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.
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.
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.