Chapter 2 | Out of the Binary Box

When I was a kid, my mother loved to dress me in “girly” outfits. I am not putting the blame on her for this; she is a product of the baby boomers generation. Our parents were raised to believe in two clearly defined genders and they associate them with very specific colours. Girls are pink. Boys are blue. I wonder if this is what the song Blue (Da Ba Dee) by Eiffel 65 was about. Was he sad about being stuck in that blue gender box?

This early binary label is fairly new and toxic. It’s true that women and men have been treated unequally for centuries, but it’s only recently that we started colouring the child’s room in accordance to its gender while the fetus was still in the womb.

Prior to the 1900s, both sexes wore white dresses until they were six or seven years old (Smithsonian article, 2011). It was for practical reasons; it was easier to bleach the clothes if the child got them dirty. Now, we label them immediately. Children themselves have no idea what the gender labelling means. They just want to wear what they want to wear and be themselves. The layers don’t matter until society tells them things like “You can’t wear a blue dinosaur t-shirt. You see, honey, you’re a girl and girls wear pink dresses with princesses on them”. Parents pass down this “helpful” information because they think it’s normal.

Children only start to figure out their gender around age three and “[…] they do not realize it’s permanent until age six or seven.” (Smithsonian Magazine, 2011) This fact creates a struggle for some parents, especially for those who think something is wrong if their child diverges from the invented societal norms.

The blame isn’t all on the parents. Corporations and marketing play a big role in how our society evolves. Their influence is evermore present and we follow blindly by buying what is offered because we don’t have time to stop and think about it. A few years ago, my French friend and his wife had a baby girl. He wanted to buy his daughter clothes that weren’t pink but they were nearly impossible to find. I went to a store in Canada and bought some clothes that were more diverse. The Canadian store was still full of pink clothing, but it was possible to find other colours like grey, red, navy and orange.

Before World War I, this blue/pink narrative wasn’t so starkly determined. There were guidelines and trends, but it was only in the 1940s that manufacturers decided that blue was for boys and pink for girls. It was a random decision and could have gone either way, according to Jo B. Paoletti, a historian at the University of Maryland and author of Pink and Blue: Telling the Girls From the Boys in America. The second feminist movement provoked a resurgence of neutral colours in the ‘70s. Sadly, the ‘80s brought forth new technology permitting parents to find out the sex of their child prior to the birth. That’s when corporations had a great excuse to colour code everything again. Since then, marketing and the media have perpetuated this binary trend.

We have all been to baby showers, I assume. Attending a baby shower is one of my personal nightmares. Baby showers like we know them today also started with the baby boomers. I expect baby showers started out as a way to support your friends when they had their baby, which is great. Now, it has turned into big stressful and wasteful events. The value of the baby products retail market is evaluated to be between 70 and 80 billion USD in 2018 (I found a few different numbers during my research). It is craziness. A baby costs so much already. Yet, the marketing industry convinces us to buy more every year because “our babies deserve the best”. It doesn’t even stop there. We host bigger and better baby showers and even host something called “gender reveal parties”. I had no idea these existed until now, but it seems a little over the top. I feel like pink or blue events are perpetuating this sad business of child labelling.

We are so used to seeing certain colours attributed to a certain gender and it’s hard to break this embedded convention. I dare you to clothe your kids so they can play in the mud without you worrying about them ruining their branded sneakers. It’ll be all the same to them, save you a lot of of money and help put an end to premature labelling.

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