Kate (kate_nepveu) wrote,

Infants and gender

A few weeks ago, I was rather taken aback when a child development book twice suggested that parents "encourage the development of gender identity by using the words boy or girl when you address your baby." My immediate reaction was, "Surely, in our society, the last thing I need to worry about is SteelyKid not knowing she's a girl? And, how bad would it be if she didn't have a strong gender identity?" (Sex and gender are very small parts of my identity. Free-associating "being a woman" gets me "stupid reproductive system," and free-associating "being female" gets me "stupid fashion industry" and "sexism." Other things that often get lumped with sex and gender are separate in my head.)

(My reaction to the book's statements was also colored by the "Avoid" list shortly after, which included "Worrying that telling your baby she is a 'good little girl' is a sexist remark. Political correctness is not an issue when you're teaching your baby gender identity.")

But this made me realize that I did call her "girl" a lot, without conscious thought: "hey, baby girl," or "oh, good girl!" Since then, I've made more of an effort to use her name: it's something I've been trying to do anyway, and it is also one syllable and thus fits the cadence just fine.

Edit: To clarify: it's far more important to me that she be a good (happy, smart, strong, wonderful) SteelyKid than a good (etc.) girl, and so I want to get in the habit of expressing that early. I hope the distinction is self-evident.

* * *

Twice, strangers have assumed that SteelyKid was male. The first person, on hearing that she was not, asked somewhat indignantly, "So why's she in blue?" (She was wearing a brown shirt and was in her car seat, which is gray with green-blue accents. The second time, she was also in her car seat, and was wearing green.)

And yet yesterday, I was sorting through some hand-me-down clothes from a family with two boys. I kept a lot of blue clothes, but found myself setting aside a number that were just too little-boy—for no reason that I could clearly articulate to myself, except that I couldn't see myself putting them on her and so there was no point in keeping them, even though I was aware of the irony and uncomfortable with it. After all, before she was born, some people said that we should find out her sex so people would know what clothes to buy. My reaction was that an infant, who didn't know what pink or blue signified, would hardly care; that I hated the overwhelming emphasis on an infant's sex (i.e., "What are you having?" to mean "Is it a boy or a girl?"); and that I thought color-coding them by sex was kind of dumb. (I didn't usually say this out loud.) And yet.

Edit: To clarify: until SteelyKid has preferences, we're going to dress her in stuff we like, because we're the ones who have to look at it. And we don't like frills or most pink.

No conclusions, just observations.

What are your thoughts about infants and gender?

Edit 2: SteelyKid says, "I grasp after just the right words to express my opinions on this!"

(Okay, actually, that's her asleep, showing the startle reflex from the prior flash picture, which didn't come out well. And now that she's asleep enough, I put her down, and will make a stab at answering some comments now that I have both hands free.)

(Note that the outfit she is wearing contains pink.)

(Hah. Five minutes after I wrote that, she woke up with a wet diaper and an empty stomach. I should've known.)

Tags: gender, parenting, steelykid

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