The Vagenda

‘It’s A Baby!’ – The Card That Nobody is Sending



Babies are great. They’re like big people, but without all the annoying habits you accrue with age. A baby won’t snort derisively if you tell them your optimistic career plans. A baby doesn’t check its messages surreptitiously on its iPhone while pretending to care about your day. Babies are fresh slates. They haven’t had the time to suck up everyone else’s prejudices and expectations of them, and regurgitate them in passive aggressive ways. All they regurgitate is mushy peas and breastmilk.

Last week, a friend of mine had one of these baby things. So, being the upstanding citizen that I am, I did what any other upstanding citizen would do and rushed out to the nearest stationery shop to fulfil the cultural requirement of buying a card to commemorate the coming-into-existence of another person. I had two choices. From the shelf, symmetrical with their pastel pinks or baby blues, ‘It’s a girl!’ or ‘It’s a boy!’ boomed out at me. No other choices.

Now, let’s just ignore the obvious stupidity of the statement ‘It’s a girl!’, not dissimilar to the ‘Oh, you’ve had your hair cut’ and ‘Gosh, you’re tall’ platitudes that we all know and love so well. We can safely assume that any new parent is presumably aware of their baby’s sex – my friend definitely was; how else would I have known which colour card to choose?

What astonished me was just how binary the card selection was. In Paperchase, identical cards featured pink or blue versions of tiny feet, washing lines filled with nappies, babies in babygros and even, bizarrely, pink or blue giraffes. In Tesco, I was offered the choice of ‘All wrapped up in blue’ or ‘Pretty in pink’ (yep, that’s right, your newborn can’t even fully extend her arms and legs yet, but she is already pretty, by default, on account of her gender). M&S offered cards for welcoming your ‘little man’, and in Clintons, two matching cards offered the contrasting ‘Hello baby girl’ and ‘Hello little fella’.

It’s fairly astonishing to think that from the moment they’re born, these newborn babies are already being forced to conform to given roles: male babies are already miniature versions of ‘fellas’ and ‘men’ and female babies are ‘pretty’. That’s not the best of starts.

We define ourselves by the categories we think matter. Gender, class, race, nationality and culture are all identity constructs that exist only because we have imbued them with importance. When we say – or even think – that we’re middle-class, or black, or Geordie to the backbone, we’re saying that these are labels that are in some way useful and mean something particular to us. When gender seems so often to be such a problematic label, it is a wonder we still continue to fixate on it.

The UK is doing a pretty good job at the moment of trying to fend for children’s rights to disregard gender stereotypes (the Mumsnet campaign Let toys be toys, and the new Waterstones-backed campaign for marketing books according to interest, not gender, are both prime examples of this), but there’s still a long way to go. Simply by asking, ‘Is it a boy or a girl?’ we often, sadly, begin a lifetime of unnecessary gendering.

Sex is a physiological construct, like height. Gender is a sociological one. Until we can allow people to take their gender less seriously, and stop thinking of it as their primary and defining characteristic, we will be forever plagued with naff greetings cards that only come in colours unfit for anything more prominent than a skirting board.

Oh, and the card I bought in the end? I went to Oxfam for a nice blank card with some brightly coloured flowers on it. I’m thinking of starting my own range of cards for new parents, with ‘Well done (but that was the easy bit)!’ written on, and a picture of a toddler writing in lipstick on the wall. D’ya think it’d catch on?


13 thoughts on “‘It’s A Baby!’ – The Card That Nobody is Sending

  1. I once managed a non-gender specific card for a new baby – orange pram racing down a road saying ‘Welcome to the human race’ – I wish I’d bought their entire stock though, as the pink/blue dichotomy annoys me every time! The only exceptions are the cards for twins (don’t tend to see other multiple birth ones), which I’m guessing is purely because there isn’t a big enough market to have all the combinations covered.

  2. Wait until you start buying birthday/Christmas presents for them. Despite recent campaigns I still find it very easy to buy for one friend’s little boy (lots of animal-based clothes and toys to choose from, for example, in the ‘boys’ section) and very hard to buy for another friend’s little girl (everything labelled ‘girls’ is pink, frothy and flowery). Why are zebras and giraffes ok for boys but not girls?! Why can’t we just have a range of clothes and toys without labelling some for ‘girls’ and others for ‘boys’?

  3. The other obvious problem with the whole ‘it’s a girl!’ and ‘it’s a boy!’ cards is that that’s not even definitely the case – pushing people into gender roles from an early age is damaging to everyone, but particularly to anyone who doesn’t identify with the gender they’ve been forced into from the moment that card arrives.

  4. also, um. objectively there’s nothing wrong with pink or frothy. these are v delightful things. it shouldn’t just be imagery typically gendered as male that we should be seeking to make universal, and imagery typically gendered as female should not be devalued. all babies look good in pink. it is known.

  5. ‘They haven’t had the time to suck up everyone else’s prejudices and expectations of them, and regurgitate them in passive aggressive ways. All they regurgitate is mushy peas and breast milk.’ BRILLIANT! Cards should read ‘Welcome to the world, it’s nowhere near as good as the womb’. As for gifts… Sea monkeys seem pretty gender-neutral right?

  6. Good read, thank you.

    Responding to previous commentators:
    Amy – No! I think everyone looks hideous in pink. It is known ;) Yay for variety of opinions.
    Zoz – I’m with you on the seamonkeys.

  7. I had the same issue with Christening cards a couple of months ago. It didn’t help that being an atheist I was struggling with the hole going to a Christening anyways. I didn’t want one with lots of crosses on it either but the main problem was the pink/blue issue. I went for a cream coloured card in the end that just had the words ‘hello little one’. It still felt patronizing and not quite right. I really want to start creating my own cards so there would be a card that read ‘This is a pointless religious day and you look silly in that white dress’.

  8. Being 3 months pregnant, the lack of unisex, non-gender specific clothing never bothered me until now. I don’t even know where to start with describing the fear of how, despite my best intentions, my future child peg is going to be stuffed into a gender-specified hole. But maybe it’s just the hormones :)

  9. Absolutely agree with this.

    Actually yes: I do think that range of cards would catch on! (Not even joking, I really do think it would).

    I bought my friend and pink and red babygro for her baby boy because (as I announced at her baby-shower “There is no reason for this child to be dictated to by what society says is appropriate and I refuse to accept gender-specific colours” in front of a bunch of women who would rather jump out of a window than admit to agreeing with a feminist statement). To my shock, she actually dressed him in it. And he looked good. AND it was fair-trade. Yay me.

  10. I know. I’ve always thought the important thing was “It’s a human!”. It’s ludicrous that one particular signifier is considered to be the person’s identity lifelong, from long before the baby’s even interested in it. Also if we bring kids up to think it’s that significant we’re setting them up to fail with heterosexual romance and heterosocial behaviour: unless they have opposite-gendered sibs they’re not going to spend too much time talking to people of similar age but different gender until the ‘going out together’ stage.

    I get depressed every time I go through a local department store’s craft section — *all* the girl stuff is pastel and floral, while dinosaurs/elephants/anything interesting are apparently for boys.

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