To quote a line by one of my favourite authors, Jane Austen, from her novel Pride and Prejudice : “He is a gentleman, and I am a gentleman’s daughter. So far we are equal.” So simple, so straightforward, Austen erodes any sense of gender inequality with that one line. This morning I captured my children, doing what they do on a daily basis, Denny deciding on a pink plastic pony as her plaything of choice while Noah grabbed a pink car from the collection in their toy garage. I dressed them both and on reflection, noted the marked gender stereotypes emanating from the photographs I had taken.
The blue is for boys and pink is for girls rhetoric that has only taken hold of our social constructs in recent times was evident in my wardrobe choices for them, and the gender-specific toy selections made by each of them whether consciously or otherwise.
Christian Dior said, “The tones of gray, pale turquoise and pink will prevail” and by this I understand to mean that while the blue and pink denotations of gender are overwhelmingly present in everyday life, there remains a gray area. That space which allows for individuals who don’t fit the expected mould to exist. A space that isn’t really gray at all, but is really made up of every colour, creed, race, gender and persuasion.
I’ll confess, I embrace the girlie pink and boyish blue at times but you’ll also find my son wearing his sister’s pink rain-jacket or my daughter wearing a t-shirt proclaiming LITTLE DUDE. My kids play with dolls and trains; my daughter dresses up like a princess and likes to play rough and tumble with the boys in her class; my baby boy regularly finds himself accessorised with ribbons and bracelets. There is no set definition for how either of them is expected to be, except for themselves.
I don’t think I realised how much, colour and other symbols, came to define us until I had children. If only those narrow-minded enough to consistently reinforce those pink and blue generic stereotypes would look beyond the child and see ahead to that child’s potential future. A parent, an architect, a mechanic; playing with dolls, lego or cars merely provides our children with the simple tools to spark their imaginations that may shape their future selves.
I want my children to grow up, certain in the knowledge that their gender will not define their choices but at the same time, to embrace the power that lies within both femininity and masculinity. I want the woman Denny becomes to know she is equal to her male counterparts in her ability to apply her intellect and talents, constantly multitask and foot the emotional bill when it comes to her children. And I want the man Noah becomes to take ownership of his own happiness, however that should manifest.
But most of all I want them both to know that they can change the conversation. Once upon a novel, it was a truth universally acknowledged that men held the power and women sat pretty but the real power lies with the author, and only she or he can decide how the story plays out.