I am not going to discuss something I wore today, but ponder on something I have realized, as I dress up my daughter.
Let me start by stating the obvious. We build gender into the ways we dress babies, communicating to boys and girls the different social expectations from each of them. This blue and pink concept is a bit new in India, but its definitely catching on.
But aside from the fact that certain colors are set aside for men and women, there is a definite hierarchy in terms of what is allowed for the opposite gender. So I dont see too many objections if a girl is dressed in blue, but there are definitely eyebrows raised if a boy is dressed in pink. Why? Is it somehow ok for a girl to be like a boy, but not the other way round?
Its not just with colors. All girls have the freedom to wear boys dresses, trousers, shorts, t-shirts. How many boys have the freedom to wear girls’ clothes.
But I see parents of young boys who absolutely refuse to dress them up in pink. I was even told that could initiate major problems of gender identity confusion among the young ones (oh, if only gender identity issues were so simple).
This was not always so. I know that even when I was younger, young boys would dress like girls in India, they would have their ears pierced, keep a bindi and even sometimes have a payal. The clothes which boys and girls wore were not so different from each other. I think with a lot of siblings, it just got recycled. But now the consumerist culture in this country has also brought in and strengthened its own stereotypes.
This hierarchy is there not just in clothes, but in also the qualities we cherish in the different sexes. Yes, boys are expected to be rough and courageous and manly. Girls are expected to be helpless and sheltered. But popular fiction also celebrates girls who are like boys. Being a tomboy is considered ok or girls, in fact even desirable in some circles. Do you remember your Enid Blyton? Do you remember Georgina aka George from Famous Five. Many of Georgette Heyer’s heroines are also somewhat tomboyish. What I mean is somehow it is ok for a woman to have slightly man like tendencies, in fact it is even considered desirable. But when was the last time, or any time when there has been a celebration of a effeminate hero in books, films or serials.
This desirability of the masculine characters continues in real life also in many ways. One of the most cherished compliments I have received from my husband is that on many occasions, he thinks of me as a man only. He meant it as a compliment, i took it as one, and if I share it with others, people realize what a huge compliment it is.
It is the same compliment I give him in return. There are many times, when I think of him as a woman only. I mean it as a compliment, and I know he takes it as one. But will he share it with others as enthusiastically as I do? And even if he does, will others perceive what a seriously great compliment that is. Or will they think I am insulting him, or that he is henpecked.