Butterfly tank top. Rainbow striped sweater. If it isn’t a completely over the top “girly” dress the assumption is ‘boy.’

I have pondered if it might be my gender expression throwing people off as I am not a girly-girl. I have short hair. I am queer. But, I am very clearly a woman. I have come to think that people are unable unwilling to see anything other than Pink or Blue. Princess or Fire Truck. Dolls or Sports. Camouflage, or well, Pink Camouflage. That horrific infant/toddler war fashion is available in a full array of colors. Shudder.

Easily categorized boxes make the masses feel safe and gives them a false sense of security. Frankly, I’m totally over it. Wake up all you unconscious dimwits. I’m no longer giving you a polite ‘out’ for your narrow-minded stupidity.

RandomParkLady & your like, don’t look at me smugly and pretend that women don’t wear athletic wear. It is 2010, not 1910. And by the way, isn’t that a sweatshirt you are wearing?

**”Family Gender Clause of 2007: Pink For a Purpose” states that “The color pink may be worn in any shade, at any time, as part of any outfit, provided that the pink has a clearly defined purpose other than screaming “I AM A GIRL.” Said item may not have the word “princess” stated or implied.

(S)Mothering:
The ladyfriend and I are both athletes. Recently-lapsed-after-ridiculously-long-event athletes, but still…..athletes. We value being in our bodies and being strong. And, we believe in providing the babylady opportunities that will allow her to take chances and gain self-confidence, while maintaining clear boundaries and a safety net. She is a fairly physical child who loves to run, swim, climb, hop and spin circles. She is also slightly cautious & will survey the scene, decide what she is comfortable with and then goes for it with full gusto. I adore this combination of fierceness and sensibility in her and I love fostering it.

After the gender policing of my daughter, I then got the “looks” of disapproval from the RandomParkLady in regards to my parenting. She would lift her kid, hold her kid and basically restrict him from things she deemed “unsafe” or “too much.” You know…(s)mothered the kid. All the while giving me looks that very clearly showed me she did not approve of my letting the babylady try out moves and climb new things while I remained relatively hands off. Even though I was completely engaged with her and was allowing her to lead her own play and was maintaining a ‘close enough’ distance.

I mean…really moms? The playgrounds of today are hardly the asphalt-guaranteed-ER-visit-gems of our youth… they are padded, softened, cleaned up, engineered and designed so that the for the most part the worst that can happen is some bumps, bruises, scrapes….nothing some kisses and cuddles won’t cure. For example, she slipped while climbing up some bars that were likely too large for her and she held on long enough for me to help her regain her footing and she continued. No harm done. She loved it. She praised herself excitedly when she got to the top and exclaimed “do again, do again.” Later, after some deliberation, she decided to go down the slide and fell on landing and got a little scape on her ear. I was there, gave her kisses & loves, she cried for approx. 3.5 seconds before demanding “down please down please” and she was off on her next adventure. Happy, giggling, polite, engaged & communicative.

So, glare away RPL & keep on (s)mothering and judging away…but I’m raising an adventurous, powerful, aware, confident and kick ass child.


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9 Responses to (S)Mothering, Gender & Judgement

  1. Tiffany says:

    Thank you, Meg and babylady, for this post. Your words echo my thoughts on gender sterotyping and its reprecussions. Half the reason I don't want to know what we are having is the implications others will place on our child. The pink frilly gowns, the "tough boy" gear. Nevermind the gender-specific toys, books, websites and play activities. I applaud your message and Lucy's beautiful and strong budding personality. Rock on.

  2. Sacha says:

    okay, I admit that I am attentive to Finn falling down – mainly because I have visions of head injuries dancing in my head. It doesn’t help that I’m an RN and M. used to work doing head and spinal cord injury prevention. I have that specter in my head all of the time. It sucks.

    Have you read the gender article in Parentmap. It basically says we’re genderfying our kids, that boys will not just be boys – it’s US, the parents. It just seems really bad right now. Anyway, not a bad article, not really in depth because it’s Parentmap, but not bad.

    And off I go to the bus.

    • Hmm, I’ll have to check the article–thanks!

      Don’t get me wrong…I definitely have my random “being-an-RN-@HMC/neuro” intrusive thoughts! I am starting to realize that they are generally more about my own baseline anxiety than about anything she is doing and I’m more cautious if I am feeling highly anxious in general. Mostly, I stick close by and monitor how attentive she is being & am there if she needs me. For me it was ‘learning her’ and figuring her current state of athleticism vs. awareness. Which changes routinely. And try and let her lead her exploration with what she is comfortable with.

  3. Travel Mommy says:

    Now I, when visiting in Seattle, am the neurotic grandma with the Babylady and do SMOTHER her! The babylady is amazing, but then you might say that I am a little biased!!

  4. Jennifer Jabson says:

    I have goosebumps reading your posts. You ARE the everyday activist…full of raw honesty, compassion, love and a bottomless vat of verve. I love this work. Keep up the blogging friend….cheering for you down here!

  5. Inder says:

    Ooh, I just discovered your blog (through a link on the Urban Homestead bloggers’ blog – love your take on “homesteading,” too, btw, and will probably be linking to you in my blog at some point, after I puzzle through my own fondness for the concept of homesteading).

    Meanwhile, I’m reading the archives. I love this one. I have a baby boy, and OMG, I could not agree with you more. The way folks police gender from in-flippin’-utero just blows my mind. We decided not to find out baby Joe’s sex in advance, and I had friends who were ANGRY with me (more or less jokingly), because they SWORE that they couldn’t pick clothes if they didn’t know whether it was a boy or a girl!?? WHAT?

    Also, baby clothes are so over-the-top genderized. Like, offensively so. All the boy clothes are dark colors, and feature sports, tools, or military (!!!) motifs. WTF? The girls’ clothes are even worse. I saw a “girlie” bib that said “Watch out for my mood swings!” Grrrrrr ….

  6. Thanks Inder! It is nuts isn’t it? The questions…the comments…policing…the assumptions. Argh.
    I thought perhaps the clothing options would get better as she got a bit older but it has gotten more restrictive if anything. Stores where the clothes maybe the “boy” clothes were slightly more gender neutral and the “girl” clothes were sometimes cute and not nauseating. However, now the “boy clothes” are uber-masculine-trucks-war-etc and the “girl clothes” are oversexualized-sparkly-princess-etc.

    “Watch out for my mood swings”….that is awful!!

    Thanks! And I would love to hear your homestead thoughts. It is starting a bit of conversation in a few spots, which I think is great. It likely won’t change usage, but I think it is an important conversation to have and raise consciousness around!

  7. Inder says:

    I have a great fondness for babies in stripes. I believe that babies should always wear stripes! Love ‘em! So it’s that and solid colored stuff – some of which I bought white and dyed in great *bright* colors, like yellow, orange, red, and green! I don’t want to dress my baby in dark somber colors, even if (or because) they are coded “boy.”

    People do sometimes mistake Joe for a girl, and it doesn’t bother me. Or him! This may change as time passes, but meanwhile, keeping the clothes gender neutral also means we can use them on future spawn regardless of sex (if/when we have future spawn). So it saves money and is better for the environment too!

  8. Pingback: In the Kitchen with Kids: A Play Kitchen You Won’t Hate | Grow & Resist

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