“Why do people claim all boys like the color blue, and all girls like the color pink? It isn’t true.”
My daughter is asking me. She’s holding my hand; her other is engaged in walking my mother’s dog, whom we have for the next week while his owner buries her toes in a Mexican beach somewhere. The three of us are on a walk. Kind of a long one.
I tell my daughter, now: “Well, I have an answer. It’s kind of long. Do you still want to hear it?” She tells me Yes.
I tell her, you know basically, historically, people have a tendency to oppress one another. I ask her if she knows what this means. She says Yes. We talk about this for a bit. I tell her one way people can feel justified in their worldview is to believe those oppressed are less human, or categorically separate. I say it comforts some people to make up reasons one group of human beings is innately different than the other. I tell her some more of what I’ve seen. I make sure to qualify it is not all people who do this in every regard, but that most of us have learned to do it unconsciously. She brings up her father. She tells me he is someone who does not oppress women. I tell her Yes, and No… sometimes he makes mistakes. I remember aloud when she was little(r) and he began to refuse to help her clean her body in the bath because she had a female body, even though he continued to help his son. She nods, not necessarily remembering this, but getting my point.
I tell her anyone can make mistakes.
She’s thinking about her body, and her brother’s. She says, “But we’re not that different. Just a little bit. Like how our fingerprints are unique. Like tiger stripes.”
Enlightenment. Incredible! “Do tigers have unique stripe patterns?” I ask. Miracles.
“Oh yes!” she says, brightening with the typical enthusiasm she feels for the world of fauna.
We walk for a while.
I continue, because I feel her expectation. “So, when people believe men and women are socially different in ways irrefutably tied to biology, that’s called oppositional sexism. And when people decide the traits associated with men are superior to those associated with women, that’s called androcentrism.”
She’s with me. All the way.
I say, “You know how some people value physical strength over emotional strength?”
She says Yeah.
Then she adds, “One time in the mine in the backyard, P. couldn’t pull something out of the pit, so I did it. I was strong enough to do it. After I did it he said, ‘Thanks for doing that. I tricked you, and now you’re my slave.'”
A beat. Then, I say, “That’s one hundred percent bullshit.”
“Yeah,” my daughter agrees.
My eyes sting behind my sunglasses. She is so incredible. I often can’t remember our conversations verbatim enough to log them, to write them all out just how good they are. I tell myself it is wonderful enough just to have this time with her, the real experience is now, in the moment, not later, although I am always so pleased to continue journalling.
We walk together for a while.
At her request, we stop at a nursery. While observing koi in a pond, she hears frogs in one of the greenhouses.
She catches frogs, so carefully, so swiftly. She speaks to them and when she releases them she says, “I’ll see you soon.”
After the first frog she’s figured out some way to handle them where they sit, placid, in her hand.
She encourages me to hold one. I am terrified. They seem so fragile, yet so startling in their jump! She finally convinces me to hold one. It turns and regards her while I take a picture.
The proprietor of the business joins us eventually and shares lots of helpful and interesting facts about native frogs. Then he demonstrates the grownup-typical chastisement of my daughter for being a human being while small – don’t catch the frogs, don’t step there, blah blah.
My daughter doesn’t seem to mind. So I figure I shouldn’t either.
We continue on our way, stopping at the Farmer’s Market to buy a bunch of daffodils for a sad friend, and a bird of prey coloring book for my daughter.
Then along the wet and angry river and to home.
Brilliant writing. Thanks for sharing.
How I love that you have recorded even some of this conversation with her. I so often wish to do the same with regards to my two, but I know I’d never convey the words and meaning as we had them in that moment. I’ve been thinking about trying, though, so you’re words have inspired me (yet again).
This is a truly touching moment that you’ve shared with us. Thanks. I love having these sorts of moments with Maeve, although she doesn’t always make jumps so readily.
Did you mention to her that originally girls were dressed in blue and boys wore pink, based on the assertion that pink was a “louder” color and blue a more calming and “quiet” color? I didn’t know that until just before I had Maeve and I always wondered how/why the switch occurred. I’m not sure if I’ve ever found a satisfactory explanation for it. Interestingly enough, I read something else that said that blue is considered a calming color for bedrooms, etc. and wondered how we, as a society, equate calmness with the masculine. Pink, while considered a feminine color, doesn’t seem to carry an across the board emotional label. Like pale pink seems to have a fragile connotation but fuchsia is considered loud.
I don’t know where that fits into the discussion you 2 had, but it’s an interesting tangent.
