I want baby clothes that say every child, no matter their designated gender, has the potential to be strong, smart, and adorable.
People, we need to talk about baby clothes. I have this daughter, you see, who’s six months old and the sparkling joyful light of my life, and I really like dressing her in cute outfits. I love bright colors, silly prints, unnecessary details (why does a baby need overalls with a hammer loop? I don’t know but give me three pairs), and anything with an animal face on the butt.
You know what I don’t love, though? The iron-clad insistence on heteronormativity and the enforcement of binary gender roles.
I’m a queer parent with a genderqueer partner. It is kind of a high priority for me that my child grow up understanding that gender, sex, and family are not strict categories, but concepts that encompass an enormous variety of people and identities. I want to raise her secure in the knowledge that neither her genitals nor her gender (whatever that turns out to be) define who she is or what she can do in the world. But it would be really nice if the purveyors of children’s clothing would occasionally have my back on this.
I shop for my daughter on both sides of the store, because if there’s an animal-butt romper anywhere in the building, I need it, whether it’s in pastels or primary colors. So I’ve had plenty of opportunity to notice that the gender coding of baby clothes extends far beyond the silliness of each side getting custody of half the color spectrum. Sample baby boy onesie: “Little Genius.” Sample baby girl onesie: “Little Diva.” Baby boy: “Mommy’s Tough Guy.” Baby girl: “Born to Wear Diamonds.”
While the writing on baby boy clothing references intelligence and strength as well as “handsomeness,” baby girl clothes are all about the looks. Cutie. Princess. Pretty like Mommy (pardon me while I barf forever). Sometimes they’ll say things like “Be happy!” or “Smile,” because God forbid we let girls develop the ability to understand spoken language before we start policing how they express their emotions. It’s not limited to words, either; while boys’ clothing features a wide variety of animals, of the cute as well as vicious varieties, girl clothing has birds, butterflies, and occasionally a kitten. Always wearing a flower behind its ear, lest anyone doubt that it’s a girl cat.
Let me stress that there is no one more in favor of birds, butterflies, and femme baby animals than me. I love pink. But I am very tired of my daughter being told, before she’s even old enough to sit up unassisted, that she is less strong, less capable, and more decorative than her male-designated counterparts. Why can’t femininity coexist with teeth and claws? Why doesn’t Target carry a pink and lime green sleeper that says “Tough Like Mommy”? A purple ruffled onesie with a dinosaur on it? Why do baby clothes need to be gendered at all?
And why do they ever think it’s cute to make insinuations about babies’ imagined love lives? My child is surprised every time she takes off her socks and discovers she still has feet; pursuing a romantic relationship is the last thing on her mind. So why would I want to buy her a dress that says “Little Flirt”? Or her potentially-future-brother a pair of overalls that say “Chick Magnet”? It’s so weird and uncomfortable to me that anyone is imagining infants dating each other. (And if you’re tempted to say “Oh, chill out, it’s cute,” I want you to take a moment to imagine the shitstorm that would erupt if a major retailer started carrying a rainbow-striped onesie with text saying “Gay Like Mommy.” How much would conservatives piss their pants over the sexualization of children then? OK. So why is it OK if the sexuality you’re projecting onto them is straight?)
The easy solution to this problem is as clear to you as it is to me: Eschew the binary and dress your kid in clothes from both sides of the store. Obviously, this is what I do. Not to brag, but my daughter can rock the shit out of a plaid button-down and jeans. And can you guess what people say to her in public when she does? Right: “What a handsome little boy! How old is he?” Then they get all offended at me for answering “She’s almost six months old,” like I’ve deliberately misled them.
“How will anyone know she’s a girl if she’s wearing jeans?” I mean, I’m a woman wearing jeans and it doesn’t seem to be a huge struggle. But more to the point, why do you care? What’s the worst thing that can happen if you guess my infant child’s genitals incorrectly? I can’t get over this assumption that my child’s gender is the most important thing about her, that I should take care to broadcast it in every social interaction, no matter how casual. I hate that there’s no way to opt out, no way to insist that people stop projecting gender roles onto my child, unless I want to make a big thing about it every single time a stranger comments on how cute she is.
I want baby clothes that say every child, no matter their designated gender, has the potential to be strong, smart, and adorable. I want pink dinosaurs and butterflies driving trucks. I want monsters with ruffles. I want pink and blue and green and yellow and purple and lots of plaid. And I want strangers to stop asking about my baby’s gender as though if they know that, they know everything about her. Because I want to teach her that being a girl doesn’t determine who she is or what she’s capable of—she gets to do that for herself.
Lindsay King-Miller is a queer femme who does not have an indoor voice. Her writing has appeared in Bitch Magazine, Cosmopolitan.com, Buzzfeed, The Hairpin, and numerous other publications. She lives in Denver with her partner, a really cute baby, and two very spoiled cats. She is the author of Ask A Queer Chick (Plume, 2016).