Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘gender coding’

There are things I would say if I had a voice.

I don’t, you see – have a voice. Not an individual voice that is mine and that matters and can be heard over the din. Because it is put down, or written off, or labelled in a way that makes it worth less. Not worthless maybe, just worth less. I am told I am a mummy blogger, and maybe I am – but I am also not a writer, I am a woman writer. A woman who writes, predicated on gender; an aside, behind the hand, good at what I do for a woman. ;

There are moments in every woman’s life when she is both confronted by her womanhood and reviled by it – when it beats on her like a hammer, a mantra, a reminder of all that she is, all that she is not, all that is expected of her and all that is not allowed of her. To be a woman is to be mired in contradictory social conditioning that both contains us and undermines us.

(I am 13, walking to a fete on a hot day in a singlet and shorts, and some hoon drives past slowly, leaning out the window, making a lewd gesture. I bloomed late – I have no breasts, no curves, no signs of womanhood other than I am taller than I used to be. This is a rite of passage all young women face – this moment, of being unsure if this is a compliment or an insult, or somehow both. Feeling raw and slick with disgust and heat and shame and yet somehow pleased too, because only attractive girls get leered at, right? Right?)

I am a mother now, and this is an extra caveat to womanhood, an extra characteristic that defines me as Other. I am a mother with that this pertains – the guilt, the boredom, the terror and fleeting moments of joy; joy so sharp and poignant it is more like a bandaid being torn off than any permanent emotion. Like a quick rip through the heart that leaves you blinking back tears, because this joy feels almost like grief too – I get this, yes I get this joy but the compromise is so great. There is so much I lose. The cost is so high. Motherhood is another way of losing one’s voice, after all.

I had no voice today in the shopping centre – the mother rocking a wretchedly sobbing infant in her arms – while in the pram, a toddler mimics the wails of the infant. An old man walked past, staring at me like I’d ruined his day, like I’d brought my children into his space and deliberately upset them, so the shrieks echoed through the vaulted mall in a way that is perfectly toned to make your ears itch. If I spoke then, my voice would have been lost in this old man’s judgement. Mothers are not supposed to inflict their children on public spaces, THEMSELVES on public spaces. Do not be a mother in a shopping centre doing her shopping for dinner, trying to get out of the house for an hour, to make the scenery change for a moment of a day otherwise filled with childish chatter. Do not be a mother whose children are not perfectly silent and still mannequin models of good behaviour. Do not be a mother who is trying her best, getting through the day, trying to cope. Do not be a mother, because mothers have no voice.

Mothers are in the home, most often, because it makes sense after a traumatic or exhausting birth, or a c-section, to be the one to stay home. It makes sense, being the one who breastfeeds, or even bottle feeds; it makes sense when doing the night wakings. It makes sense for me to stay home now with the second baby because I stayed home with the first one, and after several years of a slow domestic tilt where everything slides in my direction, it makes sense that it is my studies that stop, my career that grinds to a halt, my earning opportunities that pass by unnoticed because I am a mother, and this is what mothers do. I stay home and contemplate the scars on my body, the medicalisation of my genitalia, the baby on my breast. I stay home because it is easier, and anyway mothers who don’t stay home are judged too. ;

If I talk too loudly about my needs and wants, if I try to speak up about equality – for any woman who speaks up about equality – there are other ways of being silenced. There is the label of ‘feminist’ – not the meaning, just the word – the label that some say needs ‘re-branding’, as though it is an item for sale rather than a thought or a need. There’s the ubiquitous, ‘but I’m not a feminist’, as though it’s a club you sign up for a membership for rather than a way you live your life, a definition of your core beliefs. So this word, feminism-in-quote-marks, it comes to represent all of these things that it does not actually mean, it becomes an insult and a pejorative explanation, a political ideal and a movement that is picked over by those against is so they can say, ‘feminism has failed’, like it were a child, when really this is just another way of shutting us up. By saying ‘feminist’ as though we don’t matter. ‘Feminist’ as though our words have no import – after all, it is only a feminist who is speaking.

