Bullshit Femininity/Masculinity Part II: Of Kings and Princesses

No, this is not about any relatively new television series, although if I get to sit and watch it, I might have something to say.

This one is about baby clothing and gender stereotypes.

I was recently out buying baby clothes with my mom, as the sprog has grown prodigiously and no longer fits hir cousin’s hand-me-downs for spring/summer, and is running out of warm weather options just as it is approaching. We browsed a couple of department stores, searching for things that would 1) fit 2) look good on the sprog and 3) not be so gender-stereotyping they would send me screaming into the abyss.

Turns out baby departments are territory hostile to radical feminists. Sisters, take note.

It’s bad enough that clothes are 100% divided up into “boys” and “girls”, with very few items that could be mistaken one for the other: girls’ stuff is some combination of pink*, ruffley, lacy and/or floral; whereas boys’ stuff involves primary colors, sports, wild animals and/or heavy machinery. There are no lacy bits or extra frills on boys’ clothes: it’s as if one expected boys to use clothing, rather than just sit there and be pretty.

Apparently frogs are some sort of neutral ground, appearing on both “boyish” and “girly” outfits. We came home with a lot of frogs.

The one thing I Will Not Do, however, is turn the sprog into an advertisement, especially if the clothing item in question purports to speak for or describe the child wearing it. The only types of things I will allow on the sprog speak the truth about something other than what an infant might be or think, thus:loveme

or which might be objectively true of any baby, thus:
diaperloading

What pisses me off to no end are the ones that shout, to the world, that This Baby Is A Boy/Girl by way of gender stereotyping. Nothing like girding a child in “Future MVP” or “Future Chocoholic” to declare to the world that you buy into the hype, that, yes indeed, Boys/Girls are Like That.

Then there is, of course, “Daddy’s Little Girl”. “Mommy’s Little Boy” does show up, but also making an appearance is “Mommy’s Little Man“. Boys will eventually grow up into men; this is acknowledged. The only alternative for girls however, is to be…

daddyslittleprincess

This message is just fraught with misogyny and sexism: the princess stereotype is of a vapid, decorative, spoiled and vain woman; demanding and privileged and quite content to remain that way. Part of this may be class-based, but most of it is misogynist. The role of prince is often much more dignified, more serious than that of princess, and prince-as-hero usually has his own destiny to fulfill, instead of an evil stepmother to escape and a rescue-via-heroic-dude to find.

Believe it or not, there IS a shirt that approximates “Daddy’s Little Princess”, one “for boys”, that I didn’t know existed until I went shopping with my mom, and saw this:

mommyslittleking

“Now,” I can hear you** saying, “now that’s somewhat fair; daddy adores his daughter, mommy adores her son! It’s all equal! We have entered into post-feminism! Feminism is Dead! Long live Equality!”

Too bad the roles of Princess and King are so very different.

“But they’re both royalty,” you say, “that’s not unfair!”

The mere existence of “Mommy’s Little King” is enough to make my obstreporal lobe threaten to asplode, taking most of my patience with it. It’s like that commercial with the mom who is trapped by her child (son), tied up because “she’s the dragon”. A (male) child at play is shown as having power over the (female) parent.

Consider the parental roles involved in “Mommy’s Little King” and “Daddy’s Little Princess”:

  • The mother of the King is: the Queen Mother (a figurehead)
  • The father of a princess is: the King (a ruler)

A pretty telling power differential all ’round. My dangerously-escaping point: Kings are to be taken seriously, to be heeded, obeyed. Princesses are, by contrast, passive, decorative, and all the other (negative) things mentioned above. Kings are in a position of power. Princesses are not. Kings have subjects. Princesses have rescuers.

Nothing like starting the lessons at birth that our sons will be in command of their own lives, while our daughters must rely on other people’s sons*** and give up any hope of their own agency.

*It’s true that any baby could be high maintenance; babies are by definition high maintenance. I defy you to find a bib that says that that isn’t pink/purple/flowery/lacy, though, all of which is most definitely associated with “girl”.
** That is, if you’re a troll with a penchant for cheap florid prose.
*** You know: boyfriends, husbands, their own fathers.

Bullshit Femininity/Masculinity Series: [Part I] [Part II]

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6 Responses to Bullshit Femininity/Masculinity Part II: Of Kings and Princesses

  1. […] Bullshit Masculinity/Femininity Part II: Of Kings and Princesses […]

  2. Alice says:

    Gendered clothing drives me mad. It’s quite pleasing to point out to people that up until the 1920s pink was considered a masculine colour appropriate for dressing boys in, as its basically pale red, and that blue was for girls, possibly because it was associated with the Virgin Mary.

    Upliftingly, many children I’ve worked with seem able to break out of the gendered clothing restrictions with very little encouragement – working with 2-4 year olds, there are a fair number accidents, requiring a change of clothing. I always offer children a choice of clothing, and as much as I can I include “boys” and “girls” clothing to choose from. Quite frequently children pick the clothing that is apparently for the opposite gender.

    Another time, when we were outside in the summer, I was handed out sunhats, and there were only “girls” hats left (pink, flowery, etc) and one boy refused to wear a hat. “Pink is for girls.” “No,” I replied, “pink is for anyone who likes pink.” He paused and looked at the hatbox. “You have to wear a hat if you want to go outside,” I reminded him. So he put on a pink hat and off he went. A few days later we were goingoutside and the same boy picked out, over other “boys” hats, the same pink, flowery hat. “Pink is for girls, your a girl!” his friends told him. “No,” he replied, “pink is for anyone who likes pink.” His friends didn’t say anything more.

    I try to give children different ways of expressing themselves, so that children who are not comfortable going outside gender boundaries can simply say “I don’t like flowers,” “I don’t like playing with cars,” rather than “Boys don’t like flowers” and “girls don’t like cars.” At least that way children who are comfortable going outside those boundaries have a safe place to do so. “Pink is for anyone who likes pink,” is a phrase I use a lot!

    Sorry that got a bit long!

  3. twandx says:

    Yup it’s the cloths and the language that gender types us much more than biology. And most women let them.

  4. Jo says:

    twandx, it’s not only women who let the externals imposed by the patriarchy be dictated to them. Boys and men fall for patriarchal stereotyping every bit as much as women and girls do.

    I’m thinking of my nephew who, during the Easter egg hunt at his aunt’s house last year, meticulously went through every egg he found (the plastic, candy-filled kind) and gave all the pink ones to his one girl cousin. He even gave all the pink pieces of candy from his other eggs to her. This is a four-and-a-half year old for whom Pink=Girl=Bad was stronger than Candy=Yummy=Good.

    And I really like your strategy there, Alice. I’m going to have to remember that for the sprog, who will be bombarded at every turn whenever preschool becomes an option for us. Right now, zie’s being raised by a stay-at-home-radical-feminist. I think that’s going to help some, but I absolutely do not underestimate the power of the patriarchy. Not after seeing that little performance from my nephew.

  5. Alice says:

    Thanks Jo! I like to think I’m doing my little bit, though unfortunately it often feels like it isn’t enough. I had one awful experience, where a little boy confided in me that he would really like to go to ballet classes, after a group of girls in the class kept talking about it and demonstrating what they had learnt. I promised him that I would mention it to his mum, who actually laughed when I told her. 😦 Even sadder than that, for his age he actually had a really good sense of rhythm and music, and was a very creative dancer whever we had dance activities or even just played music in the room. *sigh*

    Fingers crossed for your little one, I hope you manage to find a decent pre-school.

  6. Quercki M. Singer says:

    Thanks for modeling that! I love good examples.

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