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help me put this into words please

(30 Posts)
HappyHeart87 Tue 17-May-16 10:00:35

I've got a baby daughter. Most of her clothes are gifts or handmedowns, and usually we prefer to dress her in colours other than pink.

Sometimes she's in dresses; sometimes she's in clothes with typically 'boy' styles, colours and images, and I get a little frisson of smug when people assume she's a boy for that reason ("what's his name?" "Isn't he cute?" etc).

Here's the thing - if I had a son I don't think I'd ever dress him in pink, anything frilly/flowery/sparkley, or a skirt or dress. Would have no issue with him choosing that himself when older but wouldn't make that choice for a baby.

Clear double standard, right? What's going on?

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

Grimarse Tue 17-May-16 10:27:30

If we accept that as true, what about the period prior to the blue vs pink split, and when both genders where dressed the same, in dresses?

Were femininity and masculinity considered as equal prior to the late 20th century?

Felascloak Tue 17-May-16 10:32:13

Also females do have a much wider range of socially acceptable clothes than males, so a girl wearing jeans, navy tops, dinosaurs etc may be more unusual but isn't frowned on like a boy in a dress could be.
I think there might also be something in that about homophobia - growing up gay as a boy can be perceived as a very negative thing whereas I think there's more of a tendency to think lesbians are going through a phase.

GreenTomatoJam Tue 17-May-16 10:52:05

I know what you mean - as a baby I tended to dress mine (both boys) in white (easier to get stains out of), then as they got bigger, bright stuff - but not frills or dresses (there were some sparkles and leggings though). Mind you, I don't wear frills or dresses either, so whilst there's sure to be a huge dob of societal values, there's also some personal preference.

Mind you, I happily let my son wear pink stuff if he picks it now (youngest is 2 - wearing pink crocs as we speak), and my older one who still wears a nappy to bed (nearly 6) couldn't care less when those pullups are the pink ones (shops around here have a limited nappy supply in his size, so we take what we can get), and chose sparkly trainers for his last but one pair.

I think that's all you can really do as parents. You don't want to force them in either direction but you want to try and keep the unhealthy influences as balanced by good messages as possible - and you want them to just put whatever nappy you have on and not make a fuss!

I would say that the 'all infants in white dresses' phase - which wasn't so long ago - I have pictures of my dad who's in his 60s in a white dress - was more that all kids were lower value (I might hazard a guess that it's something to do with death in childhood being more common?) - whereas now we really dress our kids as mini-adults from the start (unless you're lazy like me and favour sleepsuits), so they get the hit of feminine/masculine much eariler

Grimarse Tue 17-May-16 11:25:40

Green, so your dad and my dad both wore white dresses and had long hair. Do you think, as per Buffy's comment, that there was less internalised misogyny back in the 1940s and 1950s? Even if we valued children less, did we not have a need to still value boys above girls back then?

GreenTomatoJam Tue 17-May-16 11:36:51

I think the way we view and treat children has changed.

In the 40s and 50s I don't think individual children mattered as much, I think they wore white for the same reasons I put my kids in white, and I think they wore dresses because robe style clothing is easy for babies/young children, and elasticated fabrics didn't exist (think crochet swimsuits and braces in my dads pictures once they were older).

I think in the 40s and 50s, babies were dressed as babies, until they got old enough to be dressed as their sex. I think now, many parents dress babies in more adult style clothes from the outset, and I would say the reasons for that are more practical - wide availability of cheap clothing, and that the knock on effect of that is that we have a new outlet for forcing gender stereotypes on kids earlier than before.

So, not that there was less misogyny (internal or external) as is very obvious. Just that now we have new outlets to demonstrate it that weren't practically available back then.

VestalVirgin Tue 17-May-16 11:43:12

I don't think I would have the guts to dress a boy in a dress, you can imagine how people would react! (Of course, if he wanted to, I'd allow it. But I wouldn't make the suggestion)
But pink shirts? No problem. Many adult men wear pink shirts, after all.

Were femininity and masculinity considered as equal prior to the late 20th century?

