Tag Archives: gender roles

Writings on a baby’s body

On sisters and siblings

I made the mistake early in my pregnancy of asking the Boychick if he wanted a brother or a sister, meaning did he want one-of-the-above. But he heard me, paused for a moment, and announced “A sister!” I laughed, and tried again after explaining that we didn’t get to choose, but he was undeterred. From then on, he was adamant that a sister he would have.

And then came the baby, vulva first. (The line that ran through my head at the birth, which we weren’t expecting to be breech, was “I don’t think scalps have mucus membranes.”) We explained again, as we had throughout the pregnancy, that we were making a guess about her gender, based on her genitals, and we wouldn’t know if she was a girl until she told us, just like we didn’t know he was a boy until he told us1. He was fine with this (it helps, I think, that he has an openly trans man in his life, so he’s familiar with vulva-but-not-a-girl) — as long as we were clear that she was his sister. “Sibling” just would not do.

So sister she is. And she she is, for the moment, as long as English insists on gendered pronouns. Oh, I could refer to her online as ze or s/he, but the truth is, we don’t do that in person, and it seems overly pretentious to do it online alone.

On pronouns and provisional assignments

Which, of course, begs the question: why is she she? Why do we, The Man and I, advocates of gender diverse parenting that we are, assign gender at all, no matter how provisionally? I’ve been asked this before, even been attacked because of it, and had my “commitment” to the “cause” be questioned.

Not, please note, by anyone with children of their own.

Because here’s the thing: this parenting gig? It’s fucking hard. It’s hard intrinsically, one of the most physically, emotionally, and mentally challenging activities one can engage in in life, and certainly the one with the longest haul and hardest hurdles to “quitting”. And my society, my dear, pressures-all-(privileged)-women-to-be-mothers-but-forget-about-actually-supporting-them society, makes it so, so much harder.

All parents are attacked for their choices by somebody2; any parent making a choice outside of the “mainstream” gets attacked even more viciously, by even more people; and the more marginalized a parent is, the more the attacks come not “just” in words3 but in tangible, terrifying ways.

Nearly every time I write about gender diverse/gender “neutral” parenting, I have a queer parent or a trans parent or a parent on public assistance or a parent dependent on the goodwill of their disapproving family tell me that they would be so much more radical/subversive/gender-diverse in their choices if they weren’t afraid they would lose custody of their children.

They have reason to be afraid.

I’m reasonably protected from the most catastrophic of the consequences, apparently living in a socially-condoned heterocentric, white, middle-class relationship — but even I still have so much shit to deal with, with my finite mental/emotional resources, that there’s only so much I can do. There are only so many choices I can make that take me out of the mainstream and into even-deeper public scrutiny, and still, y’know, survive.4 So I make the ones I do, the ones I can, the ones I am willing to defend in the face of the worst of the judgment.

(Just for not enforcing gender roles with my children, I am called a cunt and a dyke and a fucking crazy bitch and told I should have my children removed. There are all too real consequences for stepping out of kyriarchy’s line, before it even comes to the level of custody issues. It is not only unreasonable but actively harmful, a means of perpetuating kyriarchy and oppression, to demand that parents, already attacked on all sides, do all the work raising children radical. Society has to help make it reasonably safe for us to do so, as well.)

Vulva Baby or the Girlchick?

Girlchick seems the obvious blog moniker for this new child of mine, doesn’t it? We have a child with a penis, the eponymous Boychick, who was given that name years before his gender was self-declared, and now we have a child with a vulva. And I tried it on, used it in a post, tweeted it a handful of times — but it never sat right with me.

I look at this child, and I don’t see “girl”. I see a baby, as her brother was once a baby; nothing screamed “boy” about him, the occasional acquaintance’s comments to the contrary, and nothing announces “girl” about her. She is very much not her brother: she spits up less, and farts more; she is happier to be in a carrier when awake, but more often prefers facing to the side instead of towards me; her elimination signals are clearer, and she wakes more frequently at night; her hair is redder, her eyes less goopy, her scalp more bumpy, her digits shorter. And she has a vulva. What about this makes her a “girl”, if we are to avoid essentializing gender to genitalia?

When strangers ask me “Boy or girl?”5, I’m apt to answer “she’s a she”, because saying “girl” just doesn’t feel right, or honest, or accurate; this answers the question they really need to know6, which is what language to use to talk about this adorable being. But it seems nearly obscene to that heavily put a gender on an infant this young; can’t she just be a baby for a little while, before we start telling her what role to play?

