Family / Parenting

No Offense Taken

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I recently wrote about how I’ve succumbed to the bow/flower/dress cuteness when dressing my 10 month old daughter, Zoe.  It’s true, I do on occasion festoon her in ridiculous get-ups that are traditionally girly.  More often though, she is dressed in her big-brother’s hand-me-downs.  This is partly because why forgo a perfectly good wardrobe we already had on hand, and partly because “boy” clothes are usually more comfortable and practical – especially at this crawling stage.

I don’t think much of it, until we go out in public. People treat her differently when they think she’s a boy.  It’s been interesting – and a bit sad – to witness.  She still gets compliments on her (superior) cuteness, but there is less emphasis on her appearance and many more comments about her strength, smarts and sense of humor.  Usually I don’t correct people when they use male pronouns to refer to her – because, well, why?  If the conversation goes on for a bit I will begin to drop “she” and “her” into my answers, but I never flat out make a statement like “She’s a girl.”  If outright asked, I will say, “Yes, she is my daughter.”  Still, I try to not make a big deal about it either way.
IMG_9955This is not easy.  Others tend to make a big deal about it.  People react in a few different ways.  A very cool few don’t skip a beat and continue on with their baby-gushing.  Some think they must have misheard me and ask me to repeat myself a few times before they can wrap their head around the fact that my daughter is wearing a blue shirt.  Some – many, in fact – are mortally embarrassed.  They will apologize profusely, get quite flustered, and their cheeks will turn a bright shade of red.  I feel so bad when people get so uncomfortable over an easy to make mistake.  I do my best to reassure them that I am not at all offended.  I try to lighten the mood by saying something like, “If I was sensitive about people mistaking her for a boy I wouldn’t put her in her brother’s hand-me-downs!” with a supportive smile.

Why are people so mortified by this mistake?  Why are baby clothes so divided by gender?  When will Zoe start to care one way or another?  I hope when she does she can separate her own gender expression from the expectations out there.

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  1. Great post. I worried quite a lot in the early days about people knowing my twins were girls. Now I dress them a lot more androgynously and don’t really mind if people think they are boys.

  2. When will she start to care? I don’t know. Our youngest son still loves pinks and purples and so on. He has been informed — by the world, not by me — that these are “girl” colors, but he doesn’t seem to care. He also likes “boy” things, but doesn’t dwell on one or the other.

    I don’t know why people get embarrassed. Maybe because some *have* been offended in the past?

    • I appreciate that thought, Jenna. I think a lot about how little any of us really knows about one another’s emotional take on things until we find out. For instance, so often people are mortified (or a mild version of mortification) when they realize I’m a “ma’am” after they’ve called me a “sir.” Happened just yesterday, usually happens a couple times a month. But I get why they’re embarassed: they don’t know, until I let them know warmly, that they haven’t offended me. “Six of one, half-dozen of the other” I always say with a smile, because I mean it.

      But I can totally see them getting a different reaction from another person.

  3. Great post! If our 10 month old son is dressed in colourful clothes, people will often start with “she” but then switch to “he” with a question mark, and they usually apologize for getting it wrong. I always say, “Whatever. He doesn’t mind.” But you’re right, the difference in what characteristics get praised, depending on whether people assume boy or girl, is enormous.

    • There is a very interesting study on languages that have all things be masculine or feminine. The researchers looked at words like bridge and building in two languages where in one they were feminine and one masculine. Then, they had native speakers look at pictures of those objects and describe them. Bridge in a language where it was female described it as “beautiful” and “elegant”; in the language where it was masculine, it was described as “strong” and “sturdy”. It really is amazing how gender affects how we see things (and people).

      Also, I should probably dig up that study and blog about it.

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