It's just a color. Or is it?

Today I had a battle at Nordstrom's.

Not with the very nice, timid, bespectacled sales woman. Not with my curious, friendly, excited 2 1/2 year old. Not with my wallet and self control. But with myself, my feminism, my fears, and my lifelong conditioning regarding gender appropriate things.

Last year I bought Hawk a pair of nice brown Crocs (and don't even get me started on how ugly I think they are, but as far as practical shoes go for 100+ degree weather and the ease with which they slip on they are simply magical). I deliberately chose brown because it's a neutral color as far as fashion goes, as well as gender.

I've always avoided traditional "boy clothing." I never buy things with footballs, baseballs, or fishing lines on them, or pithy little sayings on the front about his "manliness" or "masculinity." (Likewise, I will never dress my little girl in anything that says something about her "perfection" or "princess-like" qualities so long as I'm in charge of making the fashion decisions.) I buy pink shirts whenever available and I also buy him dolls and kitchen sets and we watch The Little Mermaid on demand (ad nauseum).

His room is yellow with a nature/kitschy look. I don't think anyone would necessarily walk into his room and think, "A little boy lives here." They would certainly know a child occupied it, but that's about it. There's a cheetah with an eye patch, an etched dove, artwork by my sister, and felt birds on the walls. A heart pillow on the wooden rocking chair and baskets full of stuffed animals, blocks, and books round out the look.

I also encourage him to be sensitive, thoughtful, careful, and loving. I applaud his efforts at making friends by being gentle, friendly, and curious. I let him explore our world by "applying" makeup with my big fluffy brushes and stomping around with my stilettos on his chubby toddler feet. I am patient with him when he balks at slides and high jumping points and I always listen to him and stop when he says, "No" to tickling, playing, kissing, whatever.

However, despite all my efforts, this time of omnipotent control over what goes on Hawk's body is coming to a close and I am being faced with my own misgivings. He is developing strong preferences for certain things. Like the shirt with the tractors all over it that his Granddad sent him. Or the shirt with the airplane on it that his Nana mailed for his birthday. He has little to no interest in things with animals on the front, it's all gears, vehicles, "robots" (whatever he thinks looks like a robot).

So while I'm not crazy about all these "typically" masculine things I feel pretty ok with it. I think to myself, "Well, he's coming by it honestly at least" and I go about my day. But today when given the choice of color of Crocs Hawk went straight for the hot pink ones.

Let me set the scene a little bit more. I gather up 7 pairs of Crocs (that's right, SEVEN) and lay them all out on the floor: two navy blue and one each of bright blue, kelly green, glowing orange, lavender, and hot, hawt pink. I'm thinking to myself that I'm really cool with whatever he picks. I mean, hey! I'm laying out pink ones, right? I'm an evolved mother!

So when he dives for those pink ones immediately I am suddenly overwhelmed by a sense of embarrassment. First at the idea of him running around for the next year in pink shoes, then at myself for being embarrassed in the first place. What difference does it make? Ever?? Not just now at 2, but even at 12 or 17? If the kid wants to wear pick effing shoes, then he should wear pink effing shoes.

But I know Hawk and he's only been able to pick colors lately (he usually has no preference). I ask him again if he really wants the pink ones. He tosses them aside and picks up the bright blue ones. I instantly feel relieved and then guilty. My guilt makes me ask him yet AGAIN if those are the shoes he really wants. He puts the blue ones down and oohs and ahhs over the ghastly orange ones. Now I'm screwed. I've completely confused him and I'm still unable to get him to pick the shoes that would make mommy most comfortable (that'd be the more fashion-neutral navy blue ones, by the way).

I've read about other parents struggling with this issue (like Dad Who Writes and Annie @ PhD in Parenting) and I have friends who talk about working on the balance between their children's desires and their own adult biases. The bottom line is that yes, we know the implied gender difference between a pair of pink shoes and blue, but children at this age do not. Yes, they might get harassed at the playground, but is it really our job to shelter them from the impact of their decisions? Good or bad?

