Why do men fear yellow sleepers?
Here's why I'm asking: In the tradition of the great karmic payback of parenting, we passed some of our old baby clothes on to a dear friend. She went through them, held up the cutest yellow sleeper you've seen in your entire life, and sighed "Awww." Then she tossed it on the reject pile.
"Why?!" I asked. She shrugged, "Tim will never let our baby boy wear a yellow sleeper."
I had no idea yellow was so close to pink. "What's the worst that could happen," I exclaimed, "he could be gay?"
My friend tripped over herself to assure me that neither she nor her husband, whom she refers to as her "partner" - he does carry a man-purse and watch Medium - were homophobic. They just didn't want their son to look girlier than other three-month-olds.
My poor friend was squirming, and I was so enjoying being self-righteous and judgmental that I pointed out that both she and I were girls, and wasn't her partner's fear of the feminine offensive to women? She popped me on the head with a soo-soo and rightly countered that, anyway, the yellow sleeper had spit-up stains on it, so what kind of a mother was I, dressing my kids like street urchins?
Many men and women who called themselves feminists back in the day are dismayed to see themselves become gender-role police once the babies arrive.
They find themselves subtly diverting their boy tots from butterfly lunch pails or Dora running shoes ("Diego's nice too," I heard a dad whispering conspiratorially to his son in Payless).
It's 2007. Why can't we shake our gender panic? I just can't buy that it's for the sake of our itty-bitty infants' future self-esteem.
Will my six-month-old be shunned at baby-and-me yoga for his sunhat with the wide Joan Crawford-esque brim?
Oh no, if we don't give him a buzz cut, none of the other drooling, head-flopping, relative newborns will sit with him at Movies for Mommies.
I'm sure there are those who will say YSF (yellow sleeper fear) is actually a hangover from the caveman days, but how many of us still use our protruding foreheads to crack nuts? It's hard to believe that a newborn boy in pink pyjamas so threatens the patriarchy, but that just shows on what shaky ground it is founded.
There are a few mavericks who actively fight YSF. We have some friends who refused to use pronouns for their first baby. They gave the child a pageboy haircut and dressed her/him in gender-neutral colours, so that no one, either consciously or unconsciously, could predetermine little Dylin's personality by responding to him/her either as a tough little bruiser or a pretty little flower.
I admired their tenacity. But I could never have taken the heat that Dylin's parents got. People got irritated and outraged by the parents' refusal to answer, "Is it a boy or a girl?" with anything other than, "It's Dylin."
The whole thing was fascinating, but it did get a bit untenable after a while. When you get into statements such as "Dylin has a little rash around her/his penis," it might be time to give up the experiment and move on to fighting something easier, like an active volcano or the tobacco companies.
Still, there is such a short period of time that we can get away without gender-typing our children, we need to grab it.
Just last week, that bubble of time burst for us.
It started off well. My eldest son decided to wear nail polish for the first time. I was totally into it. Why shouldn't he enjoy bright colours at his fingertips?
Then he told me he wanted to wear the nail polish to school. I was immediately tempted to destroy the open-hearted notion that we'd worked so hard to instill: that boys and girls could be and wear anything they wanted. Part of me desperately wanted to take the nail-polish remover to him.
I was torn: protect him from potential teasing or let him enjoy what clearly delights him and see whether he can stave off the censure himself. I held back.
When he came home, he gave me an education about what aesthetics are appropriate to boys and to girls. Further, he decided he didn't want to wear nail polish again. I suggested he could wear it at home and take it off for school. He looked at me like I was from Mars. Why would he want to do that? Didn't I know the rules?
Every day, my children teach me that, while they may easily pick up my annoying mannerisms almost by osmosis (like whispering "oy" when getting out of a chair), I am not the only mother out there. The world is a harsh and powerful one.
So I went out and bought some kid nail polish that washes off with water. We wear it before bath time. And sometimes, we even wear yellow.
Diane Flacks is an actor, writer, mom, multitasker and author of the book Bear With Me.
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