A lighthearted look at news, events, culture and everyday life in New York. The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.
By Nina Pajak
When it comes to raising kids in today’s ever-evolving society, how you treat issues surrounding gender is complex, sensitive, and pretty darn important. Things are moving—albeit slowly—in the right direction. I want to raise a girl who knows her value as a human being, not just as a woman. Who prioritizes intelligence, strength, wit and kindness over physical beauty. Who is accepting of other people regardless of their orientation. All that good stuff. She’s going to be a force of nature, successful in all her pursuits, maybe even a trailblazer. Why not?
And she’s going to do it all wearing pink. You know, assuming she likes pink.
There are lots of moms who feel differently, and that’s cool too. As for me, I love pastels. I love Disney Princesses. I love ruffles and neon and sparkly jewelry and nail polish. I like makeup and polka dots and patent leather and clutches and beading and florals and hair accessories and wearing lovely yet hideously impractical shoes. I like things that are shiny. No, that’s not really true. I love things that are shiny. I love it all. I want it all. And until she’s old enough to make her own wardrobe choices, I’m dressing my daughter in it, too. Or at least, the aspects of it that are age-appropriate for her. I think we can probably wait on the makeup, jewelry and intricate beadwork.
This is all to say that I have no problem making “girly” choices for my daughter at this point, as I am confident in my ability to instill the proper values in her as a person. But even my sensibilities are offended at how absurdly bifurcated the baby retail market is along gender lines. My frustrations began when I was pregnant and didn’t know the gender of my baby-to-be. Shopping for necessities ahead of time was an exercise in anger management, as I was repeatedly stymied by having to make pointless choices between pink and blue version of things which have no business being pink or blue. Clothing, okay. Nursery decor, fine. Blankets? Maaaaybe. Washcloths? Um. Pacifiers? What? Burp cloths? You’ve got to be kidding me.
I really can’t see any benefit in wiping up baby vomit with a cloth that signifies whether my child has a Y chromosome.
Now that she’s older and the gear is more utilitarian—no more burp cloths and frilly baby blankets—I thought we were mostly past this silliness. Until last week, when I walked into our local Duane Reade to buy some plastic beach toys. I searched and searched the seasonal aisle, unable to believe my options, but there they were: Spiderman, Disney’s Cars, or a vivid portrait of Cinderella so large it would make anyone have nightmares about a blonde with an updo.
I was agog. I looked around, hoping someone would share my agog-ness with me. No one. Irate, I quickly bought a bunch of random crap I didn’t know I needed (due to the law of physics which mandates that no one shall exit a Duane Reade for less than $15), and headed across the street to a Rite Aid. Thankfully, they had what I was looking for: a cheap plastic pail, shovel and sand castle mold in colors that make it possible to play in the water without having to broadcast your manliness or femininity.
I am at a loss. Is this how far we’ve come? Why can’t toys just be toys? How are we ever going to live in a society in which men and women are treated equally when we can’t seem to get our heads around boys and girls playing with the same dumb pail and shovel? We women shouldn’t have to dress alike and talk alike or even act alike to merit existing on a level playing field with the men. Girls and boys are inherently different in many ways, and I, for one, am happy to highlight—even celebrate—those differences while still expecting parity when it comes to careers and opportunities. But this is just ridiculous. When my kid is old enough to pick things out according to her own preferences and she begs me for one of those stupid buckets, I suppose there’s no harm in it. But for now, I’m drawing a line in the sand. With a red shovel.
Nina Pajak is a writer living with her husband, daughter and dog in Queens. Connect with Nina on Twitter!