How should my child’s gender be defined?

Guest post by Denise Fixcat

Denise, her husband, and baby Nikte.
Denise, her husband, and baby Nikte.
My mother-in-law insisted on finding out the sex of the baby to plan the baby shower, and we agreed to go get an ultrasound at 7 months. At first my husband and I said we would not find out, but once there, decided we wanted to know. The ultrasound technician said the baby was going to be a boy–“90% probability.” He showed us what seemed to be testicles but, in fact, were swollen labia.

The day baby girl Nikte (Mayan for flower) was born my mother-in-law ran to the store to get her pink blankets and ruffled items of clothing, and so did everyone else once they found out he turned out to be a she. When we got home we had to decide what to discard from her arsenal of clothing from the baby shower–goodbye puppies, cars, trucks and baseball caps, and hello flowers, hearts and butterflies.

As a Mexican, I do plan to pierce her ears. I have procrastinated because I’m indecisive about where to get it done and am dreading her inevitable misery the rest of the day and night.I know it will hurt her now less than later and she’ll be able to wear earrings later on…if she wants. I don’t wear any, in fact, I hardly ever do. Growing up with an ultra feminine mom, I rebelled in my teenage years by wearing extra large clothes that hid my female figure. I admit I was embarrassed of my big breasts, which I now appreciate much more. They have become more than just sexy to me after breastfeeding my baby.

I’m all about embracing womanhood, and I even got my baby some cute little bows–but they kept slipping off. I stopped putting them on her, and those cute little head bands fall off her as well. She’s got this cute spiked up hair without the need of gel or hairspray which my husband loves because it matches his mohawk. We are at peace with her hair, but the most ridiculous thing I heard was putting toothpaste on her hair so the bow stays. She’s cute anyway, and I agree putting a bow would make her look even cuter, but I’m not putting toothpaste on her hair just so she can satisfy the gender stereotype that society requires.

She’s only three months old, and I’m trying to let her be as free as possible before she needs to fulfill all those set perceptions about being a woman. Maybe she will choose not to fulfill them at all, and that’s totally fine with me. It took me years to finally embrace flowers, the color pink and girly stuff (my favorite color is still blue). Being a woman is a wonderful thing, and it’s not just something that’s defined between the legs. Ultimately, it’s not up to the world or even me to define what it means to be a woman for her.

Comments on How should my child’s gender be defined?

  1. “Being a woman is a wonderful thing, and it’s not just something that’s defined between the legs. Ultimately, it’s not up to the world or even me to define what it means to be a woman for her.”

    This is the best quote I have heard in a long time. Well said, mama.

    My mother changes my daughter’s (7 months) clothes when she babysits after I leave the house. Saying she has to see her granddaughter in pink frills because after all, SHE’S A GIRL. To be quite honest, she looks better in orange.

  2. I do not have any children but as a women’s studies major I have thought alot about how I want my children to grow up (in regards to their views on gender, sex and sexuality). I want to instill in my future children the difference between sex and gender. Also that there are not only two sexes (despite what bathroom doors say). I think it is amazing that you discarded all of the ‘Im a girl this is what a girl is’ clothes and toys. I hope that I will be able to do that when the time comes.

  3. We brought our daughter home from the hospital in a blue and purple jumper, and when the nurse saw us she said, “Oh, nothing in pink? Is it a hand me down?” Lame. As a mom and an early childhood educator, I think it’s crucial that kids be allowed to explore their personality– I hate it that society says its cute for a girl to be a tomboy, but not cute for a little boy to wear a dress. And it’s ‘CUTE’ to be a tomboy– not a serious personality choice. It’s just ‘cute.’

    My other issue is with the value placed on colors. They’re freaking colors. Playing with a blue truck is not going to make my daughter sexually confused later. If I had a son, and he played in a pink baby gym, it would not cause him to want to become a ballet dancer– and if it did, so what?

    • thank you, thank you, and thank you some more. playing with his sister’s princess dolls is not going to cause my little nephew to grow up wanting to have sex with men – and if it did, SO WHAT?

      to quote Madonna:

      Girls can wear jeans
      And cut their hair short
      Wear shirts and boots
      ‘Cause it’s OK to be a boy
      But for a boy to look like a girl is degrading
      ‘Cause you think that being a girl is degrading

  4. From the minute she could show preference, my girl wanted pink clothes, preferably with sparkles and ruffles. I’m of the mind that what you wear doesn’t matter as long as it doesn’t keep you from doing something you want to do. That she wore all these pink, ruffly, sparkly things to play dinosaurs and monsters demonstrates, I think, that she really chose both the “girly” and the “boyish” things for herself.

