By Eithne Cullen
Have you noticed how gendered our children’s clothing has become? The old pink for a girl… idea has gone way beyond a few items of clothing. Just look at a rack of T-shirts: girls are all angels and sweethearts, while boys are all about power and warn us to look out, here comes trouble! The messages are clear and we need to be careful we aren’t forcing our children into roles they aren’t ready for by the clothes we choose for them.
A few years ago, there were groups challenging the idea of having everything pink for girls and not letting them choose for themselves; the protesters implied we shouldn’t be encouraging them to be the same as everyone else but choosing from their own preferences and expressing themselves. My own daughter, when she was little, defied the pink pressure and wanted everything to be yellow! She’s never stopped expressing her individuality, either. She also had non-gendered toys; she had a carpentry set, too. It might be just a coincidence that her boyfriend is a very talented wood-worker. And, yes, my boys played with dolls as much as with cars and trains.
I was knitting for my new granddaughter before lockdown came. I didn’t know whether to knit for a girl or for a boy and, since I wasn’t shopping, I hadn’t got hold of any wool. I’d bought lots of white before the shops shut and had plenty of blue, turquoise, raspberry and a ball of shocking pink. That’s what I worked with. My niece knew she was having a girl, so I was able to provide the white and pinks for her.
I broke away from the traditional and went for bold shapes and patterns and a variety of colours. I was pleased with what I managed to produce for the little girl who eventually arrived and I’m glad to say it’s easier to dress a girl in blue than it is to dress a boy in pink, I think, even in these modern times. Apparently, and I’ve heard this from several sources, it used to be pink for a boy and blue for a girl! Who makes the rules? Why make the changes?
Here’s a poem I wrote while knitting and thinking about the colours I could use:
It’s easy when you know it’s a girl
pink wool, in shades of blush to rose
and shocking for the hint of daring
it’s easy when you know it’s a boy
blue wool, from powder through to
aquamarine, something beefy, go strong
and white for the first days of little hat
of mittens and bootees –
white shawls for Christenings
if you’re unsure, don’t want to offend
there’s beige and mint and lemon
lilac and peach, pastel bland…
or be the one who breaks the mould
forget the lacy stitches be quite bold
use vibrant colours from the start
red for the daring and yellow for the sun
emerald green to please the earth,
and stripes to mix them up, for fun
©Eithne Cullen, August 2020
A few years ago, a colleague was expecting twins and didn’t know whether they were boys or girls or both! I looked in the supermarket for something small and gender-neutral: some socks or bibs, some little vests (not white) or hats. On that day, in that large supermarket, I couldn’t find anything to suit. I know that’s not always the way, but do bibs have to be boy or girl-specific?
Then a few weeks ago the scrubs group I’ve been part of said some of the hospitals are looking for preemie hats, so I stepped up to knit. I researched the hats and found the colours are ranged through red, amber, green… red for the neediest, green for the least. I’m knitting orange. And they’re bright and loud. Not your usual baby knits at all! I must say I’ve enjoyed the break from following complicated patterns and I’m loving the brightly–coloured wool.
Here are a few of the hats I’ve made:
And, by the way, I bought my baby granddaughter a dinosaur T-shirt. It looks great on her. There’s a whole world of gendered clothing to confront as she gets older and I’ll be steering away from the ‘princess’ – and ‘babe’- type clothing as much as I can. Pink will be just one of the colours on the list of colours for her to wear; she’ll be allowed to choose her favourite.
Edd Jones has written this fabulous poem to his little baby girl, who was born in April. Daphne is certainly growing fast and developing her own personality. In this poem, which is almost a father’s love poem to his child, Edd gives her permission to be who she wants to be.
You look adorable in pink
and I can’t decide
if that’s a problem with me.
I should probably be
encouraging a wide range of colours,
activities and potential career paths.
You could – if you want – play for Man United,
but Palermo do play in pink.
You look adorable in blue too,
but that old lady thought you were a boy.
I know that isn’t a problem and
I’ll try and teach you the same.
But how much “fitting in” matters?
How much of your soul to expose?
That’s your balance to find.
It might hurt you.
Dress? Dungarees? Pink or blue?
They’re not you,
They’re just wrapping.
You are your half-formed laugh,
Your curious, grabbing hands
and that all-knowing smile.
You have your own utility.
You are already, are becoming,
will always be.
©Edd Jones, August 2020
Write on! Editor Madeleine White has shared a poem she wrote to celebrate her daughter’s 16th birthday. It expresses the kind of sentiment we want to share with all our children as they move to the next milestone in their lives. In this case, the advice is about being empowered and feeling free to be the woman she can be.
On the occasion of Erin’s 16th birthday
These days Sweet Sixteen is not so sweet.
You must be kind and strong
Know your mind and do no wrong.
Desiring is predicated by perspiring
And aspiration only counts if you’re an inspiration too.
And all the while pixels knot
Like a garotte.
So in the name of liberty, a couple of hard-won tips from me:
It’s enough to just be.
You don’t have to do, or say,
Or behave in a certain way.
It’s enough to just see
With your own eyes –
What others see won’t set you free.
Love surrounds you. All of you.
And, no matter what you say or do
YOU ARE ENOUGH.
Fake it to make it,
Until you believe
In the truth of your reprieve –
Learning, that even as you fall
You will stand tall.
Own your journey:
In the travelling you will
Manage the unravelling.
…It’s your life, after all.
©Madeleine White, August 2020
And finally, just a reminder about the creative initiative we’ve mentioned in Write on! Extra before. There will be lots of opportunities, so start finding out about the Building Bridges project.
Bridging divides and connecting across differences is not always easy but it’s more important than ever. We think it involves listening, sharing and giving up power. We know we want to dream together and collectively lay the foundations for a positive, equal and sustainable future. It’s also about asking, what does bridge-building mean to you?
Over the next year, CBD will be working with Imagineer Productions to explore a programme of creative bridge-building in Barking and Dagenham. The CBD website will be updated as the programme evolves: https://creativebd.org.uk/bridge
If you have any questions, or would like to get involved, you can email CBD via: firstname.lastname@example.org, call us on: 020 8076 6130 or send a text/What’s App message to: 07463 992253. You can also connect with CBD via Twitter: @CreativeBandD, Facebook: creativeBandD or Instagram: creativebandd
The messages are clear and we need to be careful we aren’t forcing our children into roles they aren’t ready for by the clothes we choose for them.