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Feb 3 2014

Burp Cloths Are Gender Neutral, Really

By at 2:08 pm

pinklu

On New Year’s Eve, two of my dearest friends announced that they would be throwing me a baby shower. They also did my wedding shower, a co-ed garden party in my back yard. Guests were only allowed to bring plants or gardening products (seven years of pre-marital cohabitation meant we had all the pots and pans already, and we were doing a travel registry for the wedding itself). It was gorgeous, the food was delicious, and it was exactly the way I thought it should be.

“You have to let us do this one,” they said. “You were too much the boss of your wedding shower.”

Alrighty then! I was only too happy to let them take full creative control. After all, I had a proper registry to focus on, a task that I quickly realized I was in no way mentally or emotionally prepared for. It seems most akin to packing for a trip to another planet, unknown and unexplored.

Friends with similar baby product priorities–chemical free! baby safe! reasonably attractive!–helped out by sending their registries to me. Thus armed, I sat down after work this week and began sorting through the incredible amount of stuff in the world to decide what I thought my friends and family should help us out with for the baby.

Some decisions were easy. There were a few local or friend-owned businesses I wanted to support, and certain brands of baby clothes are completely irresistible to me. My husband had done some car seat research, and I had gotten to test-jog a BOB stroller.

I hit an unexpected wall when I searched for a seemingly mundane item: burp cloths.

For it seems that there are girl burp cloths and boy burp cloths.

Now, I am totally excited that I am having a girl. My registry is full of adorable dresses and sun hats and rock star sunglasses. But in a country where somehow women make less money for working the same jobs as men, on average, why do we feel the need to have separate burp cloths?

I took it to Facebook, asking the same question. Many of my friends responded with similar anecdotes–gender car seats was a particularly needling example. What does it all mean? Obviously people are buying the girl burp cloths and the boy burp cloths (and the girl car seat and the boy high chair and the girl teether and the boy nose bulb–actually, those seem to be mostly unisex). Girls and boys are different–chromosomally at least–but there’s nothing about those chromosomes that indicates color or pattern preferences, sports hats for boys and pink bows for girls. Especially when the boys and girls in question are little id monsters, puking and pooping gender-neutral effluvia all over whatever is in their path. The color/gender corollary even seems to have shifted over the years, according to an article on Jezebel. Yet we seem so sure of it as a society.

My goal for my daughter is to celebrate who she is, but not let any aspects of her identity hold her back from achieving whatever goal she sets for herself. If she doesn’t become a CEO, I want it to be because of her work record or priorities and not because she’s a girl. If she doesn’t want to study the sciences, I want it to be because she has other passions, and not because she was passed over in her science classes because she’s a girl. As arbitrary as it may be, I feel like buying the girl burp cloth means buying into this idea that gender differences extend beyond chromosomes and a few physical differences, and giving the world permission to treat my daughter differently than my friend’s baby boy, due a few weeks earlier.

I bypassed the pink owl burp cloths and the blue bubble burp cloths and following my friends’ advice, added a bulk pack of plain white cloth diapers. Then, and with outsized satisfaction, I added a blue moped-patterned onesie, clearly marked BOYS. Perhaps I’m steering her towards a career in male-impersonation drag. Or asserting my (and her) independence from gender norms. More likely, I’m just giving her a cute little canvas to spill her guts on, one way or another.

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