"Why did you give me a pink lollipop in my lunch?!" Mr. Pants sobbed at me.
We had had kind of a rough morning and I was coming in to his room to end his time out and see if we could get in a better groove.
"Because you like lollipops!" I had dropped a watermelon lollipop in his lunch a week ago, trying to do something especially nice for him.
"But I hate pink! Pink is a girl color!"
"Well, did you taste the lollipop?"
"Did you like it?"
"Yeah, but it was pink!"
There followed a surprising conversation. His feelings about pink are, in fact, complicated. He hates pink. Pink is kind of a pretty color. He's afraid he might sometime decide he likes pink. Pink is a girl color. He hates pink. (I don't know if he remembers he used to like it.)
I told him that pink is just a color and it's true that our society says it's just for girls, but that at other times and in other places people have thought that pink was for boys and not for girls! Isn't it silly that people think things like that? I want you to like what you like because you like it, not because it's what everyone says you should like. There are a lot of things that people are going to tell you you should do and say and think and like and be because you're a boy. It doesn't matter. I want you and Shmoogie to be good, strong people. A good man is a good person. And a good man can like pink.
My tone was serious. I've been reading a fair amount of feminists lately —thanks to Twitter and the shock of finding my gender to be such a small minority of my current passion — and just this morning, I'd read this astonishing post by Shannon Hale, a female author of young adult literature (who I've never heard of, but now wish to read). She gives talks on writing at schools and often finds that the schools have separated the classes for her presentation — the girls are taken to hear her and the boys stay in their classrooms and miss the whole thing. I'm so dumbfounded by that, I'd be sputtering if I were talking.
I try to keep it cool, to raise my girl and my boy to be whole and happy people, comfortable with but not defined by their gender. But then I take them shoe shopping and the whole store is divided down the middle. The pink and purple sparkles on one side and the red and blue flames and menacing superheroes (Mr. Pants has only recently overcome his terror of "Iderman", aka Spiderman, who is pretty scary-looking if you think about it) on the other. Shmoogie picked ladybug rain boots over pink flowered rain boots and Mr. Pants wanted some, too. "Do you?" I aksed, not sure what to do. "I'm not sure they have your size. Let's go look at those over there and if you still want the ladybugs, we'll come back and ask about your size."
He picked firechief boots, thrilled at how well they will go with his intended Halloween costume — Super Fireman.
And I quietly sighed in relief that I didn't have to prepare to explain why his friends were making fun of him for wearing ladybug boots.
What if they were called "redbugs"? Would they still be the exclusive province of adorable little girls? What if they were "bloodbugs"? How unladylike. But everybody knows boys are all about blood.
It makes my stomach churn to see a little boy show up at the park in full military camoflauge, ammo belt and toy gun.
My heart sinks when we walk down the Lego aisle at Target and everything is clearly aimed at "boy" and most of it is frightening or violent. It's a narrow representation of Lego's product line, which I generally think of as being gender-neutral (although if you click on their homepage link there, you'll see new specifically "girl" products assailed by Ruth Suehle on opensource.com and by blogger Kate Bacchus), but it's what Target thinks my boy should want.
And, I don't know about you, but Target where we live is pretty much the arbiter of taste among the preschool set. It's rare that a trip to the playground, the zoo, or the pool doesn't involve exchanging knowing grins with other parents over the matching strawberry hats on our daughters or the t-shirts on our sons.
It always makes me think uncomfortably of the time we watched Goodbye, Lenin with a friend who grew up in East Germany. I had read about the one soviet brand of pickles in the reviews, of course, but I was still flabbergasted when she exclaimed, "That baby blanket! We all had that baby blanket!"
It was a blue blanket, if I recall correctly.