Guest Post by Meagan Francis:
It’s only February, but already my kids have lost their gloves. Not only the ones I bought for them this year, but their gloves from last year too, as well as all the mismatched pairs of mittens I’ve dug out of the basement for them and the gloves they “borrowed” from the school’s lost and found.
So I went to my local superstore to buy a couple new pairs. But guess what? Thanks to retailing processes that clearance out all the winter merchandise to make room for pastel beach hats and inflatable pools while it’s still freezing outside, there were no boys’ gloves to be had.
There were, however, a few pair left in the girls’ section.
I faced a quandary. It’s Bad Form to send your kids out to make snowballs without gloves. My reputation, as well as the boys’ wellbeing, was at stake: they really had to have new gloves.
But they’re boys. And generally, boys do not take kindly to wearing girl’s things.
Sure, I could try to pretend here that I’m one of those progressive mothers who buys only gender-neutral clothing and toys so that she doesn’t coerce her child into accepting social definitions of gender roles.
That would be a lie, though. I coerce my kids plenty, intentionally or not. I’ve bought them little blue and green outfits since they were born. As for toys, though they’ve played with baby dolls and Polly Pockets and other items from the powder-pink aisles at the store, they have always gravitated toward things generally deemed “boyish”: trucks, action figures, dinosaurs. Biology or conditioning? Well, that’s a debate for another day. I only knew that at that moment, I faced a dilemma: Go home gloveless, or buy my sons girls’ gloves.
I chose the latter. From a sea of shiny pink and purple handgear I selected the two least-feminine looking pair: fluffy gloves knitted from thick chenille and black microfleece mittens with two rows of fake fur trim. At the very least, I reasoned, they’d have something in case of a true snow emergency. Or I could offer to let them rip off the fake fur and maybe dye the off-white yarn black or gray.
As it turned out, though, I didn’t have to worry about their reaction. When I got home, I tossed the bag onto the couch and got busy making dinner. A few minutes later, I heard a rustle, and then the kids came running into the kitchen.
“Mom! Thanks for these cool gloves!” Isaac cried, wearing the fluffy cream chenille.
“Wow, these are FANCY,” said Jacob, proudly sporting the fake fur. “I bet these cost a lot of money, huh?” I decided not to tell him that, actually, I’d picked them up for about $1.50 on the clearance rack.
“These are way better than my old ones,” Isaac gushed. His old gloves were black and adorned with red flames.
So my kids went off to school the next day, proudly wearing their new outerwear. And so far, nobody’s said anything to tip them off. In fact, Jacob must have gotten some compliments on his: “No other boys in my class have gloves this soft,” he said. I’m sure he’s right.
Later, as I recounted this story to my sister, I wondered aloud how my kids could have missed the fact that the mittens were so obviously manufactured with girls in mind.
“Maybe they just don’t have any point of reference,” my sister suggested. “They’re not around girl stuff enough to know it when they see it.”
She’s probably right. Our household is so overtaken by boy things that my kids don’t recognize the subtleties of what makes fashion masculine or feminine. To them, pink and lavender equals girly; everything else is up for grabs.
I know eventually they’ll figure it out, and it’s probable they’ll be horrified. And when they do, I can take that opportunity to talk to them about societal gender roles, and how something is only “girly” because somebody else decided it was, and that they’re free to create their own ideas about what makes something boyish.
I just hope it doesn’t happen until at least March, because I don’t think they’re gonna buy it.