Raising Richmond: Accidentally raising a girl

Is our uneasiness over the “pinkification” of toys sending a message to our daughters that their potentially legitimate preferences are wrong?


My husband and I didn’t find out the sex of our child. Everyone guessed I was having a boy based on which of my ribs were sore the most or which wrist I wore my watch on–I don’t actually remember all the nonsense guessing that everyone played at with my body. I do remember that our midwife said, “I think it’s a boy. But I’m wrong half the time.”

Our child ended up being a girl (in your faces, everyone!). However, she has very short hair, and as recently as yesterday someone called her a little boy, so maybe that’s the vibe all my past coworkers and strangers were picking up on when they guessed I was pregnant with a boy.

When she was an infant, my husband and I were against dressing her “like a girl,” meaning in all pink. We didn’t dress her as a boy, but we didn’t like the idea that she had to wear pink because she was a girl. She certainly had pretty things and dresses, but the more she was mistaken for a boy the less I wanted to dress her more girly because it wasn’t her or my problem that people assumed a baby not wearing a frilly pink headband must have been a male. That’s on the random woman at the grocery store to know better.

My daughter picks out her clothes now, and she tends to wear a lot of pink (a lot). We are not crazy about the pink, but we let her pick, and she chooses it. But she also until recently constantly wore a t-shirt with a skateboarding hotdog on it, or a bright orange shirt printed with cars, buses, and helicopters. She likes to look pretty, and she wants to play pirates. She has pink LEGO, and she has not-pink LEGO.1

When I read this article in The Daily Beast about how making children’s toys too gender-biased is going to impair girls in real life, I could see the value in what was being said. But I had to ask myself if I was making things worse by maybe backhandedly telling my daughter that pink and princess were the wrong choices? I don’t want my daughter to grow up thinking that being a woman is a liability, and she is starting out as less-than. I want her to have choices, and when she chooses what she likes and it happens to be pink or what society deems as appropriate for a little girl, she still made the right choice.

I, as it turns out, am also a woman. I played with My Little Pony and Barbie. When I played with my brother’s toys I was probably still playing house. I don’t really remember princesses being a thing when I was a kid, but I liked to dress up sometimes. I also liked to play alone and make my own paper dolls. I didn’t become a scientist or an engineer. I don’t know if I’m supposed to feel like a failure because of that.

I was never told I couldn’t do anything because I was female until I was 16, and my driver’s education instructor would tell me that I did OK “for a girl,” and constantly railed on his wife and other women as drivers (and in general). When that bullshit was dished out to me I knew it was false immediately,2 and I’ve always been aware of unfair treatment. It helped that I had smart female friends and relatives (and a teacher who encouraged me to use my driver’s ed partner’s real name in the essay I wrote about the experience because she also couldn’t stand him).

I understand the arguments about the “pinkification” of girls’ toys, and I do agree with and recognize the larger issue. What the toys looked like are the choices that companies are making for children, and I’m more concerned that some of the toys my daughter gets limit her imagination. While I love these kinds of discussions, I find arguments about what will ruin our children3 to be fruitless. That’s like going back in the last 30 years and trying to figure out why we aren’t the smartest, most-self-respecting, and healthiest versions of ourselves.4

My kid’s going to have challenges growing up. Some of them may be because she’s female, some of them will be something else (people stop aggressively guessing about your child’s future after the sex is known, so I don’t know what those other things could be yet). I want her to have the tools she needs to grow and learn and develop in subjects that go above what I can help her with. But still, she can pick out and play with whatever she wants as long as she remembers to put it away when she’s done. I think that might mean a little more right now.

Photo by: Robert S. Donovan

  1. As Sam Davies taught us, LEGO Friends is just LEGO
  2. Please refer to my essay about him and my sexist driver’s education partner in your copy of the 1996 Chesterfield County Public School’s literary magazine Write Now! 
  3. Smartphones. 
  4. Facebook. 
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Kelly Gerow

Kelly Gerow occasionally writes more about dogs, babies, and how they both take away from her time with Netflix.

