If you live in the UK you most likely have an opinion on John Lewis’ children’s clothing right now. If you don’t live here then chances are you haven’t got a clue what I’m talking about. Let’s just say it hasn’t only been Brexit dividing the nation this year. Last week John Lewis announced they were removing the gender labels from its children’s clothing and it was the most controversial piece of news since Lily Allen last spoke about… well, anything.
With so many strong opinions about gender in children being voiced I thought it was about time I wrote this post. (This isn’t me telling anyone how they should parent. It’s just my own opinion on my own actions. The very last thing I want to do is make anyone feel bad for their decisions. If you have done/believe/prefer something different to me it’s all cool. We’re all doing our best here and that’s what’s important at the end of the day.) As the title of this post suggests we have made the decision not to find out the gender of the baby. But this wasn’t a choice we made from the very beginning and between the both of us we’ve made it for very different reasons.
(Note: I know that gender is typically a word used as a more social construct than biological. In this post I’ve used it instead of saying sex 100 times. That’s just because I don’t want sex coming up in some SEO way for the site. Not sure if that could happen from just the one post but I don’t want to take that risk! Can you imagine the comments I’d get on this post from that search… no thanks.)
I actually started this pregnancy thinking we would definitely find out the gender. In fact before getting pregnant I often wondered why you would choose not to. It seemed to me like a great way to get to know your baby before giving birth. And to be honest I assumed Alex would think the same way too. Especially as I am already beginning the bonding process with the baby, feeling it dance about and getting to know it’s busy little schedule. I figured knowing if the baby was a boy or girl would be a way for him to feel closer to it. But it turns out he’s quite the traditionalist on this. For him finding out the birth on the day and having the “it’s a …” moment gives him a part to play in an event that, thanks to mother nature, largely excludes him.
And while part of me thinks it’s all well and good wanting to do the fun part of announcing the baby gender after I’ve done all the hard work, it’s not his fault he can’t actually do more of the pushing part (unfortunately). I was happy that he wanted to be a part of this process in every way he can.
So I started to consider how I’d feel not knowing the gender. Opening my mind up to a different perspective made me consider ideas I had previously ignored. Since finding out we were expecting I’ve basically become a bit of a parental leach. Soaking up every last bit of information I can from any other parent I know. I have no qualms about people giving me advice. If you can help me figure out how to keep this baby happy and healthy I’m listening. Which means that even when no one knew I was pregnant I seemed to have a rather unhealthy obsession with babies. Maybe people thought I was just broody or maybe the best listener ever. No, no. All along I had an entirely selfish agenda.
One of the first conversations I had about gender was with a few blogger friends after Blogtacular. In particular Kate mentioned some really interesting thoughts on her own pregnancy (yep, I was pregnant lady stalking – hopefully in a non creepy way). She explained to me that she didn’t want to make decisions for her baby based on gender before it (now we know he) was even born. It was something I’d never thought of before but made a lot of sense to me. Why are we so quick to put gender ideas into everything for our children. Why do I need to buy a certain colour bib or baby grow or soft toy based on genital construction? Why do random people in the street have to know if my baby is a boy or girl? People keep telling me I wouldn’t want to put a boy in pink, but actually why wouldn’t I? I wouldn’t want to dress a baby girl or boy in garish barbie pink (that’s just my own taste) but what about a soft, avocado dyed, natural pink baby grow? I’m just going to say it, whether my baby is a boy or a girl I’m making this and they’re going to wear it. And guess what? Whatever this baby turns out to be, it’s not going to care that the colour of this ‘thing’ covering it is ‘meant’ for girls, or that people might think it’s the gender it’s not, or even what being a girl or boy is. The only time it’s going to care about the contents of it’s nappy is when it needs changing.
(The fact is it’s only in recent history that we’ve started signposting a child’s gender with clothing. 100 years ago babies wore baby clothes. They were all the same and no one thought anything of a little boy wearing a dress or for that matter pink. And even when we started doing it in the early 1900s, pink was considered a masculine colour and blue feminine).
So when I do start decorating the nursery or buying warm winter hats or tiny baby grows I’ll buy them based on two things, how well it’s going to do the job and how cute I think it is. It might mean this baby wears nothing but animal costumes for the first year of it’s life, but just think of the photos guys! I’m sure once the baby is born I’ll have my blue and pink moments but until then it is impossible for me to be swept along with it all.
This is just the first step for me in creating an environment that supports and encourages my child in the same way whether it’s a boy or a girl. If you want to know how our actions and mostly subconscious preconceptions about gender affect children’s development I would recommend this BBC documentary. It can be as simple as talking to girls more than we talk to boys, or assuming girls want to play with dolls more than they want to play with cars. I do find myself making these mistakes with children already and although I know I’ll never really raise a child that doesn’t feel pressure to be a certain way based on its gender, it will be a work in progress to make our home as supportive and open a place as possible.
But at the same time this isn’t about ignoring gender completely. I think this is where some people struggle with this idea. It’s like saying having personality traits that are stereotypical to your gender are wrong and many people define their own personalities based on feminine and masculine ideas. That’s not what this is about. It’s about not being limited to those ideas. I’ll be happy if I have a girl that like princesses. It’s just that those princesses will be adventurers, inventors and strong women making their own destiny. Not stuck in a domestic prison waiting around for the prince to save the day. Whatever this baby is they can play at being caring and nurturing with dolls or discovering and learning with lego, hopefully both (most likely at the same time. How old are they before they clean up after themselves again?)
But as much as I want to prepare myself for motherhood I know it’s a learn on the job kind of profession. I’m still looking to other parents for guidance and while the issue of boys and girls clothing has divided so many I can say I’m firmly on team John Lewis here. Not just because of my own ideas about parenting but also because of my beliefs about design. Instead of taking the easy route, sticking a butterfly and some rhinestones on a t-shirt, creating it for the lowest cost and highest profit margin possible, John Lewis value design and ethics. This comes across when you’re looking at their products. If a t-shirt has been so well designed that you don’t know if it’s for a girl or a boy then surely either can wear it no matter what your opinions on gender clothing are.
And finally as my friend Kate told me, apparently if you don’t know the gender it gives you more reason to push during labour… Oh how we laughed. I know, I know. The baby’s gender is most likely going to be the last thing on my mind, but isn’t that just how it should be.