Friday, January 4, 2008

Pink

“I want pink color.” Chip replies without batting an eyelid. We are getting out of the car parked in front of an art and craft store where we are headed to buy wool for my mom to knit a sweater for Chip. “Not blue or green?” asks my mother. “Nooo! I want pink sweater.” I throw my arms up in air. “OK. We will go see what colors they have.” Chip is all about pink these days. And Dora and care bears and princesses. A few weeks ago during the holiday season, Chip and BigGeek went to Sears to get a drill/hammer/random-equipment-for-I-don’t-know-what. Chip had also been in a popcorn phase then. He had kept chanting his popcorn mantra for days, when BigGeek saw huge popcorn tins by the checkout counter and asked Chip to pick one. Chip looked over Cars and other “boy” themed tins and gleefully picked a pink one with Disney princesses. When I saw the tim he brought home, I asked Chip what those figures were. “It’s a princess” he told me pointing to a clone-of-Barbie dancing princess.

A few weeks later we visited the doctor for an ear infection. She offered stickers to Chip – truck, cars, planes, he looked into the bin carefully and picked a pink Care Bear. “You don’t want the red fire truck?” She asked. Chip shook his head. “I want pink bear.” He declared, holding the piece of sticker in his tiny fist. He has thrown himself on the floor of a store for a Dora backpack and begged for a Dora cup. He has fought tooth and nail for a pink doll stroller. He imitates me wearing makeup. Does this bother me? I am not going to answer that question, not just yet. Because this is a bit more than pink is for girls and blue is for boys.

I once mentioned his pink obsession to Ms.L, his teacher. She must have sensed something in my voice because she put her hand on my shoulder and shook her head. “Don’t worry”, she said patting me. “He plays with trucks and cars and planes too.” It was because of a girl called J in his class, she explained. J and Chip are good friends and she is all about Dora and princesses. “J talks about them all the time.” I nodded as she tried to explain. “It’s okay.. It doesn’t bother me a lot. I like Dora. I have seen her show once.” I shrugged and told her. Chip’s class demographics are highly skewed too. In a class of 16, there are 13 girls.

I have wrestled with this issue forever. Even before Chip was born or even conceived. I wanted Chip to play with dolls and tea sets along with planes and trucks and had happily set out to buy him a doll when he was a baby. But BigGeek had a strong opinion about it and Chip had not demanded one just yet, so I let go. But when Chip started to take down and pots and spoons, and cook with them and serving his creations in wooden coasters, I started toying with the idea of buying him a tea set. Chip hadn’t asked for one and I thought BigGeek would not be too thrilled with it, so the idea stayed in my mind until a few days ago when we were over for din-din at our wonderful neighbor and friend V and A’s house. I mentioned my desire to buy Chip a tea set when V told me she an extra one, and Chip could have it. “Are you sure?” I cooed. “It is pink and has princesses.” She warned. “T had a white and blue set, I could have given that to you, but a lot of the pieces are lost.” We came home with a lovely pink tea set that night. BigGeek frowned a bit at the color (why can’t they make red and green tea sets with bugs on them, huh?) but allowed us to keep it and Chip has had a blast with it cooking idlis and chapattis and mac-and-cheese every day and I am happy for it.

But this has not been an easy issue. My thoughts on the whole “pink” thing are so jumbled that I am having a hard time sorting them out. I don’t mind Chip playing with pink princesses and sporting mermaid tattoos, but I don’t want him to loose his boy-ness. Which brings us to what boy-ness really means in the context of a two year old. Do I discourage him passively by ignoring him, when he pretends to wear make up? Do I play more rough and tumble games with him? Do I tell BigGeek to make it a point to have Chip around when he fixes things around the house? Or have him take Chip fishing? Do I leave the TV on when a football game is being shown? Or leave it to him to figure out gender identity by looking at peers when he is older? What if he asks to wear a skirt tomorrow? I don’t want to thrust gender stratification on him at this age, but unknowingly I do and I don’t think there is anything wrong with it.

For example, Chip’s little chuddis have Elmo on them and have “Slam Dunk” written on the back. I would have returned them to the store had Chip been a girl, but I don’t find it as offensive since Chip is a boy. Chip has a visible scar on his forehead from a fall and had it been a girl, I would have gone to the pediatrician asked for something to make it less visible. But since Chip is a boy, it’s no big deal, he can brag about it to his girlfriend later. I would much rather he plays football and ice hockey than dance ballet and do gymnastics if it’s up to me.

It’s a hard balance to achieve. Especially for boys. Girls wear pants and play with airplanes and that is quite acceptable, socially. As is a girl who prefers climbing trees and running outside to playing with her dolls. Gender identity for boys is much more trickier. Girls can take on all the boy characteristics and that is not only frowned upon, but even admired. With boys, society and especially future mates do want them to be sensitive but not effeminate. What’s a mother to do?

