Welcome to The Baffler’s agony corner, YOUR SORRY ASS, where Amber A’Lee Frost dispenses bossy, judgmental advice on how to live your life fairly, kindly, and with good humor. Send us your rants and pleas, please: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dear Your Sorry Ass,
I don’t know quite how to put this, but I’ve never considered myself somebody who was really interested in smashing children’s gender roles. I’ve read all the op-eds that come out every year about gendered toys and games and the modeled behavior it produces and all that, and it’s not that I disagree . . . I guess I’ve just never felt really felt invested in the whole post-gender project. Just let the kids play with what they want to play with, I always thought, and don’t try to impute too much political value to toy-purchasing.
But now things are different: I’m pregnant with a baby girl, and the minute we found out about the baby’s sex, my family and in-laws started bombarding me with pink nursery stuff, even though we already let them know we have a yellow-themed nursery. It’s all daddy’s-li’l-diva onesies, and so on and so forth. I wasn’t planning on dressing her in unisex jumpsuits, but some of the baby girl clothing getting sent our way is pretty bad—lots of “my daddy says no boys allowed,” “born to wear diamonds,” etc.
Ass, I don’t know what to do: I don’t want my family to think I’m hypersensitive bitch, or that it’s plain gray canvas or bust, but I’m also not going to accuse my own newborn of being a goddamn diva. Help?
Bitch on Board
My Dearest Bitch,
I do not envy your situation; the intercultural and intergenerational conflicts that arise with the blessing of a new baby can be incredibly trying. This is especially true for the mother, who is likely under the mistaken impression that her parenting authority will be respected, especially since she is already lugging around the beautiful bundle of joy as it kicks her in the spine and nestles lovingly upon her bladder.
First of all, I commend you for pursuing a laissez-faire policy on gender socialization; the anguish we now see parents experiencing in vain attempts to create a genderless vacuum for their children puts undue pressure on us all. Despite the best efforts of feminist parenting and Marlo Thomas, children will learn gender roles because they live in a gendered world, but with support and love and exposure to a wide array of Broadway musicals, they will eventually figure out a way to navigate gender that suits them. Best not to sweat the dollies and trucks.
But Bitchy, your objections aren’t some misguided attempt at feminist purity. They’re a matter of taste, my dear! And I say that not to undermine your distress, for they’re a pressing matter of taste, and taste is very much a factor in our quality of life. No one wants their beautiful infant trussed up in ticky-tacky secondary-sex signifiers, which merely gild the cherubic little lily.
Unfortunately, there are only two real options here, but they can be deployed as needed and on a relative-by-relative basis:
1) You can say something.
This can be a very difficult social navigation. My theory is that people tend to latch onto the gender of a baby because babies are kind of . . . difficult to know. When relatives and loved ones hear “boy” or “girl,” they then “know” something about the baby—and because it’s pretty much all they know, they believe it to be meaningful. The gendered gift is, in essence, an effort to forge a relationship with you, the parents, and this new, mysterious lifeform. Those “Daddy’s Li’l Future Berator of High End Florists” onesies are a spiritual, nearly cosmic attempt to connect with humanity’s rawest materials. But they’re still garish as all get-out, so how to deter the gifting of tawdry threads without offense?
The direct approach is all well and good if you come from one of those mythical families that speak openly and honestly with one another, with no fear of offense or reproach. But if you’re writing me and you exist in this dimension, I assume you don’t have that kind of family. In this case, I would recommend misdirection as a technique of direction. A subtly mentioned “we’d like to dress her in patterns and solid colors,” or even the coy “we’ve been looking for plain yellow clothes and can’t seem to find them anywhere!” would guide their purchases without criticizing their previous gifts.
Of course, even the most delicate of hints can be taken as offense, so it’s worth considering—though not obsessing over—your changing relationship with the family member attempting to clothe your yet unborn perfect angel in cheeky advertisements of their future obnoxious behaviors. Is it worth it? How close are you to the family member(s) in question? Are said family members sensitive or overbearing? And perhaps most importantly, how often will they see the baby? If this is some cross-country relation dreaming of your newborn in the cha-cha heels and a bouffant, I refer you to your second option:
2) Say nothing. At all. Just the gracious thank you’s that we reflexively gush upon the receipt of any gift, and nothing more.
Look, odds are that most of your relatives won’t be tracking your baby’s wardrobe rotations—they just want to feel involved in your family’s life. It’s easy enough in this day and age to pay lip service to a terrible gift: just costume that little angel in the infant-sized replica of Julia Robert’s dress from Pretty Woman for five minutes, snap a few pictures on your phone, and send them to the tasteless relative. Then take the offending garment off your baby, burn it, dump it into the ocean, and bathe your baby thoroughly. Little white lies aren’t just easier—they’re often kinder than the truth.
Whatever you decide, it might be some consolation to remember this: Babies themselves have no dignity, and will vomit, urinate, and/or defecate on all clothing indiscriminately.
By all means, your own choices about dressing your baby are paramount, but at the very least you can rest assured she will not develop the sense of self-awareness that allows her to feel sartorial shame (or really, any shame at all) for a very long time! If you wanted, you could dress her up like an Ewok, a turn-of-the-century dock worker, or a tiny Fran Lebowitz for the first year of her life. Not only would she refrain from voicing any objection, she won’t even remember it!
Nonetheless, Bitchy, I am confident you will find a way to style your baby with poise and elan. Congratulations on your impending daughter! May she be healthy, happy, and completely oblivious to corny and anachronistic gender conditioning for quite some time.
Want some Sorry Ass advice from The Baffler? Send your gripes and conundrums to Amber Frost at email@example.com.