(It is 2009. I am in a relationship with a man, watching the slow wince form on his face when I speak too long and too loud on the gender pay gap, on domestic violence statistics, on cases of sexual assault. I am in a relationship with this man who professes to love me but at the same time, would prefer it if I didn’t talk about the things that matter to me, the life I live and the fear I face simply by being a woman. I am in a relationship with a man who wants to play ‘devil’s advocate’ and try and tear holes in the things I say or deny my experiences because he can. And one day I wake up and realise I don’t love him, I don’t want to be with him, I shouldn’t waste anymore of my time on him because someone who would rather I be silent is not someone I can trust. I end it, but he won’t ever understand.)

There are things I would say if I had a voice, but I don’t by virtue of being a woman. By virtue of being a mother, a feminist. I am categorised and allotted a certain space in this world, slightly over and above those who do not have the privileges that I have (the right skin colour, the right gender identity, the right sexuality, the right socioeconomic background, the right abled body, et cetera, et cetera), and I, like most women, am told I will be assigned someone to speak on my behalf, to choose my reproductive rights, my pay grade, my career opportunities – and when I look up to see whose voice will actually be heard, it is usually a man.

As it has always been men, a whole establishment of them. Calling us ‘feminazis’ with a sneer. Legislating our bodies. Marking us down on a list, splitting us into little categories, some with more privilege than others, deciding our rights and where we fit, writing us off as good at what we do ;for a woman. ;

Telling us where we fit. Mummy blogger. Woman writer. Just a stay at home mum. Just a woman. ;

Which might as well be nothing at all.

;

;

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

When Sebastian was a baby it was just easier to gender code his clothing. He wore a lot of blue, and his clothing was cuts and styles more frequently attributed to boys. Partly, this was because when you’re pregnant for the first time a lot of people give you clothes – newborn clothes, clothes for when he’s older, both new and secondhand. My own shopping also played into this – boy clothes and girl clothes are segregated in most stores, even opp shops. And partly, his clothing was gender coded because it makes everyday conversation easier when random people you talk to don’t stall in their phrasing, saying ‘…his? …hers?’

Make no mistake – Sebastian was a very pretty baby and still got mistaken for a girl, which I don’t care about. But I’m just not transgressive enough yet to dress him in pink and frills to truly abolish any societal gender expectations when it comes to his clothing. He can do that himself when he’s a little older – and yes, I’m fine with him playing dress-ups with my clothes and make up.

Toys, however, are a different and somehow more complex issue. Sebastian’s clothes are just what he wears to keep warm and get food all over himself in. But toys express behaviour.

About six months ago Sebastian met a newborn baby for the first time up close, and was adorably fascinated. So shortly after I took him to Kmart to buy a baby doll. Naturally he picked the creepiest and most realistic newborn he found, but despite the many, many baby dolls on offer, there were none that were gender-neutral. I don’t mean the gender of the baby doll itself, but rather their gender coding. All of those dolls wore pink, and all of them were female.

I often go to Kmart. They have a huge variety of toddler toys, are very cheap and have a generic brand A-Z that I like very much because A) while there’s lots of plastic stuff, there’s lots of wooden stuff too, B) their toys are often very simple but entertaining to a young child, like a wooden train or set of plastic food items, and C) their toys are largely gender neutral. This last part is important to me. Their trucks are not all blue and tea sets not all pink. They sell little play vacuum cleaners and irons and kettles and other things that kids will see Daddy and Mummy using every day, and there are pictures of both boys and girls on the packaging, while the toys themselves are coloured red and blue or green and yellow.

There are some pretty obvious reasons why gender neutral toys are important. Firstly, toys often represent a way for children to play that allows them to reenact what they see in their lives. Sebastian loves to have tea parties, because his family drink tea. He likes to play with toy tractors and cars and trucks because he sees so many varieties in the country. He likes to cuddle baby dolls because babies get cuddled. He likes to draw, and roll dough, and dance to Angelina Ballerina on the telly, and he has a little play kitchen near our kitchen, where he will pretend to cook an egg while myself or Alex cook. He likes to clean because people around him do. He is using imaginative play to express the patterns and behaviours he sees the people in his life have.

If pink is a girl’s colour, which I don’t think anybody can deny society teaches us, and all baby dolls are dressed in pink, this tells us that only girls are supposed to like babies. Only girls are supposed to want to cuddle and nurture. Only girls are supposed to have a baby they might know in real life, or see an adult with a baby. This is a girl’s toy, and by colour coding it pink the toy manufacturer has signaled it is off limits to a boy.

