Colors are a Shared Space
Gray meaning “gender neutral” means accepting society’s rules about pink and blue. . .Do you agree with those rules?
It’s a cool new progressive advancement in baby clothing! It’s a hashtag I use to find people who want to put their kids in a color other than pink or blue. It’s also a way to sidestep addressing why we dress the youngest of humans in different clothes.
#GenderNeutral largely maintains the status quo in the binary by defining a “neutral” place between the parties, affirming that pink is, in fact for girls and blue is, in fact for boys. It suggests, usually, that the garments are going to be gray. Gray, not just the color, but gray, the symbolic fuzzy space not quite defined yet by capitalists. But, important to note: gray is a color that errs on the side of masculinity. We live in a patriarchal society, in a patriarchal world. That’s not to say women aren’t celebrated or appreciated. But it is to say this:
What we define as masculine is worth more.
What we define as feminine is worth less.
When I was pregnant this last time, I had a fear of having a boy because that kid would be raised like our other kid. Our other kid, however, was born as a biological female and views herself as a girl. When you are born a cis-female, expressing yourself in ways that we consider masculine is acceptable. For example: Wearing shorts, colors other than pink, playing sports, being competitive, bold, fierce. Cis girls (cis meaning your gender aligns with your biology) generally don’t get beat up because we’ve given them the descriptor of “tomboy,” a girl who runs with the boys.
Felix, however, would essentially be viewed as feminizing himself if he expresses himself the way Iris does. Iris likes her hair shaved on one side. What if Felix grows his hair long? How many boys do you know who come home from school upset because kids called them a girl until they felt bad about themselves? Who say they want their hair cut off so they don’t feel like they are worth less than they want to feel? It’s a rare little boy who loves his long hair and keeps it despite the teasing. If Felix grows out his hair or loves purple or paints his nails, society would punish him for it. He would be punished for it because again, we view what we define as masculine as more valuable than what we define as feminine.
I have no fears of having a girl who grows up to express herself in ways we deem masculine. But I have so many fears of having a boy who grows up to express himself in ways we deem feminine. That little boy will grow up to be just as curious, sensitive, and scared of being harmed as every little girl. But society treats boys as emotionless. We tell boys to toughen up, we ask them to form callouses over their fears so they can’t feel them.
Who is we? We could be someone you know or love. It could be a trusted teacher, a friend, a family member. While Christina and I will raise our babies the same way, the world around us won’t treat our babies the same way.
If I am aware of the risks of my baby being treated poorly if he decides to wear sparkles, then why do it? Why not tell him “no” for his own safety if I’m so concerned? Because I want to help shift the narrative of what kind of men and women lead this country. To tell him “no” would be to deny him a part of himself. To tell him “no” for his own safety would be engaging in the same practice of shame that every other parent who raises “traditional boys.” Telling boys to deny parts of themselves is the catalyst for outbursts of rage, fueled by a lifetime of being shamed, probably, for crying as a child, for expressing fear or sadness.
How is this all connected to the color spectrum? It sounds pretty arbitrary. It feels petty. How do you get from a frequency on the color spectrum to a diatribe about destruction? How does dressing a boy in blue or in trucks lead them to be like all the other men, to be like all the other society-described “assholes” out there? It’s just blue. It’s just a dinosaur. It’s just trucks. It’s just dirt. It’s just a scrape. It’s just a sport. It’s just a pocket knife. It’s just a tool set. It’s just a boy thing. It’s just a teenage boy thing. It’s just what men do. It’s just who men are.
When we color-code our kids, we give strangers the go-ahead to respond to them according to the rules our society has set forth. We agree to the rules. We are following them.
Do you like those rules?
When we dress our newborn babies in gray or beige and declare we are dressing them gender-neutral, maybe it is because we haven’t decided yet if we want to engage in those rules. We might feel weird about those rules, those expectations. But we might decide that it doesn’t really matter, I mean, it’s just a color, right? Pink is just a color, right? And blue, what’s the matter with dressing a boy in blue? Kids don’t just want to wear gray, after all.
When we dress our newborn babies in every color on the spectrum and declare we are dressing them gender-neutral, that is the real change. It is to say that colors are a safe space for all humans. When you dress your girl baby in orange and don’t put a headband on her, you will not give strangers the go-ahead to call her princess. Strangers will ask, “Is your baby a boy or a girl?” or “What’s your baby’s name?”. They won’t assume. They will ask what to call your baby. This feels like it is spilling into the realm of consent because it is—what you are called, how you are treated—this is completely, 100% about consent.
I don’t consent to letting you tell my daughter to smile for you, call her princess.
I don’t consent to letting you rough up my son, call him little man.
I don’t consent.
I want you to ask questions. It’s why we will put all of our kids in all of the colors.
Colors are a shared space.