Saturday I was at a playground in an upscale area of San Francisco with my granddaughter. She was wearing pants and a t-shirt. Invariably, other parents, told their kids things like, "Be careful of the little boy."
I started looking around. My granddaughter is barely 17 months old and already her clothes mark her as a boy or a girl. Her hair is still mostly fuzzy. Her face doesn't give her away. But everyone assumed she was a boy. Just because she had on pants and a T shirt - nothing frilly, no flowers, a little baseball cap with a frog.
The next day we were at the same playground, but she was wearing clothes that identified her as a girl - the pants were more like tights and didn't go below the calf. Her shirt had a pattern and was more like a smock than a t-shirt. Yet one four year old girl who started talking to her in a big sisterly oh-how-cute way, suddenly pulled back and said, "She's wearing boys' shoes." Boys' shoes? I looked around. The girls had more colorful shoes, with patterns and designs on them. My granddaughter had sturdy walking shoes.
I started looking around more carefully. I'm not sure there's boys' clothes as much as there are girls' clothes. By that I mean, the clothes the boys wore would be perfectly ok on a girl, but the girls' clothes wouldn't be perfectly ok on a boy. So, if you aren't wearing 'girl' clothes, you are by default wearing boys' clothes. It seems boys' clothes are more practical and girls' clothes are more colorful and showy.
My daughter consciously dresses her daughter in non-gender specific clothes because she's read studies that say girls and boys are treated differently by strangers as soon as they have any identifiable gender marker - say pink or blue clothing. People, she says, tend to comment on what girls look like and on what boys are doing.
Finding those studies is proving hard on google. The blogger at A Haircut and a Shave
after having similar reactions to her daughter, pondered whether people could tell the difference between girl and boy infants by their faces. She found studies of adult faces (adults can tell most of the time) and older kids' faces (adults can tell 75% of the time, though little kids were less successful.) But she couldn't find such a study of infant faces.
She also found a study
which asked mothers to estimate their 11-month-old son's or daughter's crawling skills and predict how their child would perform in a new crawling task up and down some sloped surfaces.She also supports my comments about clothing:
Interestingly, the mothers of baby girls significantly under-estimated their daughter's skills and future performance, while the mothers of baby boys significantly over-estimated their son's skills and future performance on the crawling task. When the researchers actually measured the baby's skills and performance on a crawling task, there was absolutely no difference between the boys and girls. The mothers were wrong; and not just wrong, but systematically wrong on the basis of their baby's gender.
Meantime, I can say that I think the super-gendered baby clothes that dominate stores are just silly. It can be so difficult to find clothes that aren't blue or pink, especially for very young babies.Clearly, the big difference between girls and boys has to do with different parts in their pants. But do those anatomical parts really define everything else in their lives? Based just on this clothing review, it seems to me that our society (and probably most others)
- makes a big deal about the differences between boys and girls
- expects different things from them
- treats boys more as doers and girls more as objects of display