Yay 🙂 This is my first visit to your blog after a hiatus via traveling. Thanks to you, phoenix, and frog for a cheery good morning.
Thanks for the compliments, ladies!
I have a tendency later to think of certain conversations as important ones, and to think maybe I blew it, or maybe I didn’t explain with enough nuance, or maybe I missed a crucial word, or maybe I talked too much. But I usually come around to realizing Phoenix has to and WILL make her own mind up about things, and I shouldn’t think so intensely of myself or believe I’m her be-all-end-all influence.
I love your points about blue and pink and I remember reading a bit about that. Here’s a few interesting tidbits (take with a grain of salt, of course) on the subject. If that link and the Paoletti study is to be believed, the “masculinization” of Western (boy) children’s dress is a rather recent phenomenon, occurring during the industrial revolution, which I find rather thought-provoking.
Carry a moleskine or small notebook and jot down a few key words – this can often help me remember the conversation in entirety. Or just remember to focus on your breath and really be there when it happens, because that’s when it’s most real. * <3
OK, here I am commenty mcgee again, but besides the fact that this post was beautiful, I feel the need to share that the bulk of my mom’s professional research has surrounded the pink/blue question (particularly when it comes to clothing). She’s written a book called Pink and Blue: Telling the Boys from the Girls in America since 1880 and it comes out next year 🙂 Jen’s point above is right on.
@Maria- because of your comment, my feed reader now rocks. Thx for the link to yer mama’s blog!
You said it. Readers, my advice is no matter how touching or obnoxious or whatever you found my post, do give a look-see at Professor Paoletti’s blog as it seems to be chock-full of awesome sauce.
Wow. The internet is so awesome. Guess this means I need to start posting more regularly. (The book manuscript went in the mail last Wednesday, so now I can turn back to my poor neglected blogs. Yes, blogs. Don’t ask.)
Re: pink and blue: The short version is that those colors weren’t firmly gendered as we know them today until the 1950s, and even then there were exceptions. My most recent example of baby boys wearing or receiving pink clothes (i.e. from people who saw it as other than a feminine color) now stands at 1987.
The internet is so awesome, and your writings are too! I’m so glad your daughter linked us in!
Delightful, delightful post.
@Maria – thanks for sharing the link
@Jo – thanks for the research! I will look for the book, since I find this idea interesting. According to my late grandfather (born 1910), his mother dressed his younger brother in a pink outfit when he was small. When my younger brother was born in 1974, my mom’s uncle sent a baby gift which included a pink blanket and a pink sweater. I appropriated the sweater for my dolls, but my brother carried the blanket around and couldn’t be separated from it. Because it was made of some mysterious 1970’s fabric, it lasted until he was about 30 and he slept with it as an adult. My parents just chalked the pink up as an elderly person’s inability to understand that Stefan is a boy’s name and not short for Stefanie. Maybe, though, it was leftover from the old boys wear pink idea.
As an aside, I hate most hues of pink, though I am partial to the fuchsia/raspberry tones – perhaps because I think of them more as red than pink. Anyway, I hate pink so much that I refused to buy my oldest anything pink and made sure that my in-laws knew it so they didn’t buy pink baby clothes for her. I chose purple, instead, which I guess can be seen as a combo of blue and pink. Funnily enough, Maeve is my most girly. My other daughter, Gwyneth, is the opposite. I got loads of gifts from friends for her that were pink, and which she wore. She is my tomboy, and while she likes to dress up as a princess, she recently told me her favorite colors are yellow, orange, fuchsia and black. She wears a lot of purple, too, but that’s really because she has her sister’s hand-me-downs.
There was a fabulous article in Mothering magazine about the evolution of the whole pink/blue issue. Apparently, sociologically speaking, it doesn’t take long at all for people to decide that things have “always” been a certain way. So glad to see this discussion here!
“Apparently, sociologically speaking, it doesnâ€™t take long at all for people to decide that things have â€œalwaysâ€ been a certain way. ”
Oh goodness. Yes. I find this a lot in my daily readings, writings, Twitter and blogosphere experience.
Not to be a nudge, but FYI, the article in Mothering used my mom’s historical research, but cited Cecil Adams (of The Straight Dope, linked to in Kelly’s first comment above). The Straight Dope is a really useful site, but it’s a tertiary source. If you read Adams’ sources, you see where he’s doing his research. Just sayin’.
Thanks for the info!
What a beautiful moment between you and Phoenix. Thank you for sharing.
Yay, Maria! I wondered if that was your mom. I’m so thankful for her research.