Thursday, April 28, 2016

Choosing Your Child's Gender

There's a fair bit of hand-wringing on the Internet over how impossible it is to buy anything for your child without reducing it to a binary decision of kittens or buses, pastels or dark colours, Spiderman or Barbie.

Two-year old E doesn't know the difference between a girl and a boy. Although she has, internally, decided that women wear kaajal and men don't. The kohl-lined eyes of our AC repairman widened at being called 'auntie' by a little girl. She knows that, visually, men and women are different and she can tell the difference between an 'uncle' and an 'auntie'. But to her, all kids are just babies and she can't really differentiate boys from girls.

So it frustrates me when I go to a kids' clothes shop or toy shop and there's a clear demarcation between Those Things That Are Meant For Boys generally housed in areas of the store painted in solid red or blue and Those Things That Are Meant For Girls delicately arranged in areas of the store painted in pretty pastels or bubblegum pink.

You know you've seen this at every toy store.

I try to be gender-neutral and get her clothes from both sections and I always get toys that boys and girls can play with, like puzzles and stuffed zoo animals (not baby pink teddy bears with red hearts on them). Because it's important to me that she not buy into stereotypes. I need her to know that if she's different from somebody, it's not just because of her gender.

But it's only a matter of time before an uninformed teacher or an ayah tells her to do or not to do something because she's a girl. Or an ad tells her that she needs to have long flowing hair only on her head and nowhere else.

And she'll internalise it. Because this is something an adult who is not her mother or father is telling her. Remember how much importance you gave to the crap your kindergarten teachers told you? Or how you believed, even if only briefly, that Fair N Lovely would actually make you fair.

My baby will do that too. She'll think that a primary school teacher, with a B.Ed. or a troglodyte ad-person is more knowledgeable about gender than her parents who, between them, have read everything from Aristotle to Ariel Levy.

What set this current rant of mine off, was the simple act of buying toothpaste for Eka. She's started brushing her 16 teeth now and has a very clear interest in toothpaste. We've been pretend pasting her brush with our regular toothpaste but maybe she needs baby-safe toothpaste because she hasn't learnt to spit yet and also I remember swallowing my toothpaste till I was 7-years old and I choked on the toothpaste and coughed so hard it came out of my nose. 


WTF is a bubble fruit? Image courtesy: Flipkart

Excited at the prospect of my baby brushing her teeth with toothpaste, I started searching online for kid-appropriate brands. Colgate. Now there's a respectable brand. They have kids' toothpaste. In two flavours - Spiderman and Barbie. That's it. Whereas Colgate has at least 5 different flavours for adults, for kids, it's two fictional characters. Okay, Colgate Barbie is strawberry flavour not cheap plastic and Colgate Spiderman is Bubble Fruit flavour not liquified insects but it's unfortunate that if you were to make your kid choose, you're essentially presenting your child with two non-choices, pre-decided for him/her by some ill-informed marketing executive.

I hope to raise E to appreciate both, Barbie and Spiderman the comics not the movies, to understand what each tries to tell us about the way women ought to be versus the way women are or the way they'd like to be. And I only plan on letting her choose when she understands her choice. Until then, it's Chicco's Strawberry toothpaste for babies older than 12 months. And pretty dresses for warm days and teeny denims with dinosaur sweatshirts for cool ones. Playing with her menagerie of stuffed wild animals in the morning while evenings are for puzzles and outdoor fun.

Hopefully, she'll learn to discern the difference between who she is and who advertisers would like her to be and decide it's okay to like both Spiderman and Barbie, cars and kitchen sets, dinosaurs and My Little Pony.

I went from stealing clothes from my father to stealing clothes from my husband.

No comments:

Post a Comment