fancy-germans3In college I took an intro to sociology class and loved it. Our discussions about racism, class, justice and sexism were engaging and I felt like I had purpose. I vowed to never subject my kids to gender bias. Boys would play with dolls. Girls would have dump trucks. They would wear pink and blue respectively.

I’ve tried to hold to these ideals in the real world of parenting. But, it’s hard. Harder than I imagined.

An example of my struggles happened recently when I took my two sons with me on a trip to the lingerie department at Nordstrom’s. As I held up items from the rack, my older son looked at me in horror.

“I don’t like that one. At all,” he said.

“Why not?”

“It’s pink!”

Apparently he has developed a dislike for the color pink. I didn’t make a fuss over his proclamation. And, to his horror, I walked with that bra to the counter and purchased it. When I took it out of the bag at home my son was quick to inform my husband that I had purchased it without his approval.

He’s also recently started to talk about boys versus girls. During dinner he mentions casually that a girl classmate is having only girls at her birthday party. He says a friend will only invite boys to his. Thankfully, he’s approved the inclusion of three girls on his own birthday party invite list. Although, he’s quick to add, his sixth birthday party (a year from now) will only be for boys.

He made the boy vs. girl discussion public at the Children’s Museum last week. As we walked in the museum, he and his younger brother were both excited to play on a make-believe city bus. My older son took the helm and one of his grandfathers, his brother and I sat in the back. A girl approached the bus and got on.

“No girls allowed!” my older son bellowed with authority as the “bus driver”.

I wanted to melt into the seat of the bus, under the watchful gaze of the girl’s mother. Instead I quickly informed him that girls were indeed allowed (I was on the bus, afterall) and if he felt otherwise he could get off the bus. He didn’t disagree with me or balk at my objection. He continued to play as if he hadn’t said anything.

On the back of the bus I sat there, wondering where his comment had come from. Is it playground protocol to object to girls? Is the talk at the paint station in his pre-school classroom all about who likes pink versus who likes blue?

I’m left knowing that while we can influence him at home, or when we are with him, even at the age of nearly five years old he gets a lot of input from outside sources. And, this outside input will only increase as he grows older. I hope that some of the sociological lessons I learned, and which I attempt to share, will stay with him as he continues to navigate situations outside of our direct influence.

Reading about sexism or gender bias in a sociology text made me think the solution to raising one’s kids without bias was almost easy, as long as you were aware and vigilant. In truth, divisions between the sexes (blue vs. pink, boys vs. girls) run deep in our culture. So deep that it’s hard to know where the roots begin.

Photo courtesy of

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6 Responses to Pink

  1. Melany says:

    Those moments when the kids open their mouth and mortify you are hard. I think you handled it well.

    We have a lot of questions about girls vs boys with our 5 year old, but he seems to be ok with having them around. His closest friends are all girls, so perhaps that has helped some, but again, that could change next year.

    Its a touchy subject. He’s exploring differences that he sees and perhaps trying on opinions he has heard from other kids his age.

  2. jesakalong says:

    Such a great post! My sister-in-law has had to have interesting gender conversations with one of her girls, who’s three. We’re not sure if the little one thinks it’s funny or if she is approaching gender differently. She went through a phase of insisting one of her brothers was a girl. I wish you luck with this one!

  3. Jenni says:

    First of all, the picture is great and gets to the root of your observations in this excellent post (Why did I first laugh at these “macho men” working in hot pink? Because you are right–assumptions about gender roles run deeply in our culture).

    You’re right about all of this business with gender roles seeming to have no discernible causes. Some days I come to the conclusion that it’s simply hard-wired! My daughter liked cars just as my son does, but she also ADORES pink and sparkles, despite my efforts (we were in that sociology class together, right?). The more over-the-top “fancy”, the better.

    Big sigh from a trying-to-be-sensitive mom!

  4. Julie S says:

    I understand the “outside influences” so very much. My 7-year-old LOVES TV. She will stare at it for hours if we don’t limit her viewing (which we do). However, she has always and only been allowed to watch shows that are appropriate for her age. Still she is full of information about adult movies and TV shows…things she sees and learns from going to school with other kids every day. This outside influence has been one of the most difficult things I have dealt with personally as a mom. I constantly remind myself that she has to grow up as a person on this planet, that I cannot shield her from reality. But that doesn’t make it any easier for me!

  5. Luci says:

    Construction workers in pink? That’s a great picture, Liz!
    I think it may have to do with self identification. My son is surrounded by girls, his sisters, but at school, he’ll mostly play with the boys there, almost automatically. It’s a bit weird, as he plays very nicely at home with his sisters. And rest assured that it does resolve itself as they mature…all of my daughters have lots of friends that are boys, but it wasn’t til they were at least 7 or 8. Nice topic for discussion.

  6. Joanna says:

    With a boy and a girl, I see it all. My daughter is an athlete but likes fashion and has nothing to do with boys. My son loves video games, especially war games, but also plays easily with girls. He has male and female friends but when he was 5, his male friends teased him for his female friends. That was hard on him. (A great book on children’s friendships is Best Friends, Worst Enemies.) I figure the kids will find their way (and I always tell my boy “real men wear pink.”) Our modeling has a lot of influence and when they move out of the absolute phase , they’ll be watching us.

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