Pink, Blue and Gender Typing
Please join us in reading this week’s post written by contributor Jennifer Greenwald, a mother-of-three, former public school teacher, and founder of the New Haven Holistic Moms Network.
My four-year-old daughter loves getting her nails painted, and since my two-year-old son wants do exactly what his big sister is doing, he too wants his toes painted. So, when I came home to purple polish on my son’s toes, I just smiled when I saw the baby sitter had been indulging my children with purple polish. The purple toes made my son happy, my husband uncomfortable and me…well, I saw it as harmless fun.
About a month later, it happened again. When my daughter asked for painted nails, her little brother stuck out his foot to be next. This time the chosen color was blue (a little more masculine?). Again, my son was happy. But this time my husband wasn’t just uncomfortable, he was irritated. A family discussion exploded around my son’s blue toes. My husband, believing that it is his job to make our son a man, feels that boys should not be wearing polished nails. Me? I’m hoping to raise our children with broad minds… minds that don’t define them by the color of their nails or how they choose to adorn themselves. I believe how they feel is more important than how they look.
A few days after the painted toenails discussion, a fury in the news media caught my attention. In a J.Crew ad, the president of J.Crew is smiling as she shares a sweet moment with her son. If you look closely you will notice that she is holding his foot, neatly adorned with pink polish. There is a caption that reads, “Lucky for me, I ended up with a boy whose favorite color is pink. Toenail painting is way more fun in neon.” While I felt some validation for my line of thinking, the conservative pundits went nuts on this calling the ad, “Blatant propaganda celebrating transgendered children.” Other comments strewn around suggested that this child would have gender issues and that his mom was making his life difficult by confusing his sexual orientation. I decided not to share this news story with my husband. Instead, I watched the news play out with some amusement, but more with sadness for the small mindedness around this issue and the ridiculous gender roles we place on our children. The fact that pink nail polish on a boy gets national media coverage is more alarming to me then the actual act of a boy wearing pink polished nails.
The fact is, no one really knows the cause of transgender or sexual orientation in children. Painting a boy’s toenails or giving girls trucks for toys will not confuse their gender identity or sexual orientation. Gender identity goes deeper than that. Gender identity is our internal, innate sense of being male or female. Usually, our gender awareness matches our physical body, regardless of what toys we play with, or how we dress. “Nothing that a parent or anyone else does can change a child’s gender identity. Science is showing that transgender children are most likely born that way, right from the start.” (Brill & Ryan PhD.)
Furthermore, I wonder why we assign toys and colors to our children based on their gender. Why do we let our society conform our children’s thinking instead of allowing our children to express and explore and figure out for themselves what they like and don’t like.
In my home, here is the reality. My son has an older sister he adores and imitates. He plays with dolls, gets dressed up in tutus, and occasionally gets a pedicure. But, he also loves tools, trucks and ‘fixing things.’ Sure, he may be pushing around baby doll strollers, but he is also checking the axle on the wheel to see how it spins (something that has never occurred to my daughter). I don’t worry that having an older sister with all her girly influence will confuse his gender identity. I think it’s healthy that he pretends to feed his baby doll along with fixing his trucks and playing ball. I hope my son and my daughter grow to be well balanced, well adjusted people who are comfortable with themselves no matter what color they choose to paint their toes, or even if they choose to paint them at all.