At the arts and crafts store, Chip has picked a ball of pink wool but now says he wants a black sweater. We pick some tan and brown wool in the end and as we return to the car, my head is full of pink questions. As we speed away into the cold night, I wonder if I will turn him to a chauvinist fool when I teach him to let the ladies go through doors first and to help them with their coats. I mull this over in my head, and later that night as I am about to fall asleep I realize I have known the answers all along.

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Edited to add: TAAMomma's awsome post on the same topic

32 comments:

Preethi said...

haha.. I am laughing.. and you know why... coz you read my post!!! I got Nantu a kitchen set when we was 1 for the exact opposite reason.. he of course made a line of them and pretended that was a train. I am not sure if I want a macho-istic son! I would suggest let it be, there is nothing wrong with showing a preference to pink at 2! Who defined pink was for girls anyway.. When I was in India, for the first year of Nantu's life, he had a lot of pink things (mostly because I had no time, and the stores mostly had only pink stuff readily available .. figure that!!) Then there was a time when he wouldn't even eat out of a pink bowl or use a pink crayon... I have been telling him that it is ok to use pink crayons and bowls !!!

noon said...

You have completely echoed my thoughts. KB has not shown any particular preference for any color or princess etc yet - he is totally into wheels and trucks and screw drivers and what not. But one day when we went to my friend's place - she had a baby stroller - now KB likes any pushing type toy - bigger the better - I didn't even notice that he was playing with that toy stroller pushing it around the house...then I asked her where she got it and she said it in what seemed like a lower voice "It's a girl toy, I got it at Toysrus". Wow - I take him out on the stroller each day and he loves ot push big things around and he is not supposed to play with this?! I came home and told B that I wish it wasn't so clearly demarcated - esp in this country - this whole girls vs boys toys...The child is two - what's the big deal! And I am so conditioned now I just won't use his (outgrown) blue clothes for baby girl. I give them to my friend who has a boy baby. I too would have wrestled with this issue if KB insisted on wearing pink...and it is bound ot happen I am sure if he had close female friends in his class when he starts school...
BTW - nice ending - but really - what are the answers?! :)

Moppet's Mom said...

It's unfair to the boys, and this is exactly what the husband and I were discussing a couple of days ago. Moppet is rather ungirlie - and it doesn't bother either of us, but (although I would like it not to be the case) I know it would freak my husband out and probably worry me a little if we had a little boy who was showing very 'feminine' preferences.

Which, if I think about it rationally, is ridiculous, and especially at an age as young as 2 or 3, it's probably just another phase that they grow out of. But gender stereotypes are so firmly drummed into our own heads that at an emotional level it's hard to deal with.

SUR NOTES said...

i bought all things yellow and green since the day sanah was born. i prefer yellow to both pink and blue- so that was easy. and now, at two, she wants pink, pink and more pink. pink everything.she will not wear clips, bangles, payals(i refuse to pierce her ears), nothing girlie for her- but pink she must have.

i wonder if its a girlie thing, or all two year olds go through this pink stage!

lovely post- and truly, gender stereotyping is so much more rigid and tricky for boys.

a little anecdote- a friend is AGAINST toy kitchen sets for her daughter, or for gifting to any other girl. she had one set that she apologised profusely for passing onto me, i was thrilled, because i am not worried it will make my girl girlie. its great for kids when they are totally into pouring water in and out of little cups. its a developmental stage dammit, and need not be a gendered thing unless you make it one.

hope your little boy keeps tinkering with the tea set. and my little girl is hammering away with her tool set as i write this. and pink rules their world!

sorry for the long comment.

Mona said...

dude, share the answers.

GettingThereNow said...

Yeah - it is just the conditioning, nothing else. Don't fret too much about it. I was sick of pink and purple but S suddenly grew out of it. Now she has a blue room!

But you are right - we, as a society, are more accepting of the fact that a girl is tomboy but still worry about boys turning girlie. Dads more than moms. I really don't get it (not judging or criticising anyone, but frankly, that IS how I feel). What's the big deal? They will soon figure out their sexuality and I hope to God they don't associate it with mere colors and gender-stereotyped toys.

A boy in S' preschool class once came over for a playdate and asked if she had any princess clothes. When I said yes (I'd let S and her friends use her Lehenga sets as princess clothes) he asked me if he could dress up as a princess. I let him, and we all had the time of our lives! I was a bit concerned about what his mom would say (a lady I admired, by the way). She said "Save his picture for when he becomes the president and then you can embarrass him with it" :D They moved to Chicago soon after, but I am sure that he is a strapping, handsome 9 year old now who also has a sensitive side.

karmickids said...

