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Sunday, August 23, 2015

Boys and Girls: Labeling

There has been a lot of talk about gender labeling lately. The big move by Target to get rid of their signs labeling toys as boys or girls seems to really have upset some people. I do not understand why. I grew up a girly girl who also loved to play with her construction trucks. My father was a construction worker so I always wanted to play construction and pretend to be at work with him. But I also had many dolls and loved to play with them. As I became an adult I noticed there was definitely a shift in our society as to what is for boys and what is for girls. My sister did not want to find out the gender of her baby, but they did have the tech write it down and seal in an envelope. My mother drove her crazy until she looked. Why? Well she wanted to knit either blue or pink things for her first grandchild and because it is really hard to find gender neutral clothes and baby items these days. Our cousin did not find out and it was hard to buy gifts for the baby shower. Everything seems to be made pink or blue with a very few things in the neutral range. When did it matter what color a baby wears? Well with a little research I discovered that it was after World War II that pink became a girl color and blue a boy color. In the early 1900s it was actually the opposite. (Source) As a society we have bought into what retailers want us to believe. They are the ones who decided it was necessary for there to be boy colors and girl colors. 


My next question is why do women wear dresses and men do not? Well, if you look at history one will learn that the reason goes back to men fighting and being soldiers. Pants came around for the ease of horseback riding and in particular for the soldiers. Greek soldiers were amazed to see Scythian men and women in trousers on horseback when they fought them. Since in the West women did not fight in wars they did not need to be on horseback as much and thus their clothing did not change. Over time the dresses became viewed as more feminine because the men wore pants for the sheer need of the convenience when fighting, riding or working. There were also laws that outlawed women from wearing trousers and fighting. (Source) I found guesses as to the ease of having a skirt for bathroom and menstruation for women, but these were guesses. In older photographs and paintings one may notice young boys dressed in dresses. Around 1895 - 1905 the tradition of dressing boys in dresses became unpopular. Some reasons may be based on Freud's work children were no longer seen as asexual; boys began school at age six and were no longer clustered to the family home and the media became more widespread. It eventually became a cultural error to have a boy wear a dress. (Source
http://www.albertwhitman.com/content.cfm/bookdetails/Jacobs-New-Dress

Recently I won a giveaway by Albert Whitman and Company on their Facebook page. I won a copy of Jacob's New Dress by Sarah and Ian Hoffman and illustrated by Chris Case. This book is about a preschooler, Jacob, who loves to wear the dress from the dress-up trunk at school. The other kids tease him about it, but he still wants to wear it. Some of the girls get upset because they want a turn and Jacob does not want to take it off. After some discussion Jacob's mother makes him his own dress which he wears to school. The kids learn to accept Jacob and his desire to wear a dress and then they begin to play like kids. This is a wonderful book to share with a child and explain that our society has decided what is appropriate and not for a boy or a girl. And that is important to stress that just because society has it is not appropriate it does not mean that is the truth. If a child wants to dress in different manner such as a boy wearing a dress the parents need to be supportive so the child can explore the world and express his or her feelings fully. It does not mean the child is transgender or gay. It means that he or she is trying to figure out the world and his or her own place in it. The more we let them explore the more comfortable they will be in our world and with us. If we tell them they cannot wear a dress or play with a toy because they are not the right gender they will begin to feel resentment and wonder what it is like and may not trust you in the same way and share their feelings with you. And when they are older and it really matters you may be missing something important because they do not feel comfortable sharing their feelings with you. So my suggestion is go with Target. Let's get some of this gender identifying out of our society and let kids be kids.