Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Post Pink Revolution

Post Pink Revolution
Marnie Thorp

I issued a strict no-pink edict in the months before my daughter was born. I bought most of her first year’s clothing in the boy sections of department stores. So how is it that two years later when I do the weekly wash I have a load of darks, a load of lights, and an entire load of pinks?

My mother was the first to reject the pink ban. “You wear pink,” she accused. It’s true, I do. And if you open my medicine chest, you’ll find not one, but two pink toothbrushes. I try in vain to explain to her that I’ve earned my pink. That I’ve deconstructed pink. That my pink is ironic, post-modern. Post-pink, if you will.

And perhaps it’s hard to understand, but when I stand in the aisle at the drug store, and stare down 75 different brands, shapes and sizes of toothbrushes, the one with the hot pink handle—oh! and even better—the one with sparkles embedded in its translucence, is the one that seems the most transgressive to my post-punk, Women’s Studies graduated, feminist self. Pink was the first colour I introduced into my wardrobe after close to a decade of wearing nothing but black. It was my mid-twenties crisis, and I was trawling in the Village and found a baby-soft, baby-pink angora cardigan. I shrugged it on over my ripped black t-shirt and liked how absurdly it clashed with my studded dog collar and combat boots. Pink was back and I was hooked.

So, why when it came to my daughter was I so adamant? It’s so cliché, I argued. It will brand her as a helpless Barbie. I didn’t want her gender scrawled all over her before she could even lift her own head. I had the degree, I knew all about the studies that showed how dramatically different newborns were treated in hospital depending on whether they were swaddled in pink or blue.

Even before my daughter was born, people were making up their minds about her. When I told my father that the ultrasound technician had pronounced she was 85-95% sure I was carrying a girl, he said, “Oh good,” sounding relieved. “I just couldn’t picture you as a hockey mom.” I was incensed, and countered that I could very easily have a daughter who wanted to play hockey. And what’s more, if I had a son who wanted to play, I’d have made it my life’s mission to thwart that urge. But if this headstrong kicky girl of mine decides that her heart’s desire is to whack black rubber with a stick, I’ll feel beholden to encourage her. All that aggression, all that violence, the sweat, the knocked-out teeth, I abhor it. But if she decides to answer the call of the puck, I’m bound by my feminist honour to sit in frigid rinks at 6 a.m. hugging instant hot cocoa in a Styrofoam cup.

As a single mother I struggle with the fear that I’m providing too feminine an upbringing, something that would be celebrated by many of my women friends if I were raising a boy, even as others worried about his potential for a deficit of manliness. I have no interest in boy things—I see mothers stopping with their sons at construction lots, watching diggers and back-hoes and a host of other trucks whose names I do not know, while the girl and I walk by, uninterested. A perennial failure at all things athletic, I cringe even at the thought of soccer or t-ball or any of the other little league sports. But neither do I want to subject her to the prim rigor of piano lessons or the body dysmorphism that ballet instils. Trying to keep her out of pink clothing was a symbolic attempt to hold those things at bay.

As a mother of a girl, I’m caught in a trap. Mothers of boys crow about their son’s predilection for tea time and dollies, snap joyful pictures of scruffy boy knees in pink tutus and earn points for their forward ways. Whereas I cringed and ducked my head in embarrassment that the girl dug her own tutu out of the closet and begged to wear it for her birthday party. Every time someone called her a princess I felt like I was losing progressive parent cred.

I tell myself that because she sees me doing everything, she will grow up with a balanced view of the world, knowing that she can do anything she wants and everything she needs. Long before she walked, I would strap her to me while I walked the garbage cans and recycling to the curb. She sat in her carseat on the front stoop while I mowed the lawn. On more than one occasion she has brought out her tools to join me as I used mine to repair some minor ailment in the apartment we live in now.

But still, almost every time we leave the house, unless we’re running very, very late, I stop in front of the hallway mirror and put on lip gloss. It’s my only vanity, the last vestige of the days before motherhood when I never left the house anything less than well turned-out. And invariably, the girl wants some, too. “Me, mommy. Do me,” she’ll ask, and I’ll oblige. “See?” she’ll say, smacking her shiny lips. “So pretty!” I cringe every time, but can’t indulge the hypocrisy—and tempt the futile toddler power struggle—in forming my glossy lips into a ‘no.’

Not that it’s all lip gloss and tutus. One of her prized possessions is an inexpensive wooden toy train. Despite my position on cars, she has two lunch boxes full of matchbox cars. She likes puzzles, and books and finger-paints. Modelling clay. Running in the grass. Walking backwards on the sidewalk. Yelling. But the hard part for me is always feeling like I should be discouraging the girly things, and pushing the more gender neutral or traditionally masculine activities. And I can’t help but think how sexist that is. That part of not wanting her to be a girly girl comes from how our culture pours scorn on feminine occupations.

Because, the fact is, I like girly things. I value girly things. Nothing warms my heart like watching my daughter line her dollies up on the bed, cover them in a blanket and kiss them in turn, whispering, “Goodnight, goodnight, goodnight.” I see tea parties as a precursor to witty conversation and bonding over beverages, the primary occupation of my twenties. In dressing up in scarves and jewels, I see colour theory, pattern-making and texture play, all key parts of visual arts.

It’s not as though I didn’t know it wasn’t going to be as simple as dressing the boys in pink and the girls in combat boots. For the most part, I believe those thing are fairly meaningless to the kids themselves. A shoe is a shoe, whether it’s a sneaker or a red patent leather mary-jane. All the meaning and value judgements come from us, the grown-ups, the role models. I want my daughter to see the wide world that’s available to her. Letting her see that no pink cardigan or lip gloss is going to stand in her way is a good place to start.

No comments: