A few days ago, I was at our local Once Upon a Child looking for some 12 month PJs for my 7-month-old son because he is absurdly long, and immediately I noticed that the pajamas were divided into “boy” PJs and “girl” PJs. I decided I would check out both sections and just get whatever I thought was cute, regardless of gender.
Little did I know, this “go with your gut” approach doesn’t really work when you’ve had gender roles seared into your brain since your own parents went shopping for PJs and they were divided by gender.
There were plenty of “girl” PJs that I thought were adorable, but I hesitated to pick them up for my son. They were so…pink. People would talk. Strangers would assume he was a girl. Eventually I found a blueish-teal set of PJs in the “girl” section, which made me feel a bit better, except they were covered in castles and unicorns and even had a little silk bow on the neckline.
My gut said just forget it, go get the Spiderman PJs and go home feeling comfortable but maybe a twinge guilty. My brain said that if I can’t even let a baby wear cute unicorn PJs, then I am part of the problem of the patriarchy.
How the Patriarchy Hurts Men
The patriarchy is obviously devastating for women, but it is devastating for men too. According to the patriarchy, there is only one way to be a man. A straight, stoic, strong, unemotional, provider. I never want my son to feel limited like that. I want him to be himself, fully. But if that’s what I want, I need to create an environment that shows him that boys and men can be anything.
I need to buy him unicorn PJs.
So I did. I was so nervous my husband would be upset, I was nervous my parents and in-laws would be upset, but at the end of the day, my job as a mother is to give my kids every opportunity I can. That includes the opportunity to love soft, happy things like unicorns and rainbows.
The Identity of “Feminist” Is Less Important Than the Actual Work of Feminism
I’ve considered myself a feminist for years now, and I feel like I have a relatively nuanced understanding of feminism and the ways it helps people of all genders, but I’m always learning; right now I’m reading Hood Feminism by Mikki Kendall!
Something I read several years ago is finally starting to sink in and resonate with me now: “being a feminist” will never be enough. “Feminist” is an identity, a label you can give yourself without actually doing anything, but “feminism” is a movement that requires action. You cannot be part of feminism without doing feminist things.
Basically, it’s great to call yourself a feminist because just using the word “feminist” can start conversations and it shows support for gender equality. But even more important is to do things in your daily life that are actively feminist. Buy your son the unicorn PJs. Don’t tell your daughter to be “ladylike.” Make sure you open doors to all kinds of self-expression for your kids, regardless of gender.
Easier said than done, as I learned recently, but this is the work we agreed to do when we became parents. We agreed to love our kids no matter what.
Let’s show them that we mean it.