Posted by: *carrie* | April 25, 2010

The Pinking & Blueing of Babies, or How We Force Ridiculous Gender Identities on Infants

Today I attended a baby shower. This means that a few hours before the shower, I still had to go get gifts. Every once in awhile I find myself forced to wander into the baby sections of stores (baby shower, babies being born, etc.)

I stand in aisles filled with various devices to aid with breast-feeding, teething, eating, and I don’t even know what else, gripping a (very short, because everyone else got their gifts more than three hours beforehand) baby registry and trying to figure out what the hell I’m even staring at.

This is how it goes every time a friend has a baby.

The other thing that happens every time a friend has a baby, and that I think (based on no scientific evidence) that is getting is worse, is that absolutely everything comes in either GIRL or BOY flavor. Everything is divided into two color schemes. You already know what they are: pink & blue! There were approximately three items in green/yellow colors centered between the pink & blue explosions.

Photographer Jeong-Mee Yoon has an interesting (and slightly horrifying) work titled The Pink and Blue Project, in which she photographs babies and children with their stuff:

Baby Boy with his Blue Stuff

Little Girl with her Pink Stuff

(As a side note, it’s also kind of disturbing to me that children have this much stuff. But that’s not the point of this post.)

I can’t even entirely fault the adults for this. There simply aren’t options in your average stores to get gender-neutral anything.

It’s not just the color schemes that are the problem, here.

The baby shower I attended – the parents know the sex of the baby. It’s a girl. So, naturally, my reaction was that she needs to be exposed to blocks, trucks, and other things that girls aren’t exposed to*. Hello, spatial skill development. I did almost get the bibs with trucks (and super cute monkeys!) on them. I was browsing the onesies, which, of course, were also divided by BOY or GIRL.

Here are two selections – let’s see if you can guess which section each came from:

Future Rocket Scientist

How Cute Am I?

Ok, I realize that the fact the second onesie is pink is sort of a dead giveaway. I bet if I would have made the photos black & white, you still would have immediately known that “Future Rocket Scientist” is for baby boys, and “How Cute Am I” is for baby girls.

Why is this a problem?

Because there was not one single “girl” onesie that indicated future anything. Not one that indicated girls might like and be good at science or math or like trucks or sports. Because the “girl” themed clothing was all about being cute, flowers, and sometime’s being “daddy’s little girl”.

Because the the “boy” themes included science and math and sports, and the idea that they might become something. Because the boys clothing doesn’t focus on their looks.

These are items for infants. Sure, they can’t read the words. But they see the colors and pictures. And, more importantly, as a society we start foisting these expectations and gender expectations on babies from before birth.

Imagine if I would have gone to get baby stuff, and would have walked into a department with a variety of colors; pinks, blues, greens, yellows, reds, oranges, purples. With trucks, monkeys, flowers, animals, baseballs, and other cutesy baby designs. And imagine that this department didn’t have “boy” or “girl” sections. Imagine that the clothing wasn’t even labeled or separated into ‘boy’ and ‘girl’, and instead that a boy might get a green shirt that reads “How Cute Am I” and a girl might get a purple shirt that reads “Future Rocket Scientist”. Or, those same kids could get one of each!

Radical, I know. Radical, because it’s very important in our society to teach gender roles early, to make sure we’re all fitting into our prescribed roles in the patriarchy.

Obviously, I scooped up the “Future Rocket Scientist” onesie and included it among my gifts for the parents and baby girl. Everyone laughed and “awwwwed” over it like everything else. No one said “but girls can’t be scientists” or “but that’s not pink”. Because we know that girls can be scientists. It shouldn’t take such effort to encourage these thoughts. I shouldn’t have had to venture into the “boy” section to find it.

*I’m reading Pink Brain, Blue Brain (which should give me plenty to blog about in the next couple of weeks), and read yesterday about the types of toys babies and kids prefer, and what they play with in relation to their siblings. Turns out, girls who have an older brother have a much, much higher rate of playing with “boy” toys, such as blocks, Legos, and trucks. Lucky for me, I had an older brother. Maybe it’s why I can test right in the men’s average for spatial skills. Also, I really hate referring to toys as “girls” or “boys” toys. I will also be buying this little girl blocks, Legos, and toy cars as she gets older.



  1. I think this is getting worse for two main reasons, first, almost everyone now “finds out” the sex of their baby ahead of time (which wasn’t true 20 or 30 years ago) and second, the companies have figured out that if you make EVERYTHING gender coded, then people who end up having a boy and a girl will be much more inclined to buy a second set of everything for the second baby rather than use hand me downs.

    I have a 9 month old girl and drove eveyone I know nuts by not finding out her sex ahead of time. Hence a lot of gender neutral and “boy” baby clothes. But as soon as she was born the pink started rolling in. We’ve done a lot better on her toys though. I just the other day realized that while she has a lot of stuffed animals she does not have a sigle baby doll. She does have a car and a number of balls. And a box of Legos and Duplos at the grandparens’ when she’s ready for them.

    • Interesting point about companies trying to reduce the ‘hand me downs’. I had an older brother, and as a result got to play with a lot of ‘boy’ toys. I wouldn’t even mind if there were a couple cute ‘boy’ and cute ‘girl’ outfits at the store, and then a bunch of neutral ones.

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