Sebastian’s baby doll is called Brienne, and he likes to cuddle her and pat her back and make us cuddle her too. He has no idea that the colour pink means he’s not supposed to play with it. And we won’t be telling him that either.

While there are relatively few toddler-aged toys I see that are gender coded, there are still some pretty glaring examples. I would really like a simple doll house for Sebastian. Unfortunately, the A-Z dollhouse is pink. I say unfortunately because I’d prefer something non-gender coded, and refusing to buy items that are specifically aimed at a boy or a girl at this point is my only method of protest. 90% of the dollhouses I’ve seen are pink. I’m currently deliberating over a Fisher Price dollhouse (here), and while I feel like an effort has been made not to colour code it (while a floor of the house is pink, there’s also some blue in there too), it’s like whoever designed the packaging rebelled and slapped pink all over the box and a picture of a little girl playing with the house just in case the toy itself gave you the wrong idea.

Interestingly, while hunting for a direct link to this product so I could happily hotlink the photograph above, I found a Little People dollhouse that I had not seen in my hunt at Kmart or any of the other major stores:

Genuinely non-gendered?

Little People is a subsidiary brand of Fisher Price, and are almost always non-gendered with their toys. I love them like crazy, and the above picture makes me love them more – no dominant blue or pink on the toy itself, and a little boy playing with it. It does make me wonder, however, why I didn’t see this on sale anywhere else – is it the buyers for these stores choosing not to stock non-gendered toys when it comes to dolls and houses?

The whole dollhouse thing is important to me because it seems amazingly idiotic to gender it pink, as a girl-specific toys. Kids live in houses, usually with their parents (or family at the very least), and love imaginative play that revolves around their lives. Why is that a girl-only thing most of the time?

When I walk through the toy section of any store, I see my future there. Right now, Sebastian has the freedom of brightly coloured toys that aren’t aimed at any gender in particular most of the time. But once you start getting into the aisles with toys for older kids, the shift is dramatic. There are trucks, planes, trains and building kits that all show a boy on the packaging. And there are makeup kits, dolls, nail polish and creepy furry cats and dogs that move, that all show a girl on the packaging. In fact, while the packaging for a boy’s toy might be colourful and reflect the item itself, the packaging for a girl’s toy is almost always pink. Read this powerful article about Pinkification for a much more eloquent statement of the rules at play here than I can provide.

Gender coding toys seems really, really stupid to me. I mean, society has been in a state of shifting values for a long time – while the mother may stay home with the baby for a while because of the logistics of breastfeeding and birth-recovery (and the fact that most men earn more so therefore it makes more sense for the higher-earner to stay at work, therefore reducing the woman’s potential lifetime income and career advances even further, but that’s-another-post), mothers no longer stay at home forever and ever, keeping house and getting dinner on the table by six. Men are now, for the most part, deeply involved in child-rearing and housekeeping and cooking – all the nurturing aspects of life that are traditionally female roles. So if Sebastian’s daddy has rocked him to sleep and feeds him and changes him and bathes him and plays with him, why the hell can’t I find a baby doll that isn’t wearing pink so Sebastian can do the same? Why aren’t there baby dolls for boys, or ones just wearing green?

Why is it that today when I went to buy a little toy bath for Brienne, Sebastian’s doll, the only ones I could find were pink? Does Sebastian not take baths? Why can’t he have a toy – aimed at him or, even better no gender in particular – that lets him play in a loving and nurturing role?

Gender coding toys is like trying to draw some very straight lines in the sand right before the tide comes in. Sebastian will (hopefully) grow up in a society where gender transgression becomes more and more normalized and acceptable; he will grow up with his parents teaching him that gender equality is for men and women, boys and girls, and works both ways – that while a girl can do everything he can do, he can do everything a girl does too. He can play with cars and trucks and then play house and dress-ups. He can build forts and wear nail polish. He can do whatever makes him happy, because society’s gender stereotypes are outdated and a bit useless.

So to toy makers who gender code their toys, I want to say this: that water is coming in to wash away those lines in the sand, do why even bother drawing them?

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: