Does anyone else remember the famous 1970s Doonesbury cartoon in which the arrival of a baby was greeted with cries of “It’s a baby woman!”? The point, of course, was to exaggerate the linguistic shift from “girl” to “woman” to describe adults, which many feminists were arguing for then (and now).
I hadn’t shopped for baby clothes for quite some time before last year, when Body Impolitic’s webmaster and his wife had twin boys. To get the boys a present, I started clicking around the web, and I was horrified by how many sites divide their newborn offerings between clothes for “baby girls” and clothes for “baby boys,” before I could even look at an item of clothing.
I like the clothes made for boys better than I like the clothes made for girls. It’s not that I don’t like frilly dresses and ruffles. What I like about boys’ clothes is the bright primary colors that are more common in clothes marketed for infant and toddler boys and the themes used in both boy clothing and gender neutral clothing. My favorite themes are usually animal themed clothes, and above all else I like ducks and frogs–probably because yellow and green are my favorite colors. In my view frogs and ducks are generally androgynous, but many animal themed clothes are marketed for boys. For example, dogs, dinosaurs, lizards, bugs, and turtles are often found in boys clothing. I’ve also noticed two other common sets of themes that I like in baby boys clothing–occupational themes and activity themes.
What strikes me about baby boys’ clothes is how much they promote activity and paid labor force work. Even as infants, we start to socialize baby boys into occupations. You rarely find occupation themed clothes for girls. Little girls’ clothes often have flowers, frills, and some animals (i.e. butterflies), but they don’t have occupational themes. They also rarely have activity themes outside of shopping or cheerleading. .
There’s more, and it’s worth reading the whole thing.
Close friends of mine now have infant girl twins. The parents kept the babies’ gender to themselves until birth, and instructed “no pink and blue” for shower presents. Being around the babies makes me very aware of baby clothes when I see them, and a surprising percentage are, in fact pink or blue. (Of course, pink has not always been the “girl color.” I thought it changed after Victorian times, but both Wikipedia and this site say that gendered colors came in in our culture in the 1910s or 1920s and “dress him in masculine pink” was around until the 1940s.)
I did a little research for this post, checking all the top Google sites for baby clothes. A couple of them, generally the upscale, “organic” ones don’t gender at all. A few others have a tiny assortment of ungendered clothes for newborns, or the wonderful three categories, “boys,” “girls” and “unisex.” (I suppose this is a step in the right direction, given how much I would like to see a third category on forms that make me provide my gender.) But on most sites, you still have to make the gender decision before you look at a single piece of clothing. (This was what drove me to buy brown corduroy Carhartt overalls both for our webmaster’s twins and for the new twins. It also makes me think that online shopping for babies of more than one gender would take longer and be more of a pain.)
In the course of the research, I found something that bothers me even more than the things Rachel points out, or the existence of gendered newborn clothing at all, and that is the phenomenon of “X” and “Girl X.” As I was looking at pictures of gendered baby clothes, I found several times a pattern that goes like this: a black or bright-colored onesie says “baby rock star” or “I [heart] my daddy” or something. Right next to it, the identical pattern on a pink onesie says “baby rock star girl” or “I [heart] my daddy” with a caption that says “for girls.”
Katha Pollitt famously said, “For me, to be a feminist is to answer the question ‘Are women human?’ with a ‘Yes.'” Looking at these baby clothes makes me think that the current social answer to “Are girl babies human?” may be “Almost, but … not quite.”