I don’t believe in perpetuating gender stereotypes, and I work exceptionally hard to empower my eight-year-old son, Isaac, and five-year-old daughter, Gillian. I want them to know that the sky’s the limit. Sometimes our conversations are about the big things in life, like what they might want to be when they grow up. My heart soared with pride recently when Gillian told me she wants to be an engineer. Sometimes the conversations are about the little things, like the colour of the shirts the mannequins on display at the mall wear.
My husband and I are very careful not to associate colours with gender. I’ve always felt confident that I’m raising kids who are colour-blind to blue and pink and simply see toys as toys and clothes as clothes. And I thought I was doing a good job until the day I sent my son to school with a pink yoga mat.
What surprised me most wasn’t Isaac’s reaction—he was more than happy to take the mat to school for his daily yoga practice—but rather Gillian’s reaction. As soon I rolled up the bright pink yoga mat to put in Isaac’s backpack, she started to scream at the top of her lungs, saying that the yoga mat was only for girls. In her mind, it was “only for girls” because it was pink.
Gillian’s tantrum lasted most of the morning—her tears subsided as she walked to the bus stop, but she still swatted at her brother and tried to yank the yoga mat from his bag. At this point, it was of little consolation to me that my son wasn’t bothered by the pink yoga mat. I felt as though I’d failed my daughter and, in a bigger sense, all girls.
Every conversation we’d ever had about gender replayed in my mind, but I was left frustrated and puzzled as to why my daughter reacted the way she did. I’d always been afraid that my kids see me in a very traditional role as a stay-at-home mom. Did all those years of seeing me at home in a pink apron backfire on me? I thought I was raising a pint-sized feminist, so why were my daughter’s views on gender the complete opposite of everything I’d taught her?
Perhaps her reaction didn’t have as much to do with how our family talks about colour and gender as it did to how the world around her portrays it. The stores we shops in segregate boys’ and girls’ clothing and toys, each section usually painted pink or blue. To find her favourite Lego toys, she can’t shop alongside her brother, where all the other Lego toys are; she needs to go to the girls’ section and walk past aisles of motion-activated pink baby dolls, their glassy blue eyes unblinking, as if there’s nothing wrong with them being kept far away from the toy guns and dump trucks.
Without a degree in gender studies and absolutely no stereotype-busting credibility to my name, I feel like I don’t have the authority to dive into the reason why Gillian reacted so strongly to her brother’s pink yoga mat. But when I think about how our family talks about gender and compare it to how the marketing world portrays how girls should look, I think I’ve done everything I possibly could.
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