I never felt anything but delight about dressing my son, but the glee of putting my baby girl in a dress quickly gave way to guilt – and then anger
I put my baby in a dress for the first time the other day and it felt great. What’s not to love about a pair of tiny bulging legs encased in white tights poking out of a sundress? OK, full disclosure: a pink sundress. Then I felt guilty, as if it were somehow unfeminist of me to delight in my daughter looking like a “girly girl”.
And then I felt angry, because, well, she is a girl. I was once a girly girl myself and still managed to grow into a raging bisexual feminist. How did we get to the point where it is girls’ stuff – as opposed to the way gender is circumscribed from the moment of birth – that has become shameful?
For the first nine months of her life, my daughter has worn her brother’s hand-me-downs. A lot of stripes, because in the facile world of childrenswear, stripes equal male. Basically, she was mistaken for a boy at least once a day, which is what happens in a society that presumes every baby is a boy unless a bow circumnavigates its balding head. I don’t give a damn – babies are babies – but it does say something about how early stereotyping starts. And how easily we fall prey to default male syndrome.
What’s complicated is the daily negotiation. I rejoiced as much as the next feminist when John Lewis stopped dividing children’s clothes by gender. My eyes bleed when I see T-shirts for boys with “Big Ideas” emblazoned across them, while the girls have to make do with “Big Smiles”.
I hate that even building blocks can be sexist, divided into primary colours and pastel shades. And the pinkification of girlhood is vile, neverending and has all sorts of consequences. It sucks for boys, too. Tights on babies are comfortable and adorable; which is why my son, when he was a baby, sometimes wore hot pink tights.
My bottom line? I don’t want to restrict children. My heart soars at the sight of my four-year-old son taking Upsy Daisy – a girly doll! – to bed with him. I’m also down with him talking about fire engines for five hours a day (I’m not, it’s ridiculously boring, but it’s nothing to do with gender).
The fact is, I never felt anything but delight dressing my son and it bothers me that it’s more conflicting with my daughter. I don’t want the tutus, Barbies and glittery hairbands that lots of girls (and boys, given the opportunity) love to be riddled with shame. So, for now, until she can say otherwise, she will wear stripes and dresses. Because girly girls rock, too.