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Of Course, You'll Want the Pink Party Bag, Won't You?

By Sally Collings - 27th June 2011

Not so long ago, I wrote about my six-year-old daughter’s ambition to be a builder. Cunning inventions made from sunglasses and old CDs attached with straw flow from her fingers, and nothing makes her happier than a new box of Lego. She is also uncannily gifted at Monopoly, so I look forward to enjoying old age supported by my wealthy and astute property developer of a daughter.

She is not a keen clothes shopper (‘no’ is her assessment of most garments), but given the choice she would prefer to pick a Ben 10 t-shirt from the boys’ side of the store than a pink fairy dress from the girls’ aisle. If she does pick a fairy dress it will be an outrageous purple and emerald creation rather than a cute confection in baby pink.

I myself spent most of my formative years in a brown striped t-shirt and shorts, my cropped hair leading even people who had met me before to ask, ‘are you a girl or a boy?’ So I quite understand where she’s coming from. Sometimes the boys’ toys really are best: my fondest memories are of racing Hot Wheels cars with my brother down the long hallway in our family home. They were his cars, of course, but at least I got to play.

It’s hard to stave off the pink tide, though. A couple of weeks back we attended a birthday party for a school friend. It was a fantastic event, with a jumping castle, face painting and a wildlife display. At the end, we went to collect the obligatory party bag. The party girl’s mum and dad were handing them out. ‘What colour bag would you like?’ asked the mum. ‘We’ve got pink ones and blue ones.’ Before my girl had a chance to answer, party dad cut in. ‘Of course you’ll want a pink one, won’t you,’ he declared, fishing one out and handing it over.

I’m not sure, but I think I spotted a flicker of disappointment in my daughter’s face before she became absorbed in the contents.

In the days following the party I happened to read an open letter written by the mother of Storm, the Canadian child whose gender is undisclosed. Their story has attracted – well, a storm of controversy, but Kathy Witterick’s letter in the Vancouver Sun sheds a different light on their story. It paints them as thoughtful and responsive parents rather than mad scientists toying with their child’s identity.

Kathy wrote about her older child Jazz, a boy with a taste for bright colours and wearing his hair long, and how they have struggled to enable him to feel okay about that.  His curiosity about why people need to know a baby’s sex was a key reason for them keeping their new baby’s gender to themselves – for now.

As Kathy puts it in her letter, ‘the idea to keep the baby's sex private was a tribute to authentically trying to get to know a person, listening carefully and responding to meaningful cues given by the person themselves.

I’m hardly a radical gender-bending social experimenter myself (not these days, anyway), but I believe there are times when our assumptions about gender may not always be in the best interests of the child. You’ve got to wonder: how many budding engineers and architects have been stifled beneath layers of tulle and tiaras?

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