    I wonder what it would be like to have a boy? As another commenter said, it’s “cute” for a girl to be a tomboy, but people tend to freak over a boy being “girly.”

    • Things are changing though. At the day care I work at, a mom came to pick up her kid-and said her son looked really cute in the dress up clothes he was wearing-a lavender tutu, a police officer jacket, and a construction hat. He told me earlier when he put on all three that a police officer could be a ballerina after arresting people!

  5. Some people do freak over a boy being girly. When my 9 yo son was 2, he used to carry his cars around in a gold sequined purse of mine that he had found. I didn’t really care for the purse (it was a gift), so I let him carry it around. Now, he thinks that story is funny and he’ll tell it to others. He just likes the attention. I guess he always has.

  6. My Brother in Law refused to let his son wear a pair of lime green and rainbow swim shoes that someone gave him. There wasn’t even any pink or lavender on the shoes, but he decided that rainbows are somehow reserved soley for girls.
    It pretty much broke my brain trying to figure out why a boy shouldn’t wear rainbows, because, seriously, even if they were “girly” what exactly did my brother in law think was going to happen if he let the kid wear them? Are rainbow swim shoes step one along the pathway to transvestite-land?And if so, so what?

    Anyway, my daughter is almost one, and we alternate between girly, unisex and “boy” clothes and toys as much as possible, because we want her to know that it’s all ok, and she can be whoever she wants to be.

  7. I don’t have kids yet, but I already know that while I LOVE pink and purple and traditionally “girly” things, I am going to make a point of having my kids choose the things that they are interested in. I won’t buy just boy-things if I have a boy, and I won’t buy just girl-things if I have a girl. I want and need a mix of both in my child’s life in order for them to grow up to be balanced individuals. This is a source of contention with my in-laws, since they believe that certain things are “boy” things (trucks, trains, k*nex, etc) and others are “girl” things (dolls, cooking, house centres, etc). I especially see it being a problem if I allow my (future) son to play with dolls with them around, and their scandalized looks/opinions.

    • My father-in-law was a little bit scandalized when he first saw my son playing with dolls and with a toy kitchen, but after I explained that I felt a boy should learn to love and care for others as much as a girl, and further, that if he had a problem with seeing these things and continued to make snide remarks/faces, I could severely limit the amount of time he got to spend with my son, he swallowed it. Later, he even came to accept it.

      • When I got my ears pierced as a teenager it really, really hurt. I am worried that piercing a child’s ears will confuse them. They may not know why they’re in pain. I was able to say – well it really hurts but I want to wear earrings so it’s worth it. Won’t the child be freaked out about why their ears hurt for days?

    • i had mine done when i was 3 1/2, im so thankful that my mom let me choose it have it done (i begged her to let me get it done)

      i think if my parents had decided to modify my body as a baby i would be upset.

      • I think that’s funny. I think the first time I realized that everyone didn’t get their ears pierced when they were a baby was when i was maybe 8 or 10 and watching Full House and DJ wanted to get her ears pierced.

        I guess maybe it’s a cultural thing. Everyone I’ve known with an “ethnic” background got their ears pierced within their first 3 months.

  8. My daughter is 9 months old and I really do try to dress her pretty unisex but my mum loooves buying girly clothes. But my reason for getting her unisex clothes is really twofold.
    One, that I don’t want her defined by the colours she wears and two, that I plan on having more kids and clothes don’t come cheap. I want to be able to use them if I have boys or girls.

  9. I have two daughters one is 8 and the other is 3 1/2 months. I pierced both of my girls at 2 months, and they both cried for a few seconds and then were fine. My oldest became very ill just before she turned a year old, and we had to remove her earrings while she was in the PICU. Now she is to scared to get them re-pierced, but at the same time she hates that she can’t wear earrings. She tells me all the time that she is so mad her first holes closed up! I think piercing ears at a young age is fine if that is what you want to do. I know that some people disagree with it, but in my incredibly honest 8 year old’s words “I wish I could have done everything that hurts before I could remember it!”

    • I know 5 billion Latina mamas can’t be wrong, but getting your ears pierced when your earlobes are still little can lead to uneven piercings or having the hole too far back because your earlobes, like everything else, grow too!

      • Can anyone explain this tradition to me? I know a lot of East Indian children also get their ears pierced at a young age. I have always wondered the reasons different cultures do the earrings thing.

        • Same here!

          I was very young when I had my ears pierced, they were done by a piercer who was a family friend and she left a couple of weeks between piercing one ear, then the other.

