May 282007

You might recall that my son had wanted pink sandals some time ago. And I decided not to buy them and to convince him that blue-beige ones are much better. And I felt rotten for it. And angry. Why can’t my son have pink shoes if he likes them? Why do I have to fear that he will be made fun of? To compensate I bought him pink socks. With horses. And hearts. He loved them. He couldn’t wait to wear them to preschool. But, alas, they had to be washed first. So he had to wait for three long days.

He dressed up with his cute socks and jeans and his new sandals. He told me, “But you will have to buy a pink t-shirt to go with them, you know. I have to have a pink t-shirt.” Okay.

He went to preschool. When I asked him in the evening, he told me that everybody loved his pink socks. That he really needed a pink tee. Have you ever tried to find a pink t-shirt without ruffles or something? Just a plain t-shirt. Not too girlish? Not too expensive, too, since I didn’t know how long he would like to wear it. What I saw in the department store made me glad to have a boy. There was not one t-shirt that I liked. (And I remembered why I keep buying my son’s clothes out of a cataloge. It’s not only the girl’s clothes that are ugly.) So I tried the second hand store. And found a pink t-shirt like this for 2 €:

Of course this had to be washed too so he couldn’t wear it the day after I bought it. But he had his socks. The next day we arrived at preschool, late as often, and a little girl sat down beside him. She told her mother, “The boy is wearing girlie socks.” And he showed her, proudly. In the evening he was very sad to learn that his socks had to be washed since they were very, very dirty. A few days later I told him they were ready to be worn again and that he could wear his new pink tee with it. He had loved the tee when I showed it to him. Then he said, “No, I don’t want to wear the socks or the t-shirt to preschool.” “Why?” “L. and F. made fun of me.” It turned out that a couple of kids had laughed at him because of the socks. And that everybody had been talking about it for days. Obviously a boy wearing pink socks is a very hot topic for preschoolers.

And that was it. He didn’t even want to wear the t-shirt or the socks on weekends. They are tainted with the laughter of his peers.

This makes me sad. I’m even sadder because I saw it coming. Of course I could have prevented this but then I thought, “Maybe it’s not that bad.” And that everybody should be able to wear the color he or she likes. I’m still angry that I’m living in a society where people can’t wear the colors they like. Not even when they are only four years old. I knew that preschoolers and kindergarteners are highly conventional. You can’t really blame them, they learn their values from the adults around them. Women do housework, men can work with computers, women are bad at math, men can’t sew, women always want to be pretty, men don’t care how they look, blablabla. As if there were no individuality.

Or am I the only one who thinks that gender inequality is creeping back?

(Edited to add: Since there were so many comments on this post where people felt sad for my son I wrote yet another post on this to round it all up: Pink – the third)

Apr 142007

but I didn’t buy them. And I feel like a bad mother for it.

It isn’t as if he had expressed a liking for pink and girlish things only yesterday when we went to buy new sandals. For weeks he has been saying that he only likes colors like pink and purple and that he wants pink sneakers or pink socks or whatever pinkish clothing caught his eyes in the supermarket.

I have been thinking about this for ages. Periodically he wants to be a girl or a woman. He then wants to be called like Leah instead of Leo and pretends that he is a female astronaut or the mother of his teddy who’s then called Kokolishba (he made that name up). Leah by the way is Brazilian. Kokolishba is her son, they are both visiting Germany and Kokolishba is four years old. Sometimes Leah is married to the child’s father whose name is Kokolishba too. Of course Leah wears skirts and dresses and likes to got to the spa, dye her hair and wears make-up. As a mother I can say that this Leah is much easier to bath than Leo. After a few weeks of pretending to be female my son always finds something else to play, reacts to his real name again and that’s it. Until the next time.

Of course at four he is the age when all children are thinking about gender roles and about what things are appropriate or not for men and women. It is the age of conventionality. We meet a man with long hair, my son starts laughing, “But men don’t have long hair!”, how ridiculous. I say, “But of course there are men with long hair. Just like women can have short hair. “But women have long hair!” So what about your grandmother and the kindergarten teacher and …

He come home one day and says that he only likes colors like black and brown nowadays. Because he’s a boy and boy only like dark colors. Like a good feminist mother I say, “But you can like all colors. Whichever you want.” “But only girls like pink and purple.” “But boys can like pink and purple too.” Obviously he took that to heart. When we went to the supermarket two weeks ago there was a display of children’s clothing up front. My son wanted to have pink, um, “Gymnastikschuhe” (the nearest would be ballet slippers I think but in Germany small kids wear those during gymnastics). I said that he already had some. He wanted pink socks. They were too big. I was relieved.

So yesterday I bought him new sandals since the old ones were too small. We entered the shop and looked at sandals in his size. “I want these.” he said, pointing to very, very girlish pink ones with flowers. “Or these.”, he said clutching those:

Well, if they were to be pink those would have been acceptable to me. But then what if the other children in preschool would laugh about him. “Look at Leo”, they’d say, he’s wearing girly shoes!” and then they’d laugh like my son laughed when he saw a man with a ponytail and then he wouldn’t want to wear them again. Shoes for 45 €. I tried to interest him in the same model in blue. No chance. A sales woman came. “But you can’t have pink shoes. You’re a boy.” and then to me “Is he in preschool?” “Yes.” “The other children would make fun of him. Children can be cruel.” In the end us two grown-ups showed him all the advantages of pretty blue and mud-colored sandals. Now he has a pair that is very suitable for jumping into puddles:

He’s very happy with his new shoes and claims that he can jump better and run faster with them. But I feel rotten. I never would have thought that I would discourage my son to follow his taste. Mind you, I wouldn’t want a girl to be dressed all in pink either but I’d tend towards brighter colors, more orange, yellow and red. Have you ever compared the boy and girl section of a clothing department? Well, I suppose you have. Rows and rows of bright and colorful girl’s clothes followed by about half the amount of things for boys. And then you can choose between blue, grey, and mud-colored. With pictures of trucks or skaters.

Why isn’t there more unisex clothing for at least the smaller children? Bright and cheerful colors? Why does everything for girls have to be pink and frilly? Why are horses girlish? Since when? Horses used to be for knights and warriors and work. Now they are girl stuff. Why does there have to be so much gender distinction? Why did my mother-in-law fear that my son would turn out gay when we gave him a doll for his first birthday? (And for his third another one?) Why aren’t there more male dolls?

I don’t know if I should have made a statement. Buy my son pink sandals. They would have looked mud-colored after a few weeks anyway because, seriously, white soles? Very funny. Are they machine-washable?

When I became a feminist at age 13 I never would have thought that 18 years later people would still say things like, “But everybody knows that men can’t iron.” “Men just can’t talk about feelings.” , “You know, I never can figure out computers, but that’s because I’m a woman.” Okay. So women don’t have brains and men don’t have feelings? A boy has to be interested in sports, computers, soccer and fighting and a girl has to be interested in dolls, horses, fashion and housework. Wow, I’m glad I figured that out.

And the other thing I never would have thought would be that nowadays it’s okay for a girl to play soccer but a boy still isn’t supposed to play with dolls. I’m really angry about this. I’d like to live in a world where everybody can wear what he or she wants. Pink, blue, high heels, sneakers, who cares.

But I’m not living in such a world and so I wonder: Should I have bought him pink sandals?

Oh, and later that day I went out and bought him pink socks. With horses. And hearts.

(There’s a follow-up to this post here.)

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