11 comments on Raising Richmond: Accidentally raising a girl

  1. Love this: “she can pick out and play with whatever she wants as long as she remembers to put it away when she’s done” … and I love that you’re teaching her to be who she is. It’s so much more important that she be happy with herself and embrace who she is than it will ever be that she pick a career that breaks a gender-norm or somehow changes a sliver of a pie-chart about women in careers anyway! And, besides, who said scientists and engineers can’t like pink? Am I right? ;)

  2. Thank you for this. I’m always uneasy about the whole pinkification thing, because…to say blue or gender neutral is better seems to me to send the message that to be female is less-than, that you should strive to be something better. I don’t think that’s the intention with the message, but I read it that way a lot. No, I don’t want my daughter to have everything be color-coded to her, but neither do I want her to recoil from the traditionally feminine, because there is NOTHING WRONG with being a feminist who, say, wears lipstick.

    Summary: blue good/pink bad binaries hurt the cause, imo.

    (I just found out yesterday I’m having a girl, so I’m a bit aghast at the idea that everyone thinks I’m going to say NO PINK. Nah. Some pink stuff is adorable. I just don’t want PINK to become some identity thing. Like, “You like the PINK one sweetie, not the BLUE one….” *and vice-versa*. Trying to get a kid to NOT conform is kind of the same thing, just backhanded.

    Oops, rambling again.

    Pink = good. Blue = good. Creating a strict binary is when it gets problematic to me.

  3. PS, I’m a woman in tech and I’m wearing corduroys, a cardigan….and a pink shirt underneath. I don’t feel like I’m ruining my field or my feminism!

  4. Valerie Catrow on said:

    Yes! When our son was younger I would
    sometimes find myself pushing him towards things that were not traditionally “boy” because I wanted so badly for him to not think of things in the whole boy stuff vs girl stuff construct. But it was super controlling and obnoxious of me. Sometimes he just wanted a truck because it was loud and fun and trucks are awesome.

  5. Valerie Catrow on said:

    PS: our son had that same skateboarding hot dog shirt but refused to wear it. I was so sad.

  6. Katherine on said:

    I became a stepmom to a little girl 2 years ago, she’s 7.5 now, and have been careful not to grimace too much when she picks pink items or vapid tv shows to watch. We let her pick what to wear, which clothes we’ll buy her (after practicality of course), and what color to paint her room. But I did put my feminist foot down when she heard from a grandparent that she should go into cheerleading. It’s literally the most dangerous activity a highschooler can be involved with (a healthy cheerleading in my school broke her pelvis), and I think it objectifies girls. She’s a smart girl and when I explained I didn’t like dangerous sports or sports that make girls wear makeup, she let the subject drop and bounded onto her next big dream. Unless it’s changed in the last five minutes, she’s currently planning on being a Music Teacher.

  7. Tracie M. on said:

    Thanks for sharing your opinion on this. I have a son and daughter and have been angry with people who say that we are doing something wrong by letting our daughter play with Lego Friends. Both of my children love art, playing outdoors, playing with all kinds of Lego, etc. We kept a lot of gender specific toys out of our house, but they gravitated toward the toys they liked and for our son that was dinosaurs, Lego, and anything that you could build, and for our daughter that was Monster High dolls, and Barbie. I’m okay with letting them play with the toys THEY like, not what I think they should like.

  8. Cindy Gricus on said:

    I made sure my two girls had lots of art supplies, blocks, books and dolls because that’s what I like to play with. Of all those things, they were probably least interested in the dolls, but “girl toys” were necessary for bonding with some of the other little girls who came over to play. I also took the girls to work with me and to all kinds of museums and parks, where I followed them, rather than requiring that they follow me. I now have a grandson who likes anything with wheels and any place that is conducive to running at full speed. He can also teach you how to work your iPad (he’s not in school yet) and when his newly discovered girl cousin came to visit they played house for hours. I think the secret may be to accept and support whatever they want to do that isn’t immoral, illegal or (god forbid) fattening.

  9. Richard on said:

    While I, like the author, have only been a parent for a spit over three years, I really do think the crux of it is this: let them choose what they want as long as they understand they can CHOOSE what they want (as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone, cost me any money, or offend my delicate sensibilities). Choice is a difficult concept for us adults to get; imagine what it’s like when you’re 2, or 3, or 5 and your brains don’t work right and you’re so overcome with what you see around you.

    There’s a reason we don’t remember being three. That stuff has got to be rough.

  10. sarah beth on said:
  11. Cindy: “I think the secret may be to accept and support whatever they want to do that isn’t immoral, illegal or (god forbid) fattening.” — Love this!

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