As a needleworker who makes a lot of baby clothes for sale I am always plagued by what fabrics to buy for my custom creations. While it may not seem like a monumental issue, but when trying to appeal to parents of children it is more complex than some think.
They will not consent to a fabric choice unless it is girly with ruffles and pink.
The same parents who insist on pink for their baby girls are much less choosey for their baby boys.
Sure, there are those who insist on the stereotypical blue, but most will dress their boys in pretty much any color, except pink.
Why are our genders so dictated by specific colors?
Why is it when someone sees a baby dressed in blue they assume immediately it’s a boy?
And, why is it when a baby girl doesn’t have some obvious signal she’s a girl, like a bow in her hair, or dressed in head to tow ruffles, she is mistaken for a boy?
These were the types of questions I was pondering while reading The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of a Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan, by Jenny Nordberg.
She discusses a society where boys are so much more worthy than girls that a select few families choose to dress one of their young daughters’ like a boy, and, by some magic, she becomes their son.
Pants, instead of a skirt. Short hair instead of long hair, and now this female child has access to a “man’s only” world in one of the most female oppressed societies.
How is it pants and short hair can transform a girl into a boy in this culture? It seems extreme, but dress a 5 year old girl in a dinosaur shirt and shorts with shorter hair and many in the town where I live in South Central US will think she’s a boy too.
Put a boy in a pink dress, and even with short hair, he will be mistaken for a girl.
Why? Why are our identities so wrapped up in the clothes we wear?
Or the length of our hair?
Why is it my son thought a boy in his Sports Skills class was a girl because he had slightly long hair, even though he dressed “like a boy” and acted like a boy?
Why is it so many people told me my daughter was a cute little baby boy when she was not wearing pink, or purple?
So, you can see my dilemma. I think rockets and robots and campers are for girls and boys.
I think elephants and mustaches, and 3 Little Pigs are for girls and boys.
I think a boy can wear pink or purple if he wants, just like a girl can wear blue.
My daughter prances around in camouflage dinosaur pajamas (the kiddos’ call them dinoflage – clever huh?) showing me how the Ornithomimus runs, while my son dons a pink tutu with rose petals on it, a skunk hat and a sword and pretends he is a ballerina skunk pirate.
I had a friend in Boston who’s son would only wear pink Crocs and wanted to borrow his best friend’s (a girl) dress. His father did not want him to leave the house because he did not want his son mistaken for a girl, even though he was clearly a boy.
I met a little girl at a party who was dressed in a plaid button up shirt and jeans. Everyone there, including me when I first met her, thought she was a boy. I was disappointed in myself for assuming gender based on her outfit. Especially since, as a former tomboy myself, I dressed very similar at the same age, and even sported the same short haircut.
In the end, why does it matter so much how we dress? Why must it influence such a integral part of who we are, such as gender? Why can’t we wear what we like?
This post was inspired by The Underground Girls of Kabul by journalist Jenny Nordberg, who discovers a secret Afghani practice where girls are dressed and raised as boys. Join From Left to Write on September 16th as we discuss The Underground Girls of Kabul. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.