No, of course not.
Frills were just not as strongly associated with femininity. Neither was pink.

The dressing boys in dresses may have started out as tradition to ward off evil spirits by making the boy seem like (lower value) girls, or it might be due to, you know, dresses being easier to sew, easier to change diapers, etc.

Also, seconding what Green said. It is called patriarchy, rule of fathers, for a reason. Boys are considered almost as worthless as women. Think of sexual abuse of children. If patriarchy valued boys, they would be exempt from the widespread sexual abuse of children that is swept under the carpet by big institutions like the church.

Sure, boys were valued more as property; like with Henry VIII and his obsession with fathering a son. But as people? Not so much.

Grimarse Tue 17-May-16 11:52:48

If patriarchy valued boys, they would be exempt from the widespread sexual abuse of children that is swept under the carpet by big institutions like the church.

I could not agree more. And yet, it is impossible to have men without having boys who will grow into men. So it seems contradictory to have this elevated status for men and yet not for the beings that they develop from. Do you think we look upon it as a Darwinist process - those boys capable of surviving childhood are then fit to be our leaders? And the rest can be consigned to the scrapheap?

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

ricketytickety Tue 17-May-16 12:06:06

I think it's because we see masculinity as empowering and feminity as disempowering. Pink and dainty is softening the boy so disempowering him, whereas blue cars empowers the girl.

It's all a load of bollocks but cultural influences are very strong so unless you live in a cave you'd be affected by it.

ricketytickety Tue 17-May-16 12:08:58

Did you watch the island with bear grills? The men were genuinely shocked women were equally capable of hunting and some women coped better with starvation due to metabolic differences. It's to do with how strong we see each gender. Dainty/small is seen as weak. Big and muscly strong. But in a survival situation it means nothing.

ricketytickety Tue 17-May-16 12:10:31

boys again are seen as weaker than men.

PassiveAgressiveQueen Tue 17-May-16 13:23:05

i thought the boys in dresses was until they were completely potty trained, so nappies were easier to change, and skirts easier to wash.
Just practical not any innate meaning

almondpudding Tue 17-May-16 13:48:32

I agree about the patriarchy - rule of the father. Boys and young men may be worth more than girls and women, but they are worth much less than men.

Patriarchal societies treat young men as disposable, butchering many of them in wars. Patriarchal societies often treat widowed or abandoned mothers so badly that it creates huge numbers of homeless boys, as the mothers cannot afford to keep them and they cannot be married off.

To get back to the clothes thing. White frilly smock type dresses used to be considered unisex on toddlers. This is rather like now when many people would put a teddy motif on a young child of either sex and possibly an adult woman would wear a teddy print (they were popular on adult women's jumpers in the eighties), but an adult man would not wear something so heavily associated with infants or toddlers. So clothing changes over time. The meaning of loose white smocked dress was toddler then, not woman. Women's dresses were different in style (heavy corseting).

I don't think it is simple as just dressing boys in 'boys' clothes, or dressing boys in boys and girls clothes to avoid sexism, OP.

I would avoid the following for a boy - clothes that have violent connotations - camouflage, army style jackets and colours,

Clothes that are all about man made, technological things - car, robot, trucks, tool motifs.

Clothes with large motifs of animals that pose a threat to humans - close up of shark's jaw, large poisonous spiders, big snakes.

I see that kind of thing dominating boys' clothing displays in shops, and yet parents claim it is difficult to get appropriate clothing for girls, as if the boys' clothes are neutral and not an issue.

I tried to dress my son in clothes that had natural motifs - woodland, sea, companion species, harmless species so that his associations were some kind of harmony with nature. Alternatively whimsical and imaginative - wizards, mythical creatures. I didn't want to dress either my son or daughter as a miniature soldier or heavily associate them in childhood with the mechanical or the dangerous.

The taboo against boys in dresses is very strong, but reinforcing harmony with nature and imaginative ideas rather than violence through clothing is one way of increasing femininity and reducing masculinity.

Sorry, bit longer than I intended.

HappyHeart87 Tue 17-May-16 18:22:12

Thanks for all the thoughts. It's fascinating.