          I went on to get other piercings in my teens, but I do treasure my first set. I don’t plan on piercing my children’s ears but would give my blessing if they asked.

          • I know the subject of piercing a babies ears can kind of drag on…but ever since I knew I was having a girl (who’s now 2 months) I never wanted to pierce her ears as a baby…but my mother in law, who’s Mexican, for the longest time couldn’t accept my decision, and even when my daughter was in the special care nursery for 10 days she would come and visit, and bring me ear rings (adult size…mind you) and say they were for our daughter.
            Now, I respect when people DO decided to pierce their OWN daughters ears…but I got my ears pierced when I was 5 after doing well in school, I remember picking out my ear rings…and I remember it not hurting that bad. The sad thing is, I’m now being told that I’m “denouncing” my husband and his culture because of it…and all over ear rings…it’s kind of silly, ha.

          • i’m glad i have/will be having boys so i don’t have to deal with the ear piercing question. all i know is that if i had a girl i wouldn’t pierce her ears until she was at least 5, when i was younger i pulled my ear rings through my ears and had to have plastic surgery to repair it, only to gauge my ears years later

  10. I’m not much for gender stereotypes. With my 2nd child we we’re told we we’re having a boy and she came out minus the hardware. She wore a blue sleeper home. lol I’ve always been more of a “black tank top” kind of girl, so my girls never wore pink or frilly crap until they we’re old enough to choose it for themselves. At this point my “supposed-to-have-been-a-boy” daughter, Zoe is 12 and ALL girl.

    Kids become who they want to be and as long as you set a loving foundation and give your complete support to them, who cares what they wear!

    Congrats on your little lady, she is a beauty.

  11. I have a policy to dress my little girl in all the things she’d never be caught dead wearing later.
    This includes tutus, overalls, sparkly stuff, shirts that have dinosaurs and puppies on them, hello kitty bows, mud, old food, diapers for hats.

    As much as we get caught up in gender role defining (which is really a healthy part of development), we get caught up in trying not to define it too hard sometimes too. My parents told me “Oh we’re sure you’re going to dress her up in little rocker baby clothes and she’s going to grow up to be the complete opposite”, when in fact I love to dress my little lady up like a faux Disney Princess (without all of the daddy hangups, of course!)

    We have to stop trying so hard to not do what everyone else does, because then it just becomes juvenile and pretentious. I’m not accusing anyone of doing this. I’m just agreeing that we need to leave the choice open and not settle for anyone’s standards.

    She wants to wear a dress one day, then a tuxedo the next, take some pictures and celebrate. You want to dress her up in a shirt that says “Boys best friend” and has a picture of a robot dog on it because you like robot dogs? Do it guilt free!

    • I completely agree with you. One of my friends said to me, after learning that the theme for our baby shower was monkeys and we got so many monkeys plush toys for Nikte, that she would secretly grow up hating monkeys and love giraffes instead. Who knows? All I can do is show her all the animals in the jungle. The same thing for colors and clothes and all the other things. I mean, somehow I will inevitably demonstrate my preference for monkeys, for example, because that’s what I like, but I hope that she will feel free to tell me that she doesn’t like them as much as I do if that’s the way she feels.

  12. Oh and to address the piercing thing…I am a body modification artist and we do babies earlobes in our shop sometimes. You’d probably be better off going to a professional piercer than someone at a mall shop with a stud gun.

    For me personally, I waited until my daughters asked for it to be done. But then again I also let my daughter have her nose pierced at 10. It’s all personal preference.

  13. i found out what my next child is going to be and i have this HUGE fear of finding wait, it’s not a boy like you prepared for but a girl

    see i’m not a girly girl and when i had my son i thought HEY this is great i could relate to his gender a little more and when it came to baby stuff i said NO CARS NO SPORTS i’m going to let him be himself and not his baby things determine what he likes or doesn’t like, i feel if from an early age you shove things like cars or certain sports in a child’s face you’ll make them like it, even if they didn’t in the first place

    • My concern with boys = sports/cars is not that they’ll like it, but that they won’t feel the freedom to express DIS-like, or preference for something that is traditionally girl.

      • that’s pretty much what im trying to avoid

        see my son has a cousin who’s 2 years older and his cousins father pushes him to like “manly” things

        on the other hand my son isn’t pushed into anything…. he has cars and dolls and dinos and kittens i’m trying to expose him to everything i can in a short time

        now my cousin and i are having kids about a month and a half apart, and i kind of worry how my cousin’s husband’s views will be translated thru their newest son

  14. The gender thing is hard. I struggle with it with my son every day. Lots of cute clothes are “off limits” with my husband, who thinks they aren’t masculine enough, and by default, “gay”. But, my husband has let up a lot after seeing just how gosh darned cute our son is in rainbow panda baby legs and a polka dotted diaper cover.

