Assigning Gender From Birth

BlogHer Original Post

During my lunch break yesterday I went to buy some gifts for a friend's baby shower. My friend didn’t register for anything in particular – she just mentioned that she needed baby clothes, shoes, bibs, mittens, and burping cloths - nor did she divulge the sex of her baby-to-be. I am sure that all the mothers out there are cackling madly at that tidbit of information, as you know full well what is available for babies, but as a non-parent myself, I cheerfully headed to a department store near my office, eagerly anticipating all the cute little things I would buy. When I reached the section of the store with infant items, my eyes were assaulted by bright pink and blue. I was confused. Where were all the colors not socially assigned to either sex? And why was it divided into Boy Infants and Girl Infants?

Well, it turns out that the infant section at a department store is one of the most gendered places on earth, followed closely by the kids’ sections. It is near impossible to buy baby clothes that are not pink or blue. Sort of like how die hard fans of a sports team would not be caught dead in the colors of any other, it seems that adults are obsessed with making sure that the general public knows which sex/gender team babies play for. God forbid someone should think a baby is the “wrong” sex. His/her life will be ruined forever!

On the other hand, the babies themselves could care less which color onesie they pee on. Boys or girls, they just want love, food, sleep, to be held, and have their bathroom needs met. I can understand designing diapers with slightly different coverage for baby boys and girls, as their urethras are not exactly in the same location. This is a lesson I learned when my friend’s 6 week old son peed over the top of his diaper, through his onesie, and into my lap while I held him because the last person who changed him forgot to point his penis down. Overall, however, it seems that babies don’t differ that much by sex. Any baby is a doody factory, and as babies, kids, and adults, we all basically shit through the same hole in the same place. (Unfortunately, as we age, that spot becomes the head for many.)
While the modern practice of early gendering irritates me, a wise friend tipped me off to the older history behind dressing boys in blue and girls in pink. Quick research revealed the disturbing, but sadly not surprising, origins of the custom. According to Sharon White’s article ”Do You Believe or Do You Laugh?”,

This practice goes back to very early times when people believed that evil spirits lurked around babies. They also believed that the spirits would avoid certain colors, especially blue. For this reason, baby boys were dressed in blue.
Why then were baby girls dressed in pink? Historians think it may have been because parents didn’t want to waste blue on their daughters. Parents used to believe that daughters were not as important as sons therefore, they thought evil spirits would not be too interested in their baby girls.

Ah, the time honored tradition of valuing males above females.

Infancy seems like a great time to just hang around and be androgynous, and a chance for parents to move away from traditional discriminatory practices. Even hospitals don’t seem to wrap newborns in pink or blue blankets any longer. (Based on my unscientific survey of my friends with babies, it seems that hospitals save money by using equal opportunity white blankets with pink and blue stripes.) Human development is happening so rapidly at this time, both mentally and physically, as young children learn how to exist in the strange and scary world that surrounds them. Would the world as we know it really collapse if a stranger could not immediately identify a baby as a boy or girl? Why compel babies be gendered before they can even sit up by themselves? It’s not like they won’t be forced into one soon enough, whether parents like it or not.

It’s not that babies should have no clothes that are blue or pink. (Although I have noticed that few boys ever are dressed in pink, while many girls will toddle around in blue.) It’s just that an infant’s clothes needn’t be exclusively one or the other, and that’s what I mostly saw at the store. In the meantime, my friend’s baby will be wearing a disturbing amount of yellow and green since no other options existed.

Suzanne also blogs at Campaign for Unshaved Snatch (CUSS) & Other Rants

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