Raising Richmond: The tomboy trap

Is it equally as sexist to assume that wearing pink ISN’T cool? Why is dressing our children so philosophically complicated!?

My daughter looks really good in pink. Pink and peach, those are winning colors on that baby. This is good, since I’m not trying to raise her to be a tomboy. Yes, you read that correctly–I don’t want my daughter to fall prey to the tomboy trap.

You’ve probably heard women talking about their tomboy days fondly. “Oh, I was such a tomboy!” a woman might say, pride swelling in her voice. “I hated dresses,” another might say.

I’ve pointed out that I only own one skirt in that same tone, so I’m not casting stones here. I’ve been that person to proudly hold up some aspect of myself as proof of my tomboyishness. See how cool I am for being interested in graphic novels, or Star Wars, or refusing to wear dresses as a kid. Look how awesome I am for liking boy things!

And I am sick to death of it, and I won’t stand for it any longer. Not out of my mouth, and certainly not in my house.

When Winnie was about to be born, my knee-jerk reaction to having a daughter was to go out of my way to find non-pink clothing. Little traditionally-boy-gendered flannels: yes, please. Black and grey socks: I’ll take twelve. I was thrilled when her room at the house we’re renting was yellow when we moved in–no pink nursery here. If pink things came into the house, I didn’t exactly toss them, but I also actively sought out non-pink items with a vengeance.

I don’t think refusing to wear pink is the answer to misogyny and princess culture and things that suck about the way women are marketed to.

But…a vengeance against what? Femininity?

Once I asked myself that question, I had to reevaluate. I was having a girl. A daughter. She was going to be, well, maybe likely feminine. At least a little. Maybe.


But then I thought, well, what’s wrong with not being traditionally feminine if that’s just who I am (as the person picking out clothing) and who she might be? The answer is nothing…that is, if that’s the real reason and not just a knee-jerk reaction against the incredible amounts of misogyny women face every day. I don’t think refusing to wear pink is the answer to misogyny and princess culture and things that suck about the way women are marketed to. Either way—whether you embrace the pink because it’s just “what girls should wear” or disown the pink because “girls don’t have to wear pink, they can wear blue”—it’s a decision made based on larger cultural assumptions.

It’s like the argument against taking a male partner’s last name, and keeping your own last name in the name of feminism when your own “maiden” last name came from your father. It’s patriarchal either way. One way is just accepted as being the feminist thing to do, while the other is the traditional thing to do.

But really, no matter which one you choose, you have a last name that is probably your last name thanks to the patriarchy’s lockdown on the name situation. It’s a lose-lose situation if those are the only two acceptable choices (they aren’t, but they seem to be the most common).

Similarly, I can wear corduroys and cardigans all day, I can explain to you the finer points of Han Solo’s backstory, and I can attribute this to my being a “tomboy,” somebody who’s cool, not one of those girls who is less-than, who’s flighty and flirty. I’m not ultra-feminine. I’m better than that. At least, that’s the message I send when I brand myself as a tomboy—I’ve transcended femininity.

So basically, if I’m saying being a tomboy is inherently better than being someone who embraces feminine things, I’m being misogynistic. Feminine tastes are worthy of respect, and I haven’t always been giving of that.

I want my daughter to just enjoy looking good in pink, without having to weigh the pros and cons of donning such a color as a woman.

Of course, it’s problematic as hell though, isn’t it? If boyish things are considered better in our society, then isn’t it just plain smart to push my daughter in the direction of those boyish things? Lean into the curve, as it were. It’s like applying to jobs—you tailor your application to the company you’re applying to, of course. Then why not tailor yourself to your world—if blue (boy) is better than pink (girl), then scorn pink! It’s just basic female street smarts. Is it so wrong to adopt the mannerisms of your oppressors if it will save you headaches and heartaches and will help you circumnavigate the professional world a little easier?

God, it’s enough to give a person a headache. WHY IS THIS SO HARD?

Could we please just agree that pink is totally cool, and that wearing a traditionally feminine color doesn’t have to be a slight? How else am I supposed to take it wearing pink isn’t something many men I know look back on fondly. Where are their equivalent gender-bending triumphs? Do you ever hear men saying “Oh, I never wore pants!” or “I was such a girly boy!” with the pride in their tone the way women talk about being a tomboy? One of these colors is universally considered better than the other, clearly.

I will be so happy when we stop equating the feminine with being less-than. My daughter will be a strong, smart young woman whether she’s wearing lipstick or not, whether she’s learning computer programming or taking a home economics class, whether she’s an engineer or a baker. I want my daughter to just enjoy looking good in pink, without having to weigh the pros and cons of donning such a color as a woman. I want boys to be able to wear pink without being eyebrow-raised at. Is that too much to ask, Universe? It’s not a huge deal, but it would be nice.

For now, I’m just picking clothes based on what looks good on my daughter. She looks good in pink. She looks good in blues, too. I’m trying to ignore the social implications of what I choose, because it’s just too headache-inducing to be a perfect liberal mom in my admittedly male-leaning wardrobe dressing my daughter in gender-neutral clothing. Yellow is so not her color.

Photo by: Suaq

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Hayley DeRoche

Hayley DeRoche is a librarian with a penchant for cardigans and corduroys. Luckily, her professional life revolves more around technology & information than fashion.

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