    For the headband things, your craft store may have bottles of the sticky paint they put on the bottom of hair bands that will keep the bows in your daughter’s hair. I’ve used it myself for hairbands I’ve made.

  15. I have 2 boys, and grew up a tomboy. I still am very much a tomboy, but I do wish I knew how to be more girly. My mom was DEFINITELY not a girly girl, nor was my sister. By the time I met friends who were girly, it was a foreign concept to me. I’ve always had guy friends. So, it’s kind of hard for me to set up gender neutral rulings in my life, because I am not familiar with it all.

    With all that said, I have dressed my sons in the silliest of things, mostly for my amusement right now, and their amusement when their older. I love bright colors, and if that color happens to be pink with lime green, then so be it. 🙂

  16. I am a mom to a boy that I often refer to as ‘all boy’, but also many people have said is very d’omesticated’. Before he was born, we did find out the sex, and purchased lots of blue and boyish clothes. Toys were mostly gender neutral (as most infant toys are), but of course he got some cars, trucks, etc… We decorated his room in gender neutral colours because we wanted a space that was neutral and soothing. He is always dressed in ‘boy’ clothes, but that doesn’t mean he can’t wear pink! His dad and him both proudly sport pink polo shirts, and we try to teach our son that he can wear whatever he wants. When he was an infant he wore lots of the baby nightgowns (which surprisingly to me people made comments at a week old that nightgowns are for girls!!).

    As he got a bit older, we introduced him to lots of gender neutral, boy toys and girl toys. His favourite toys these days are his baby doll, baby stroller, play kitchen, vacuum and broom and dust pan. Though some people think that these are primarily ‘girl’ toys we are trying to teach our son that he can play with anything he wants AND most importantly that child rearing, cooking and cleaning aren’t primarily a woman’s job.

    I think addressing the gender issue involves a very fine line. On one hand I want my son to have the confidence to be who he wants and to make choices that fit for him – whether they be geared to primarily females or males… But I also want to teach him what the expectations of society are for his gender… Kids and teenagers can be very cruel, and I can only imagine that as my sweet little toddler gets older, it will break my heart if he’s ever teased or taunted for making choices that fall outside of the norm.

    The best I can hope for is to teach my son to be tolerant, and embrace everyone – and hope that in his lifetime some of these cultural gender expectations are broken down a little more.

    • re: his current favorite toy choices, you forgot to mention the part about it being awesome training for him to HELP YOU GUYS OUT with the daily drudgery! wheeeee!

    • My nephews all loved their play kitchens and their baby dolls. The 8yr old still loves to cook and sweep. My oldest nephew had a bag he loved to carry around and a dress he stole from his cousin to twirl in. Twirling is a universal toddler pastime apparently. My sister had to buy her middle child 3 baby Shou Shous becuase her husband kept “forgetting” them when they left the house. He was very caught up in the girl-toy/boy-toy idea. We finally sat him down and asked what was so wrong about his son wanting to be a great father? That shut him up, right quick. It’s just a toy/dress/purse/color unless they are playing with matches or torturing animals, leave be.

  17. And about the ear piercing in the original post… As mentioned by the author, it is a cultural norm for girls to have their ear pierced and I totally understand embracing those cultural traditions.

    My son is Aboriginal and as part of his Aboriginal upbringing there are some parts of his culture and ceremonies that sometimes are perceived negatively as far as gender stereotyping goes. Just last month, at his walking out ceremony (at 16 months) he fulfilled the role of the hunter, and went out to hunt for food (symoblically not literally), and the little girls that participated were the gatherers and took care of cooking the food in the Tipi. Though some people might think this reinforces stereotypes, it really is important in Aboriginal culture that this family structure remain intact. So again, its a balance in which I don’t want to impose my own belief system on a culture that is sacred and thousands of years old.

    • I hear you and respect that point of view, but the subjugation of women and role of them as basically servants in the household of men is at least a 1000s of years old tradition in nearly every culture. So, if one values traditional culture over the liberty of women, why would we do that in the context of aboriginals, when we wouldn’t in every other culture. It’s strange. I reject male-dominated cultural traditions that subjugate women, regardless of which culture…
      Couldn’t help taking up the debate… 🙂

  18. Honestly, this post confuses me a bit. I understand not wanting to press your child into something they don’t want and put expectations on them so when they choose otherwise they feel they let us down. However, I don’t think the clothing or accessories you place on a baby have any bearing on their identity later on in life. Being a woman is a wonderful blessing and I would hate to think we pass on the misconception to our daughters that we are not glad they are women. If, in the name of “gender neutrality” we let our daughters think being a woman is “less” or “other”, then I think we do them a great disservice. But I don’t think our clothing choices for them as infants will ever have much bearing on the issue.

