I once had a cultural studies prof gripe, “Why is the first question someone asks you about your new baby, ‘Is it a boy or a girl’? Why don’t they ask if the baby is healthy or how the mother is doing? Why is gender so important that it trumps everything else?”. And he’s right- why is the gender so damn important? It’s a baby- it is going to do baby-like things without any regard for it’s gender. But everyone is dying to find out the sex of their baby, and those that find out the sex before the baby is born will already start to prescribe what the baby wears, plays with and rooms in relation to this unimportant factor. Parents are terrified to have someone approach them to declare, “Oh, what an adorable little boy!” when they are pushing their stroller out and about, and will go so far as to piece their infant’s flesh to …
… ensure people get their gender right.
So we dress our boys in blue and our girls in pink to ensure that there is never any confusion that our bundles of joy belong to a specific category which won’t really matter to the child until they are of school age. But why pink, and why blue?
Smithsonian Magazine released an interesting article on the history of the colour of babies’ clothing, which points out that originally babies were dressed in gender neutral clothing (which may not have been gender neutral by today’s standards- check out this photo of FDR looking adorably feminine as a baby). Babies started wearing pastels in the mid-19th century, but colours weren’t separated into gendered categories. Different magazines and newspapers would make claims on the modern fashion for babies, and some originally suggested that pink was more appropriate for boys because it was a stronger colour. While it seems natural to us that pink is feminine, it is interesting to think that less than 100 years ago, the complete opposite was true.
It wasn’t until the 40s that the two colours were divded by the standards that we hold today. And it was largely manufacturers who made this decision. They simply started peddling pink as a girls’ colour, and blue as a boys’ colour, and parents picked it up. Of course the manufacturer stands to gain more sales by creating niche markets for different genders, and from about the 80s on the infant goods market has been regimented in the pink vs. blue concept (this was partially due to the introduction of prenatal testing which allowed parents to know their child’s sex before it was born. Sex was suddenly a factor in pre-birth purchasing decisions). The idea has now been pushed until it has reached a point in our culture where we can’t really understanding meaning outside of this trend. If a mother was to introduce her newborn to her girlfriends in blue, her friends would assume that her baby was a boy. If she said no, it’s a girl, her friends would likely question her decision- as it was clearly the wrong one. It’s almost humorous to think that an arbitrary fashion trend has had such an affect on our understanding of others.
Take for example the recent media coverage of the ‘Princess Boy‘. A mother was brash enough to allow her son to wear pink dresses, and she made headlines. Jump back 100 years, and a young boy wearing a pink dress would have meant absolutely nothing. And I’d argue it still doesn’t mean a thing. Aside from that fact that clothing has absolutely no bearing on identity (in particular when someone else is making the decision what you wear), our inability to understand an infant as a person until it has been given as gender shows have integral gender has become in our formation and understanding of the individual.
And it’s rather interesting to note that this integral aspect of understanding was arbitrarily decided upon by clothing manufactures. Who knows- maybe the next industry in line to ‘genderfy ‘ itself will be the food industry. No more apples for boys- it will turn them into sissies.