It’s a Girl! (And what that means)

Hi! Thanks for bearing with me during my long silence while I labored and birthed the “baby” I’ve been cooking for the last five years. Now that my dissertation is in the digital hands of the Reading Committee, I have a few spare moments. I’m chock full of things to say, but one post has been brewing longer than most, so I’ll start there.

Peanut’s health crisis and death led to a lot of medical intervention that revealed the sex of our babies many weeks ago. I’ll be the first to admit I was elated to learn both our babies were girls. My mind’s eye saw the backs of two toddlers running on the beach in linen dresses with criss crossed straps across their backs and little bloomers cinched atop chubby thighs. I swooned at the mere thought of them. Sisters! Daughters! Swoon!

R’s Nana would be thrilled to hear we were not expecting boys. We she first heard we intended to have children, she clucked her teeth and told us she hoped we wouldn’t have boys because “Boys need a father.” I reminded her that we wouldn’t have much choice in the matter, but she was undeterred. Opinion delivered, we moved on to a new topic. But I suppose I never really moved on. My internalization of that admonishment contributed to my relief upon hearing the news that both babies were female. At least our inevitable parenting fumbles wouldn’t be chalked up to incongruence between sex chromosomes. But I was also just plain excited to have girls.

My relief and excitement were soon replaced by a defensive anxiety. Shortly after learning the babies’ sex, we began entertaining questions about it. Everyone and his mother wanted to know if we were going to find out the sex. I thought they’d all want to know how we did it! But no, all curiosity honed in on our baby’s genitals. It was truly unexpected. I was so busy preparing to rebuff unwanted inquiries into the nuts and bolts of the conception that I failed to prepare for the number one question — Boy or girl?  We made the rookie mistake of saying we knew the sex, but wanted to keep it a secret until the birth.  NB to all expectant families: if you are going to find out the sex but don’t want to reveal it, pretend you will be surprised at the birth. Otherwise, you will be needled to death by people who claim that they cannot possibly buy something/select a shower cake/knit a sweater without knowing the sex of your baby. And I mean people are out for blood.

We caved pretty quickly. It just wasn’t worth the trouble, and at the time we were still reeling from Peanut’s death, which made us a bit more pliable. Less resistant to pressure from the outside. I made a little sign that said “It’s a girl! But she has a serious allergy to pink.” My own small protest against the wider world’s effort to define my child by her chromosomes and (likely) corresponding genitalia.

It was just the beginning. Later I would argue with my mother in the Goodwill over a $2 article of clothing that I deemed too pink.  I would crumble whilst trying to register for baby items at Target, where I spotted “his and hers” toilet seats (photographic evidence below). I would catch myself wondering if a particular stroller was too boyish for a girl child. I was baited, reeled in, and tossed into the bucket with all the other new parents, floundering with less and less vigor as we resigned ourselves to our collective fate. My cousins told me it was inevitable. Fighting pink and princess was a losing battle.

Magical Moments My Ass.

Magical Moments My Ass.

And then I stumbled across this post by a friend and I realized the princess game is limited only by the lack of imagination I bring to it. My daughter’s princess can be strong, fast, and cunning. She can also be kind and thoughtful. She need not wear pink, but she needn’t be afraid to wear it either.

Post Script

Cop’s Wife’s post about her son dressing up as Daphne is still generating about 5 comments per day, and one of the comments led me to Crystal Smith’s blog post about gendered language in TV toy ads. Smith has added a prologue to her post, in which she addresses its two main criticisms and acknowledges her observations were not part of a rigorously researched academic study. That said, it’s fascinating. A University Professor told me that the goal of ethnography is to make the familiar exotic and the exotic familiar. Smith has done just that. I don’t think any of you will be completely surprised by the distinct difference in the word clouds generated from an analysis of TV ads for boys’ and girls’ toys, but seeing it in print makes the implications more difficult to ignore. My quick review of a few blogs and articles about gender norms for children seem to offer more advice for parents of children who don’t conform than for children who do. And what’s an educated, liberal pacific northwesterner to do when her daughter LOVES princess crap?

Mom, R and I talked about this a bit during Mom’s recent visit. R and I have joked that we’ll probably wind up with a princess girl because we loathe all things pink and sparkly. Mom (with 33 years of parenting experience) advised that we can’t control what Bean likes or doesn’t like, and we will need to find a way to nurture her interests even when they are incongruous with ours. I don’t suppose this would count?

Gender Benders

In the TTC (trying to conceive) world, there is plenty of chatter about sex selection and some family planning books devote a few pages to the topic. In Stephanie Brill’s book, The New Essential Guide to Lesbian Conception, Pregnancy, and Birth, the section on sex selection did not provide any “how to” advice. Instead, Brill advises would be parents to answer a few questions, like ‘What does having a girl mean to me?’ or ‘What is it about having a boy that appeals to me?’ Hers was the only book I read that asked thought provoking questions where most others dole out advice. She cautions the reader against confusing sex with gender, noting that a child of the desired sex may not fit the mothers’ gendered ideal. The questions made me think a lot about the cultural imperative to define a child’s gender from infancy. I have a friend who just gave birth last week, and she did not learn the sex of her baby until he was born. Keeping the baby’s sex a surprise was one way she shielded him from gendered expectations (and the clothes that go with it).

Apparently sex specific clothes (pink for girls, blue for boys) are a relatively new phenomenon that began when marketers realized they could get affluent parents to buy twice as much stuff by distinguishing girls’ and boys’ clothing and furniture. No matter how much I want to opt out of this prescription for gender appropriate clothing, toys, and behavior, I’ve been socialized to fit it and it’s really hard to fight! Before I knew his sex,  I went shopping for a gift for my friend’s baby. I left the store empty-handed because I was afraid the clothes I liked would be too boyish for a girl or too girlish for a boy. Now, I could blame this failure on the clothing manufacturers for dichotomizing the options, but the truth is that I am the one who chose to conform. Not everyone does, and bucking tradition can have major consequences for mother and child, as this blogger surely knows.

I love that Cop’s Wife stood up for her son, and I hope I’ll be just as fierce an advocate for Bean. (I also hope I’ll read as many books as Cop’s Wife does…better get crackin’!)