Lurvvvly. The brat has two kitchen sets he is obsessed with and churns out cordon bleu meals from. God knows where he gets that from, I am the worlds worst cook and order in when the cook bunks. The husband is hyperventilating. But he refuses to wear pink. And Spongebob is his idol. So...

GettingThereNow said...

Oops! I realized I might have spoken a little strongly. Sorry about that. My outburst was really at the people who are very particular about these things (how boys should behave or dress or play etc.) and I know from your post that you are NOT one of them. Please don't take it personally. I didn't mean it specifically for you.

Usha said...

This is one of those issues that I have never faced - in our times we never worried about these issues and this pink/ blue thing is not very Indian anyway. I remember that some of my friends even dressed up their baby sons in girls' clothing and applied Kajal to them.
But this is really interesting and what are your answers?

Squiggles Mom said...

I keep buying Squiggles clothes with trucks, fire engines stc. on them because I think she will be influenced by 'girlie' things enough when she is exposed to her peer group. So, I'm trying to balance it out at home!

Sujatha said...

happy new year dotmom! best wishes to you and your family. cheers!

DotMom said...

preethi: Chip got a lot of pink things as a baby too...I guess once he hangs out with boys he may like doing boy things!

noon: it's not the colors..it is what they represent... and ehy should toy strollers be pink? don't daddies take their babies in strollers? why can't strollers be blue and other masculine colors? This bothers me.

moppet's mom: That's what I feel.. that he will outgrow it. But it does bother me and I know it would have bothered me if he were a girl prefering planes and cars and trucks and bugs.

sur notes: hahahaha :) I don't mind toy kitchens and teasets.. but why do they have girl colors on them.. they are marketed towards girls, not boys.

usha & mona: dudette :) answers being these. I will continue to ignore girl behaviour. It is silly on my part, but that's who I am and I would be hypocritical if I said otherwise. His pink obsession bothers me. there I have said it out loud.

gtn: I like the anecdote :) I am sure its a phase and he will be a sensitive quarterback with a degree in neuro surgery :)

karmic: yeah.. it bothers BigGeek more than it does me. but it DOES bother me.

squiggles mom: lemme ask you this - if squiggles were a boy, would you have bought clothes with sequins and flowers and butterflies and in pink?

sujatha: Happy New Year to you too, girl!

Ekta said...

Hi, would like you to know my lil guy (3 yrs) is really high on princess-stuff these days, and his all-time favorite color is purple! and the neighbors...lavender, mauve, pink!
Did worry me initially...but he is crazy about cars and planes too! so guess its ok :)

Sue said...

V, my brother and The Bhablet wear pink, because they look rather dashing in it. Actually, the Wee One is wearing a pretty pink kurta right now. With blue jeans and a pink belt.

The house-keeping instinct should be encouraged in all boys because he won't get that encouragement elsewhere and if he learns to cook and clean early, it will be of immense help to him later. Playing with dolls is a part of developing his imagination and nurturing instincts. I know you've already figured all this out but I'm saying it all anyway.

The Bhablet was playing with a baby doll yesterday and so I said I'll buy him one for himself. V did a mock protest but I think I might as well give him a doll or two to play with now he's a kid, because as he grows older there will be people enough to tell him what men do and don't. The way I see it, he can and should be able to do most things I can and should do, barring ones not allowed by biological differences.

Sue said...

Tell you what, I'll do a post instead of hogging your comment space.

kodi's mom said...

DotMom! You always write posts close to my heart :) Chip has company in the pink loving boys department - Kodi! He loves all things girlie (makeup, bindi, my fancy salwars, and yes, care bears) but his favorite toy is the garbage truck. so far i've just let it be...that he doesnt have any inclinations either way, and that I'm not going to push him in either direction just yet. he is also outnumbered by girls in school, but i think all this began way before he started school. the muddled "pink questions" do go on in my head ALL the time. maybe like everything else, things will fall in place with time. if not, I'll know who to call to sympathize with ;)

rayshma said...

hahaha!! i guess he's more into pink coz of his current company... maybe once he starts hanging out with the boys, he'll revert to cars & airplanes! my nephew *he's 4* insists on calling himself a girl! but he doesn't like dolls or anything "girlie"... i honestly, can't understand kids! *explains y i don't have one yet!* but they're good fun! and now-a-days they're really bright! my 7 year old niece knows bar graphs! i was SO impressed! :D

Null Pointer said...

