WHITNEY: Did we tell her she’s a girl?
We were walking through the produce section of Meijer, Olivia happily sitting in the child’s seat of the shopping cart and me checking off items on my list.
Olivia, only a few months old at the time, was dressed in little aqua blue pants and a red shirt flecked with white polka dots and frilled out at the shoulders and alongside the front button panel. She looked like a doll and I felt proud, so I didn’t bristle when an elderly gentleman peeked over the edge of her car seat to say hello.
“What’s his name?” he asked.
“Her name is Olivia,” I replied, not intending to make my correction overt but there was not getting around it.
The man furrowed his brow, whipped his head in my direction and said, “Well, you’re got her in the wrong colors.” He walked off in a bit of a huff.
I guess some people don’t like being wrong, and I guess that’s why the “pink for girls, blue for boys” standard exists.
Babies just look like babies until you accessorize them to look like boys or girls.
I was reminded of this recently after my husband and I got to talking about pronouns, something Olivia struggles to get straight. Have you ever thought about how difficult it is to explain how to use “me” and “you” correctly?
That led to a discussion about gender. Had he ever explained to Olivia that she is a girl, I asked. Not that he could remember, he replied, and I said the same.
And come to think of it, we haven’t really explained much about the existence of gender, or what it means to be a boy or a girl and how those labels can change certain things. When were we supposed to do that? Should we do it now? Like, should we wake her up?
A few years back, a Canadian couple made the news when they decided not to reveal their baby’s sex to anyone. They didn’t just skip the “gender reveal” party, but they kept the information secret even after the baby was born and gave him (it was revealed five years late) a gender-neutral name. Their goal was to avoid gender stereotyping.
That cat’s out of the bag for us. Everyone around us knows our female-named daughter is, in fact, a girl. Although I didn’t wake her up that night to ask her, Olivia knew the answer when I posed the question the next morning. Somehow she figured it out on her own.
All this thinking about gender and self-identity amounts to very little in the end, really.
Even though Olivia knows she’s a girl, what difference does it make? Is there anything Olivia does in her little day that is different if she knows her sex? Probably not. Play-Doh and painting are all the same. Baby dolls, which she loves, still hold an appeal for lots of little boys, and our girl is equally enamored with trucks, tractors and dinosaurs.
So what difference does it make? None. At least for now.
Whitney Gronski-Buffa is the Pioneer’s parenting columnist. After four years reporting and editing at the paper, she’s stepped back to spend more time with her family.