And why am I feeling so strongly about pink shoes on my son? I can say, without a shadow of a doubt, I wouldn't feel anything like this regarding a daughter wanting to wear camouflaged Crocs.

Did I mention that I'm evolved?? Hahaha!

There will come a time when fitting in is paramount and I'm sure I'll be cringing then, too, as Hawk acts rough and tough and says and does ridiculous things to "prove" his boyness to other boys (and girls). Then it will eventually level out in late adolescence as he becomes more comfortable with himself and he finds the right balance within who he is and wants to be (whatever that may be). At least this is what I hope happens.

But for now, I am going to go to great lengths to let him enjoy the full spectrum of his rainbow, no matter which color or object it might be made of. If it includes robots, trucks, tractors, and pink shoes, then so be it.

And so, in the end, Hawk got his pink shoes.

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  1. I gotta be honest here, I'd be fine with the hawt pink...but my husband on the other hand.

    It'd be a no go...

    That's the deal here. His son is not wearing pink crocs, end of it.

    No questioning of adult biases there.

    But, for me, I hear ya...and I agree with what you did. Why put your stuff on the little guy, right?

    Great post.

  2. I have the opposite issue with my daughter. I'm trying to steer her AWAY from pink and she's drawn to it like a moth to a flame.

    And then, on the flip side, I found out that I had issues with dressing my son in his sister's clothes when he was born. I like gender neutral, but I couldn't quite deliberately dress my newborn son in very pink and frilly clothes. Even though he probably couldn't even focus his eyes well enough to see them.

    I like to think I'm evolved, but this gender stuff is HARD.

  3. It does not end with shoes... if you are aware of this stuff, and it is important, it could be an endless internal (or endless on-blog) discussion for you. Our son named his kitten "Queenie" and a neighbor snorted at that name (implying lack of manliness coming from our 9 year old) I just chalk all that up to narrow-mindedness and fear of their own sexuality.

  4. I think it's cool And you know what? My fiance has those same exact pink Crocs and proudly carries a Hello Kitty wallet. I think if they made Helly Kitty underwear in men's and his size he would wear them, hehe.

    It doesn't bother me - but you wouldn't believe the comments he gets from other people!

    We just laugh it off. I love that man!

    I did the same things for my kids -- steering clear of the gender typing. Now that they are teens, they choose for themselves, and I am happy to say they do pretty well (even if my 17 yo son loves going around with a pink wristband just to mess with folks, hehe)

  5. Good for you! It is hard to let our kids be themselves. My 12 year old daughter hasn't worn dresses in years. On any given day you can find her dressed for school in a pair of athletic shorts, boxy t-shirts and tennis shoes. She dresses like a tom-boy and yet wears nail polish. Whatever! The less I tried to control what she wore, the smoother our mornings became - it starts early. Kuddos - found your post by clicking a link on Scary Mommy btw. I'll be "checking you out" now. Love your perspective! - Emily

  6. Looked on zappos and they carry 35 pink men's shoes. This is a non-issue. Love. D in pgh.

  7. PS I can't believe I just wrote gray. I am British. Grey! Grey! Grey!

  8. It's a difficult one. I'm going to be honest; I'd probably have vetoed the pink shoes myself. I guess I'm not as evolved as I'd like to think. My partner wears pink socks which look incredibly cool, though. Basically the world is not fair: girls get to wear whatever they want and boys have to wear black, gray, blue or brown.

  9. Let's face it. Pink is an awesome colour. It is bright and cheerful. Why wouldn't anyone like it.

    My boy wants to wear pink because his sister does. and while I let him out of the house with a ponytail in his short hair, I haven't let him wear a pink sweatshirt. Just because it is easier on me. I don't have to say, actually he's a boy.

    And he really acts like a boy. He loves cars like you wouldn't believe. I felt a little guilty encouraging that this weekend when I gave him a bag of cars to occupy him on the train. but he was happy. So happy.

