My husband and I had an interesting discussion last spring about raincoats. Kids raincoats and the gender implications of what is socially acceptable for girls to wear versus boys.
In this discussion, we talked about how my daughter has a dinosaur rain coat. It was a hand-me-down from a family friend whose two boys had outgrown a bag full of clothes, which they gave us for the Pookie. But the clothing, including the really cute dinosaur raincoat, were in sizes 3T and 4T. The perfect size for the Pumpkin, who loved that raincoat the minute she saw it.
The Pumpkin has always liked dinosaurs, which we've encouraged as much as we've encouraged dolls. So there was no issue in either of our minds that we'd let her wear the raincoat and that it would be socially acceptable. In this day and age, it is most people don't think it's a big deal if girls wear blue and dinosaurs and play with cars and trucks and be into most of the same things that boys are.
But what about the Pookie wearing his sister's green raincoat with pink strawberries and a pink lining? That does not yet seem socially acceptable, but why not? And will we, as parents of a young boy, let him wear a girl's raincoat? Will we let him wear pink as he gets older? Will we care if he still likes to play with dolls in front of his friends in a few years?
This is a big feminist issue for me, and has been for a long time. I feel like women have fought hard to come as far as we have with it being acceptable for us to wear blue, play with "boy" toys and run around in the same games and sports as males. But men, especially boys? They don't make pink clothes for boys (although my husband has some really nice pink shirts and ties). It's not socially acceptable for boys to play with dolls as they get older, unless they are "action figures." Older boys aren't generally invited to go to tea parties or have their hair and nails done at a party.
First of all, this is a shame for boys and men, this limiting of them from a young age on. Why is there an issue if boys mimic their moms and their dads in many cases by taking care of a baby doll or cooking in a play kitchen or playing with little dolls in a dollhouse? What if a boy really likes playing dress up and painting his nails and has a fondness for unicorns and pink and purple? Really, what is so wrong with that?
And what is it about the color pink that is so appalling to some men? Why do we call it pink instead of light red, which is all it is. (White added to red is called pink, yet white added to blue is called light blue.) I just don't get it. Nor do I get what makes a color a girl color versus a boy color. I don't believe it's based in anything evolutionary or innate. I think it's more likely due to marketing strategies by clothing companies.
Let's talk a little more about the raincoats, as a true example of how limiting society and marketing is to boys. During our discussion about the raincoats, we went to a website that had the dinosaur raincoat that my daughter wears, and we evaluated the raincoats on the site. This may be the same site that Londo and I looked at, but it was half a year ago and doesn't have exactly the same raincoats. However, it is very similar and has many of the same raincoats, including the same dinosaur one. I'd love for you all to follow along with the little exercise Londo and I did, so click the link and the site will open in a new window.
There are 15 raincoats on that site (when we looked, it had 16). Of those 15, how many do you think would be socially acceptable for a girl to wear? How many do you think would be socially acceptable for a boy to wear? If you walked into a physical store, which do you think (and count how many) do you think would be located in the "boys" side of the store and which (and how many) on the "girls" side?
Even if you subtract those three patterned but obviously girl-shaped ones at the bottom, there are still more than half that most people wouldn't put a boy in. But for girls? I honestly would think that a girl could get away with wearing ALL of them. Some people might not be comfortable putting a girl in the pirate or fireman or maybe even the space hero, but I wouldn't think twice about a girl in those.
But what about the boys? You know that most people would pick only five of those, and only five of those would be found in the boys side of a store. And honestly? I wouldn't have a problem putting my son in all but the bottom three, and then because those have that belted style is feminine, not because the pattern or colors. But if my son loves to dance, why not put him in a raincoat with ballet shoes? Why should he stifle his love for cats or fairies?
Not everyone would put their sons in all the ones I would, but don't you think we could start to stretch the boundaries a little for our boys? The ladybug one surely should be okay, as should that butterfly one. Those are bugs, after all, and boys are supposed to love bugs, right? Or do people pick only the parts of the stereotypes that they want to follow, with certain ones trumping others?
Just as I believe my daughter can do anything she wants and I encourage her interests in all (age-appropriate) areas, I think the same should be for my son. But I know that it's socially not (yet) as acceptable for a boy to do and like all the same things as girls. At a certain age, he and his peers will start being cognizant of what is considered okay and what is not. But how do (general)we change that for our kids?
But limiting our boys is not the only issue.
Let's now think about what all this says about typically "girl" things. Girl things are not good enough for boys. Girl things are simply too girly, therefore lesser and unacceptable. The "girly" things, from colors to toys to sports, are discriminated against.
What does this do to our girls as they grow up? What message are we sending to both sexes?
Women are expected to do it all. We are now expected not just to take care of the majority of the house work and childcare, but often we are expected to work full time too! To break through glass ceilings, we are required to talk and walk like the men around us who are in control of the business world, but we are also expected to still remain lady-like, keep our femininity, be sexy and nice and all that other crap that is lumped onto us.
Funny thing about my rant is, I like to be all those things! I love to wear skirts and makeup and jewelry to work, and still cuss like a sailor when we can't fix the defects in the computer system I work on. I like to talk trash in my fantasy football league, then sign off at the end with "Hugs and kisses!" I love having both worlds open to me.
But I've also felt the sting of sexism in the office. I've also been very aware when the men around me get certain opportunities that I don't get. I've also seen how maternity leave affects my assessment cycles, which are tied to my raises. And I've regularly been expected by some people to be the main person in charge of the grocery shopping and cooking in my house, even though I work as much as my husband. (For the record, he does almost all of the grocery shopping and cooking meals, while I have other household responsibilities like doing the majority of the dishes and bathroom cleaning. And no, that does not make him some wonderful, special man. It makes him my equal partner in our household. And I'm just as appreciative of him and all that he does as he is of me.)
I look at the women in politics or Fortune 500 companies, and I see the expectations for women who rise to the levels that were historically for men and the double standards regularly applied. Yes, women are "allowed" into the man's world. But we are still expected to retain the feminine.
The feminine that is considered lesser. The feminine that a man wouldn't dare wear/play/do. The feminine that is STILL considered lesser by men, because if it wasn't lesser then of course they would want to be able to wear/play/do it, too. And even though some might want it, even though our boys may have a ton of fun having tea parties, playing with princesses, taking a dance class or wearing a kitty cat raincoat, society will eventually either stamp it out of them or cause us parents to limit them so they won't be teased or bullied.
And that, my friends, sucks for everyone. Because it affects everyone. Not just us who are women, but also women's and men's mothers, wives, partners, friends, sisters and daughter.
We do have the opportunity to change this. Those of us with kids, we are raising the next generation. Let's raise them by showing them that girls things are fun and good and NOT lesser. They are just as good for boys as they are for girls. And those without children still are part the society who can either shame parents into following the limiting behaviors with our children or proudly support the changing of this paradigm.
We can change this dis-equilibrium, this discrimination. I hope we will. One raincoat at a time.