    • As we grow up we wear the clothing that we see fits our personality. I think a lot of mother’s realize this and want their children to be able to figure out who they are, on their own, without feeling like they need to fit into any stereotypes.
      I don’t think that the clothing you put on your child will ultimately make them who they are. I for one was always made to wear pink or purple, to wear dresses and to act like a lady. Now, I would never be caught wearing pink and only own one dress that I love because it makes me feel like hippie child that I wish I could of been and have slowly been turning into. I’m very much a tom boy.
      Another example is my fiance, who as a young boy would loved to wear panty hose and refused to wear anything else for the longest time. Now a days he is one of the most manly man that I know, he is definitly a guys guy; sport, video games and cars. He also as a sweet spot and is very open minded.
      I think that letting your child be gender neutral or not putting emphasis on gender will let your child be more open minded and let them figure out for themselves the person they are.

    • The clothing we put on infants also colors the way that other people relate to them. So boys get “Oh, look how strong/clever he is” and girls get “Oh, look how pretty/sweet she is.” I believe that stuff does have an impact, even when it’s said to little ones.

  19. Growing up, I have long understood that we live in a male-dominated society and that females had to push back against gender stereotypes (*and yes I know not everything fits in the male/female binary, this is just what my understanding was.)

    My dad is very traditional, old-world Portuguese. The women are supposed to do the cleaning. The men sit around after a meal while the women pick up. But at the same time, my father ended up with FIVE GIRLS and no sons, and he was pushed by his circumstances to do the “son” things with us. We learned how to do minor car work. We helped with building projects. We worked for his irrigation company. And we also challenged his assumptions in areas where he defaulted to traditional roles for women. So this is all to say that I have felt the need to both represent myself as a female and defend myself against stereotypes for a long time, and when I first heard about gender issues with kids, it made perfect sense from a little girl perspective.

    The funny thing is, now that I have two little boys, I am struck on how much harder it is for a little boy to cross gender lines than a little girl. Girls are allowed, even encouraged (in sort of stereotypical ways) to be tomboys, to like sports, to like big trucks and dirty work. But the opposite is so. not. okay. We have been battered by the enumerable gender stereotypes held en mass for boys, and the assumption seems to be that these are super harmful to them growing up to be a man, which to me usually equates to the fact that people are afraid they will end up GAY. And that is a whole ‘nother can of beans. But my main point is that this fear seems to be more prevalent in boys in my experience so far.

  20. I really don’t feel that the colour of anything you buy for a newborn will affect their lives in any way, because A. They can barely distinguish the difference between any colours yet and don’t know of anything to associate those colours with anyway, and B. it’s not like they’ll ever remember. As an infant, my daughter wont give a shit what she’s wearing and until she does, I’m gonna dress her in what I feel like looking at. 😛 When she shows some preference, we’ll go with that.
    As for ear piercing, I’m not doing that, not because I think it’s cruel or anything, but because I’d rather not risk having to clean spit-up out of a fresh piercing. My own ear piercings are semi sensitive and if hers are the same I’d rather not have her deal with it before she ever wants to. Some people never get pierced, so if/when she asks, she can get them done then. It doesn’t hurt THAT bad.

  21. When you do get her ears pierced, my suggestion is to be sure you get them done professionally at a piercing/tattoo shop with sterilized surgical steel needles and not a gun. Guns cannot be sterilized properly, and can be damaging ( When pierced professionally and cleaned properly there will be little pain to your child, and it will heal a lot faster. My husband is a piercer, and will be piercing our daughters ears next month when she is 2.5 months.

  22. Love this article. It is totally on point with what I feel. Although this:
    “When we got home we had to decide what to discard from her arsenal of clothing from the baby shower–goodbye puppies, cars, trucks and baseball caps, and hello flowers, hearts and butterflies.”

    …why discard / give away that stuff ? I don’t see why a baby girl can’t wear baby boy clothes.

  23. I saw rock on the mohawk. Have fun with your lil girl. My lil girl rocks the tutu and a purse filled with cars and trucks while sporting a baseball hat with a tiara perched on it. Her favorite color seems to be pink but she loves wearing it with jeans or black comfy pants. They all come into their own. I got her ears pierced because she loved mine. Always pointing and talking to them. She only got mad that she was help down for it.

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