Monday, January 02, 2017

Girl colours and boy colours

I currently have four baby cousins: three boys and one girl. (They aren't all so much babies - the oldest one is 3 - but old nomenclature dies hard.  And it's not like they can read this blog to complain that I'm referring to them as babies.) I bought xmas gifts for all of them (I don't celebrate xmas myself, but my family does and it's an awesome excuse to look through all the adorable children's books at Mabel's Fables), and since all the gifts would be going under the same tree I put gift tags on them.

I managed to find a package of non-xmas-themed gift tags in all different colours, one of which is pink.  So I put the pink tag on the girl's gift.  Because pink is for girls.

Of course, I myself don't actually think pink is exclusively for girls and not for boys at all.  If any of my male baby cousins expressed interest in pink things or things that are culturally marked as for girls, I'd be the first to make sure he had all the girly things he wanted. 

But, because on a broader cultural level pink has connotations as "for girls", some boys might not like it.  Some boys might find it insulting to be given the pink thing. It might be problematic to give one brother pink and the other brother a colour without gender connotations. (The inverse is true too - I remember once feeling very humiliated and insecure in my femininity when my sister got a Judy Jetson toy and I was given smelly old George Jetson.)

If I had multiple pink tags, I wouldn't hesitate to give every child a pink tag. But I only had the one, and I only ever use gift tags for the baby cousins, so the one pink gift tag went to the one girl.

And so, out of consideration for connotations that these small children may or may not have yet picked up from the prevailing culture, gender stereotypes of colours are perpetuated for another generation.


Another similar issue is that I'm very mindful of making sure the boys get books with male protagonists (insofar as the books have protagonists and the protagonists have gender - with children this young, sometimes the books are about animals or shapes or colours, and sometimes they don't have enough of a plot to have a protagonist), but I don't put the same thought into making sure the girl gets books with female protagonists.  This is because I have the idea, absorbed from the ether, that boy are more likely to be reluctant readers, and that boys are more likely to be disinclined to read books with female protagonists. 

In real life, none of these kids are reluctant readers, simply because they're too young for anyone to make that determination.  In real life, I'm not even sure to what extent children that age do or don't perceive gender.  But, nevertheless, I've decided to pre-emptively address this Thing That People On The Internet Say Might Happen, and, as a result, might be perpetuating the stereotype that books about girls aren't for boys.

Part of it is the fact that I can testify from my own first-hand experience that even a girly girl whose gender identity and expression is wholly feminine can totally enjoy books about a male protagonist, and therefore would feel confident in getting a girl a book with a male protagonist.  But I have heard anecdotes of boys being disinclined to read female protagonists, and I only have a self righteous "Well, it shouldn't make any difference!" to counter that.  (I don't actually know whether my male baby cousins as individuals care about the genders of their protagonists - I'm never able to have as comprehensive a conversation with their parents as I'd like because we keep getting interrupted by the presence of babies and toddlers.)

But ultimately, I think it's more important (in terms of both gift-giving and child development) to maximize the likelihood that the kidlets will enjoy the books put in front of them. And so I resort to gender stereotypes unless I have further specific information.

I kind of wish I could switch off that portion of my knowledge of self and culture, and choose books cheerfully unaware of what gender (and other) stereotypes might exist and need to be addressed.

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