Sunday, April 06, 2008


In Israel, people are constantly stopping me to tell me how beautiful my child is--his huge blue eyes, his glowing smile--and I’m so happy. Not that they think my daughter is beautiful, but that they disregard the yards and yards of pink she is always wearing and assume she’s a boy because she has fuzz instead of hair.

I did not buy my daughter a single one of her zillion pink outfits—they simply poured in after her birth and for her birthday. I don't want to seem ungrateful--it was really thoughtful of everyone, and generous. But I was also freaked out by all that pink.

There’s nothing wrong with pink. All colors are wonderful in their own way. But why does a little girl have to have all pink? (My daughter looks best in peachy-orange or blue). It’s not that I don’t want any gender encoding at all…I mean, the girl does wear dresses on Shabbat. But that doesn’t mean we have to buy into the entire girly-girl of girlness stereotype.

It was fun to discover that until the twentieth century, pink was considered a boy’s color, and blue a girl’s. I’m so glad that in Israel pink does not carry with it the immense weight and pressure to be cutesy and princess-y that it does in the States. That baby boys wear it (apparently) if they (or their parents) feel like it.

It’s wonderful to be in Israel and to have all colors liberated from the social and cultural associations they carry for me. Apparently red is the Israeli pink. But I don’t care. If I dress my girl in a red shirt and denim overalls, and Israelis judge that to be feminine, well, good for us all. Denim holds up pretty well when my dainty but intensively active and curious child climbs on rocks, chairs, tables, stairs, digs in sand, bolts out of buildings on her hands and knees, and can’t keep her hands off of things with wheels—particularly if they’re covered in oily dirt.

Although I would prefer strangers to comment on my daughter’s engagement with the world rather than her looks, I’m glad that both sexes get the same amount of beauty compliments in Israel, at least as babies.

I get so frightened about it in the States, because the power of beautiful seems so much more important (and gendered) there. Of course children really absorb social messages. I’ve written already about the time my 3-year old niece informed her mother and me that people were so nice to her in the supermarket because she was so pretty. “It’s lucky you’re pretty, but it’s important to be kind and smart, too,” I told her, a little surprised at her intuition. “You’re just saying that because I’m a lot prettier than you were when you were my age,” my niece told me. “They may be true, but I was a lot smarter,” I said in desperation.

But I wasn’t smarter than she was at her age. I never grasped the power of cute, of pretty, of meeting social expectations for gender.

The next year I gave my niece a few disposable cameras and a photo album for her birthday, to get her to focus on others. She merely asked lots of different people to take pictures of her. This year I got her a camcorder. We’ll see.

For these six months in Israel, it’s nice not to worry about what messages I’m sending my daughter through the colors she wears. It’s enough to worry about the messages the length of each of my skirts sends out.


Joyous Jewess said...

Thanks for writing about this, Maya. I often feel frustrated about the pink thing and the very early gender coding, too. With boy/girl twins, I feel it especially keenly -- from the practical aspect of wishing I could find more "unisex" clothes so that they could share to the more social aspect of people commenting (or raising eyebrows at least) if I put the kids in gender non-conforming outfits (which usually means when my son is wearing something with a little bit of pink on it. Or butterflies. Why are butterflies necessarily feminine?) And isn't it interesting that people think it's "cute" when my daughter wears something with trucks? This is one area in which the gender codes are more restrictive of boys -- girls can dress "tomboyish" but boys can't wear pink.

SuperRaizy said...

I think there's a lot more flexibility with colors than there used to be. In New York, last's year hot color for teenage boys was pink. All the MO boys were wearing pink button down shirts and ties to shul on Shabbos. My 13 year old nephew wore a bright purple tie to a simcha last week and got tons of compliments.
Dress your daughter in whatever color you like!