Hi DotMom,
I hear where you're coming from, and these binary gender classifications drive me crazy. I was proud when Big Byte picked up a pink shirt with flowers and bows because our Nibbles would look so pretty in it. But I hope I don't flinch when a 5 year old Nibbles wants to try make-up or a 10 year old Nibbles wants a pink tutu for his ballet rehearsal. I hope I don't shove my 16 year old Nibbles into a closet if biological constraints go against his heart. Am I not already stereotyping to group together these interests in color, games and sex? It will be hard to break free of cultural shackles, but I know I ought to give him the chance to define himself - and I bet I'll be there to show him just how proud I am (as I'm sure you'll always be of your Chip)

DotMom said...

ekta: See? we have double standards.. I am the same.

Sue: I am not saying playing with teasets is a girlie thing. But why are they all pink and purple? Why not gender neutral colors? Also, I don't want him to loose his boyness. Looking forward to your post.

kodi's mom: hahaha. we should throw these two together and a few ballet tutus and glittery bracelets. and i am praying we don't have to sympathise with each other on THIS issue:)

rayshma: actually so does Chip. If he is a boy then I have to be a boy too. He can;t stomach the fact that he is a boy and I am a girl. :)

null pointer: do I like THAT name, now:).. you hit it on the nail for me.

GettingThereNow said...

Believe it or not, my main grouse is the same - why do certain toys HAVE to be pink and purple? And on the other hand, why do some other interesting (read something other than teasets and dolls etc.) toys, like a "Snap-on electronic circuit board set" have to have pictures of ONLY boys on them? We got one for S and she LOVES it but did, initially, wonder if she was supposed to play with it or not as it only had picture of a boy on it and that indicated it was only for boys. Sheesh!! I have had it up to here with these color-coded toys and clothes!

DotMom said...

gtn: exactamundo! i sense a business opp here :)

Sue said...

My own teaset is a ceramic brown one... My doll set, I mean.

I don't care what colour it is and I doubt if kids do either. To them either a colour is attractive or it isn't. They are not looking into further connotations so why teach them to?

He will not lose one little jot of his boyishness. If you're lucky he will retain this interest and help you out in the house in the years to come. Housework, even in purple and pink domesticity, is no less an art.

Where is Dipali? I need her to back me here...

Sue said...

GTN and DotMom -- I hated not being allowed to play with my brother's 'male' toys, so that's why I say let Chip play with whatever he wants.

I think the way we can all fight this is by giving each child whatever interests them. Who cares what picture or colour it is? If we don't teach/reinforce the colour coding and gender stereotypes, we may be able break them down a bit in the next generation. I certainly intend to try that with my children. Ahem. I mean child.

DotMom said...

sue: I am not sad because he is playing with teasets. I am glad he is. Playing with teasets is a gender nuetral in my opinion as is playing with a doll. Wearing skirts is not. unless you play the bagpipe! I agree with your second comment, but living in the US my kid is different enough in color and culture.

Sue said...

Does he want to wear skirts? I must have missed that. I wouldn't be ok with that, I'm afraid.

I'm saying colours and toys have no gender and ought not be allowed to.

I myself grew up not belonging. The North-South divide is pretty major, you know. I have some idea of how confusing it is. But I guess I don't know what it's like for you guys. And Chip.

DotMom said...

lol. no.. he doesn't want to wear skirts not just yet.. but he does want to wear makeup and necklaces..

Sue said...

Ah but dressing up is such a natural desire. I've played the prince countless times, both on stage and for our childish games. It wouldn't bother you so much if your daughter wanted to dress up in boys' clothes. Let Chip be, all this will pass. Just make sure you have lots of photos.

DotMom said...

It is, it is. I am going to revist the issue in about 3 more years. Until then will take lotsa pics :)

GettingThereNow said...

I sort of feel odd saying this considering I don't have a son (and I fear I will have "what would you know? you don't have a son" flung at me sometime sooner or later) but let me get it off my chest.

I don't think it is such a big deal that a 2 or 3 or even 4 year old boy might want to apply makeup or wear "princess" clothes. If I had a son, i would let him. Then, slowly, I would talk to him about the difference in playing with these things and wanting to go out wearing these things. I AM saying this after a looong consideration and not as a hypothetical solution. I thought lond and hard about it (yes, I DO think :D) and while I would have felt odd if my son wanted to dress up for preschool in a skirt, I would definitely NOT stop him from playing dress-up with girly clothes and makeup and jewelry.

DotMom said...

I will n-e-v-e-r say that to you cee kay. pinkie promise :) I would tend to agree.. he is 2.5 and he sees his mom and grandma do these things more often than see his daddy shave. I don't want to encourage it but neither do I want to discourage it. I just want to ignore it and hope it goes away!

GettingThereNow said...

Thank you, DotMom, for the kindness! :D

("I will n-e-v-e-r say that to you cee kay. pinkie promise :)")

The TAAMommy said...

http://thetaamommy.blogspot.com/2007/11/roles-we-play.html