Monday, March 05, 2012

Boys look at things and girls look at faces

I am fuming. This is partly due to eating badly and drinking too much over the weekend, partly due to stupid comments from otherwise intelligent people, and partly due to my own stupid reactions about baby clothes. Let me explain.

You see, this weekend my mum and I organised a surprise baby shower for my sister (who’s due in 1 month!). Miraculously we got to the day, and the minute she walked in to the house without her knowing anything about it, (plus points to everyone involved). It all went well, she opened and like the gifts, sandwiches and cake, and was genuinely surprised and touched by and happy by everyone who had made the effort to be there.

The talk all afternoon (well, for the 2 hours of the party) was of babies, and labour, and pregnancy, which I probably shouldn’t have been surprised about, but I was kind of hoping we’d be having other conversations too, alas, apparently not. I think that people, mostly women, tend to have something in their brain that just switches when they meet a heavily pregnant lady, and all they can talk about is babies. Anyway, baby talk is fine, if a little dull. That doesn’t matter, it wasn’t for me, it wasn’t about me and my sister had a great time, which is the important thing.

What really annoyed me was the talk of baby clothes – you know, how difficult it is to buy things when you don’t know the sex of the child, and of the differences between male and female babies. Someone actually said that that ‘boys look at things and girls look at faces’. Another one was ‘you’ve got to get them in the right clothes or they won’t know what they are’. I could have screamed. These are otherwise intelligent women. Why does their reasoning faculties short circuit when it comes to babies?

I’m not denying that male and female children act differently, but they act differently because of how we, parents, wider family, and society, bring them up. And of all the stupid things to say, boys look at things and girls look at faces....

Now I’ve heard the maxim many times that goes ‘if you don’t challenge sexism and oppression then you are as bad as the oppressors and the sexists’ and I take very great umbrage at this. Sometimes it’s not possible, safe or polite to challenge people’s views. If I’m out late at night, drunk, and I hear other drunk people shouting at someone else for being a queer, if I were to challenge this I’d probably get lamped. If I had challenged these stupid gender essentialist views at the baby shower It would have been very rude. If you challenge every single thing that you hear that perpetuates oppression you’ll become a sanctimonious old windbag with no friends.

So, I didn’t say anything, I stayed silent and groaned inwardly.

Reflecting on how folk at the party were talking about clothes etc led me to think again about how I viewed baby clothes. I’ve always thought that it would be easy for me to buy clothes for a little un – I just don’t buy pink for a girl or blue for a boy. Because I’m contrary I’d be happy buying the opposite colours, or neutral ones, but I for sure wouldn’t buy pink for girls and blue for boys. Then on my hunt for baby clothes I found myself thinking in terms of gendered clothes, and only wanting to buy ‘gender appropriate’ things. I’m so cross at myself. I discovered that I felt ok buying clothes with trucks and stuff on for a girl (well ok-ish, I consider trucks very boring and would rather buy something with dinosaurs on, but you know what I mean), but when I considered buying something cute with flowers, or ladybirds on, I found myself thinking ‘but what if it’s a boy?’ I try to fool myself into thinking that it’s cause I don’t know how the parents (my sister and brother in law) will feel about having their (possible) boy child in ‘girly’ clothes, but let’s be honest, it’s not them, it’s me thinking this way.

Ugh. I’m reminded of another quote – ‘it’s easy to bring up your girls like boys, but it takes real courage to bring up your boys like girls’. It appears that I blanche from encouraging boys to be like girls, and I’m so cross with myself for thinking in this way.

All in all this has led to me having a particularly shitty Monday as I fume about all the genderised shit in the world.


Debi said...

You know why girls look at faces? Because adults smile and initiate interpersonal contact with babies labelled female.

You know why boys look at things? Because adults are more likely to use toys and objects to initiate contact with babies labelled male.

Mumma Rivvy said...

This is something I find a lot as a mother - My daughter is nearly two and doesn't have much hair, so people often call her "him", based on the jeans and dinosaur t-shirt combos I usually dress her in. For me, this isn't a problem, but many people around me have a real problem with this, and are often telling me I shouldn't "dress her like a little boy" so much, or that "she needs to start wearing more girly clothes now she's getting older". *sigh*
But as I was packing up a large bundle of clothes she's grown out of to give away to a friend (who's just had a little boy) I found myself doing exactly what you did - leaving out the pink, the butterflies and kittens etc in favour of the "boy" clothes. And like you, I tried to convince myself it was out of...politeness and not wanting the new parents to be uncomfortable, but part of it was me. It's a funny thing, to realise that after all the debating and awareness-raising and gender-neutral-cheering that I do, I'm still swayed by notions I absolutely disagree with.

Hazel said...

I shrivel inside when I hear these conversations which I do all too often. I wish we knew how to break this cycle but it is hard when even the more aware of us are guilty of perpetuating it too.

The quote "it takes real courage to bring up your boys like girls" is depressing true.

I heartily recommend Cordelia Fine's Delusions of Gender.

SallyP said...

So...let me tell you about my pregnancies...!

Oh well, maybe not. This is why it is always a good idea to buy yellow and green stuff for kids! I had two boys and two girls, and they all wore the same stuff, at least when very young, because I was darned if I was going to waste a perfectly good onesie.

Saranga said...

Hey Sally you can tell us all about your pregnancies!

Damn right you shouldn't waste good clothes.