  10. My son is the little brother of 2 girls and so is my brother so I know what can happen to the fashion model, I mean little guy. And that he can still turn out to be a "regular" guy.
    My husband is 1 of 2 boys with very old fashioned parents so he has a harder time with gender crossing clothes.
    I do wonder though, how far to let the make-up and fairy clothes go. I painted my nails on Saturday and he wanted it too. I painted one toe the blue-green I was using and put the girls' glitter on the rest. Then we went out and he wore sandals - my husband was bothered by this.
    But, really some of the differences between boys and girls come out early, I still maintain his only motivation for being mobile (scooting while sitting rather than crawling) was so that he could turn any and every thing into a car.

  11. Hi--found this via BlogHer...congratulations on being chosen for the "Voice of the Week"! Love this entry, and the photos--Hollis looks so darn happy with the new crocs! Your writing is great, I'm adding you to my feed reader!

    You're certainly not alone in this gender specific challenge--my son wants to wear a dress to school and currently sports red nail polish on his toes!

  12. Hi There !! Love your blogg !!! Possted it to FB .

  13. I'm coming by a little late, but wanted to comment anyway. Your son looks really happy in those pink shoes and I think it's cool you bought the ones he wanted. Cultural connotations aside, pink is a wonderful color! Looking at it and wearing it makes me happy, and I'm not a Barbie-loving princess, either.

    I don't have a boy (yet), but our 3-year-old daughter rejects the gender roles set up for her. She watches Disney Princess movies and then declares she is the prince. She turns her chirpy little voice low and says "Yrr the princess! I'm gonna marry you!" It hurts her feelings when someone tells her she MUST be the princess because she's a girl. It's quite honestly not what I was expecting and it threw me for a bit of a loop at first, but we tell her she can pretend to be what she wants to. I want her to know I love and accept her the way she is, and that starts now.

  14. I think it can be hard to not go overboard in the gender neutral thing. I mean, I wanted to get my daughter a doll AND a truck for her first birthday. I don't want to steer her specifically toward one or the other, I want her to enjoy them both... if that is her desire. I guess I just don't want it to be assumed that she can't or won't like "boy things" but that shouldn't mean that she can't like girl things or wear pink, either.

    I used to hate pink, probably because I'm not terribly girly. But I've come to terms with pink and don't mind it now. Our daughter has some pink stuff and I'm okay with that. She has lots of "neutral" stuff, too and we deal with the "boy or girl?" questions when we're out. I was being asked that through most of my childhood myself!

  15. I used to look after a little boy whose favorite colour was pink. For his 4th birthday he told me he wanted a pink car. So I did my damndest and found him one. And no, it wasn't Barbie's car either. He was over the other day at my daughter's birthday and I was handing out ballonns. I had a pink one and a green one and I asked "Cole, do you still like pink?" (He's in grade 2 now). He said, yes he still likes pink but he prefers blue and green now. He took the green balloon. They all grow up, consciously shaped by their gender or not.

  16. So...I really do think that boys, in general, are drawn to certain things. Boys' and girls' brains just work differently. We have tried to give him both "masculine" and "feminine" things to play with, and while he likes his doll, he LOVES his power tools.

    While I think it's dumb that boys have been assigned certain colors, and girls certain colors, I don't think I could bring myself to let him wear feminine clothing. Pink toothbrush? No problem. Pink glittery shoes? No thanks. Pink boy polo shirt? I could do that. I do think boys should be allowed to enjoy the pretty colors, too! Two of my brothers claim pink as their favorite color. They just need to make "boy" clothes in a greater variety of colors.

  17. My son is about to turn 2 and while we're far from gender neutral we couldn't care less about fashion :) He wore super orange WATERSOCKS all summer long...with regular socks...to daycare. I doubt my husband would go for the pink ones but I know the orange ones would've passed our par :)