There they were. The cutest pairs of baby shoes I’d ever seen, all in a size I guessed to be a quadruple zero. Screaming to be cooed over were designs of polka dots, bandana prints, ladybugs and more, all in buttery soft leather. I picked up a tiny shoe of iridescent pink and blue.
“How can I not buy a pair of these?” I asked my grown son Harry.
We’d gone to the opening of the “Killer Heels” exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum and found the one-night-only promotional display of Lariat Gang’s baby shoes in the gift shop.
“The better question is: Who just had a baby?” he replied.
“Wait, your cousin Jenny just had Addie Mae last week!” I said.
Excited by a real reason to purchase, I scanned the table with purpose. But my eyes kept returning to the shimmer of blue and pink. “I think I like those the best,” I said pointing.
“They are the coolest ones.”
“But are the laces practical?”
“Who cares!” Harry said. “They can always use them as Christmas ornaments later if they want.”
He was right. They’d look fabulous hanging from a tree. Still, I hesitated.
“Do you think they’re too girly? With all that pink, I mean. I usually like to give a baby gift that’s more gender neutral, like books or blocks.”
“Mom, what are you talking about? They’re pink and blue!”
“Yeah, you’re right,” I said, handing them to the salesperson. “I’ll take these, please.”
Later, as I wrapped the shoebox to send to my new great-niece, I scolded myself for having fallen back into the gender-stereotyping trap of colors I’d worked so hard to overcome. And I cringed recalling that I’d said aloud to my son, whose favorite color as a toddler was pink, that the shoes might be perceived as “too girly” because of the pink. In my attempt to stand tall on the mother ship of gender neutrality, clearly I’d gone overboard.
I wanted to kick myself. Instead, I repeated one of my evolved-parent mantras: Colors don’t have a gender.
I knew that historically pink was the more “masculine” color for babies while blue was considered more suitable for girls. So why was I letting myself be influenced by marketers in the 1940s who, for whatever reason, decided to reverse the gendered marketing of colors?
Even my great-aunt Helen, who was 94 when Harry was born in 1990, dismissed the flip-flopped gendering of colors for babies when she knit my son a pink-and-blue blanket. I appreciated her for that back then, because I’d made such a concentrated effort to decorate Harry’s room with every color in the rainbow, including pink.
Helen was an artist and a rebel in her day, much like Harry is today. And I wanted to remain firmly planted in my belief that any color is suitable for any child, no matter what gender they were assigned at birth. Sure, I can choose not to succumb to pink-only baby gifts for girls or blue-only gifts for boys. But if I see a pair of irresistible pink-and-blue baby shoes, I can buy them for an Addie or an Allen. Or maybe just as a gift for me, to hang as ornaments on my tree.
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