Buffy - I think that's an accurate and helpful summary. Though having read others' comments I recognise there's an element of not wanting to expose this hypothetical son to ridicule as well. My idealist, purist view is that all clothes are suitable for boys and for girls, but in reality a boy in a dress is likely to attract some degree of scorn and I don't think I'd feel happy making his body my feminist battleground.

almondpudding, I think I've probably subconsciously understood 'boys' clothing with images of lions, sharks, trucks etc. as part of the 'boys are brave' narrative. So my tendency would be to try to claim that narrative for my daughter as well by choosing those sorts of clothes for her too. Your perspective is really interesting to me - can you say a bit more about what you see as the value in promoting 'feminine' expression in little boys?

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

almondpudding Tue 17-May-16 19:41:48

I suppose there are three potential values in promoting 'feminine' expression in boys...

1. I don't actually like hyper masculine people. In fact I think they are arseholes. None of the men or women in my family are hypermasculine. Much as kids have their own personality are are not entirely blank slates, you can mould them a bit. I did try and mould them to be people I would actually like and have something in common with. I assume most parents do that.

2. Rounded human beings have masculine and feminine traits. It's bizarre to split character traits into two groups and tell people to have only half of them.

3. The feminine traits of being imaginative and feeling connected to nature in a non violent way are really important, and connected to mental wellbeing.

I had a look at the Boden baby clothes. Almost all the boy coded clothes were vehicles or dangerous animals. On babies. I'm not particularly a fan of bravery (aka risk taking) but didn't realise that was what people were trying to say when they dressed their kids up in a great white shark tshirt.

HappyHeart87 Tue 17-May-16 22:42:54

Thanks Buffy and almondpudding. And all the rest of you! I don't have any IRL friends who are interested in talking about this stuff. This has given me so much food for thought.

To clarify, I've no idea whether people who dress kids in clothes with sharks (etc) on are trying to make a statement about bravery. I just meant that I think my subconscious mind has probably made a connection between those sorts of images on clothing and the idea that the wearer was perhaps brave.

I am a big fan of risk taking (within reason!) and would go as far as to say it's an essential element of healthy child development.

VestalVirgin Tue 17-May-16 23:21:17

I am a big fan of risk taking (within reason!) and would go as far as to say it's an essential element of healthy child development.

I am all for children climbing trees and stuff, but that's probably not what almondpudding meant.

Masculinity is associated with risk taking for the sake of risk taking, with no, or not much benefit attached to it.

I would encourage a daughter to climb trees, but I would not encourage her to join the military to prove bravery. Same with a son. (There may be good reasons to join a military (in a fictional, feminist utopia ...), but liking the danger and the reputation that comes with it ... is not a good reason)

TeiTetua Tue 17-May-16 23:25:15

Clear double standard, right? What's going on?

Well, there you have it: yes, it's a double standard that will persist for a person's lifetime, where girls and woman have a lot more choice in clothing and grooming than boys and men. But as has been pointed out here before, whether that really means more actual freedom is debatable. That variety that's available to a woman basically has to be used, if social disapproval is to be avoided. Maybe that makes it a considerably diminished form of freedom.

It's funny that this asymmetry in people's lives gets mentioned so rarely. I wonder if we're just so used to it that we never comment on it.

TeiTetua Tue 17-May-16 23:34:24

The feminine traits of being imaginative and feeling connected to nature in a non violent way are really important, and connected to mental wellbeing.

Feminine, what's this about?

almondpudding Wed 18-May-16 11:50:39

It's about coding attributes, behaviours and interests during childhood as to do with either males or females during to create a gender hierarchy.

There are obvious reasons in creating a hierarchy why the coding should be male/culture/reason and female/nature/whimsical imagination; all the latter are supposed to be subordinate to the former.

TeiTetua Wed 18-May-16 15:28:39

AP, I see what you're trying to say, but it doesn't seem like a good example. There have been plenty of whimsically imaginative men in history and fiction, and certainly a lot connected to nature. There's a bloke named Attenborough who seems to have carried snips & snails & puppydog tails into adulthood and far beyond.

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