Resolving the conflict

That may seem like a contradiction, this use of “she”, this (mostly) avoidance of “girl”. But one is about survival in a society antagonistic to non-gendering; the other is saying “this far and no farther”. I cannot stop all damage from being done to this perfect child of mine, but I will do what I can to minimize it. I won’t pretend that she’ll be unaffected by others’ perceptions of her, but I will help her be aware of them; I won’t tell her what her gender is, but I will tell her what her society thinks her gender should be; I won’t subject her to every strangers’ disapproval of alternative pronouns, but I will tell her she can choose another if she likes; I will tell her she has a vulva, but I won’t tell her she has to stay that way. And I will tell her I will always, always, always love her, whoever she turns out to be.

  1. He started declaring “I’m a boy!” around a year ago, at 3.5 years.
  2. No, really — that is the point of the “mommy wars”: there is no winning. It truly does not matter which “side” you fall on, because there’s the mass media, telling you how much the “other” side thinks you’re ruining your children/going to hell/Doin It Rong. Fun! Only, not.
  3. As though the psychoemotional toll of verbal abuse isn’t itself a problem?
  4. For someone with a set of mood disorder diagnoses that is the most lethal of those tracked, this is not hyperbole.
  5. Or, the strangest comment I’ve received yet: “I’m sorry, I can’t tell from here, is that a boy or a girl?” Like you could know if she weren’t inside the wrap?
  6. Yes, need, until English eliminates the need for gendered pronouns.

10 Myths About Gender Neutral Parenting

I had a fabulously fun time on the radio yesterday talking about gender neutral parenting on OPB’s Think Out Loud, and while the session went great (you can listen to it at that link!), many topics came up we weren’t able to address in the time alloted. Many of those topics are fundamental misconceptions about what I and many parents mean when we say “gender neutral parenting“. To that end, in what I expect will be a number of upcoming posts on the subject, here are 10 myths (plus a bonus!) about gender neutral parenting, debunked:

Myth: You’re trying to do away with gender.

TRUTH: While I can’t speak for all parents who identify with the term “gender neutral parenting”, that is certainly not the goal of my family or those I know who are practicing this style of parenting. The last “wave” of gender-neutral parenting, in the 70s and early 80s, arguably had the goal of “androgyny for all children”, based on the belief that gender was entirely culturally created and imposed — and then, when (shockingly!) the kids had their own ideas, we as a culture appear to have thrown up our hands and said “to heck with it, it’s all innate!” The truth, which I believe the modern “gender neutral” (more accurately called “gender diverse”) movement is based on, is somewhere in between. Gender, it is true, is innate, and so to some extent is a desire for a traditional or nontraditional gender performance — but what gender performance looks like and what the culturally accepted gender roles are are almost entirely socially constructed, and thus malleable. Today’s gender neutral parenting is not about doing away with gender (if it ever really was), but about doing away with many of the unhealthy pressures around gender, and giving our children the freedom to figure out what gender means to them.

Myth: Your child will never learn about gender if you don’t teach it to them.

TRUTH: It’s always amused me, in a dark and Alanis-ironic sort of way, how the people who most argue that sex = gender also seem to think that gender is so fragile that any sort of variation in rearing practices will damage it. The truth is we all have some sort of gender identity (even if, for some of us, it’s a strong feeling of not having a gender at all, or if it changes over time), and all, in one way or another, perform that gender identity either according to or in a flaunting of our culture’s expectations (or, most often, some mix thereof). So of course our children will learn about gender, what gender means to us, what gender means to the people around them, and what gender means to their society.

But rather than telling them what their gender is in some sort of absolute, often coercive way, and giving them a narrow prescription of how they are supposed to perform that gender, we give them time and freedom to use their amazing observational and social skills to figure out gender for themselves, much as we might give them time to learn to walk — all the while modeling it for them, and trusting they’ll pick it up when they’re ready. Not on their own, or without guidance, but at their own pace, with an awareness that they might come up with answers we may never have thought of.

Myth: You’ll damage them. / You’ll confuse them.

TRUTH: In “traditional”, phenotypical sex = gender = gender performance families, it is guaranteed that 1-5% of children are confused and damaged. These are the 1-5% of children who are transgender, “gender variant”, or gender “non-conforming” — that is, whose internal sense of gender does not accord with the gender assigned to them based on their genitals, who may not fit neatly into the genders “boy” or “girl”, or whose gender performance preferences do not conform to their assigned or declared gender. Being raised in such an environment, with inflexible gender assignments and rigid gender expectations, is highly damaging for many of these children. Being trans* is not inherently, unbearably stressful; being trans* in a culture that rarely even acknowledges the existence of people like you and mocks them when it does often is, and is much more confusing for children, who aren’t even aware of what is happening.

On the other hand, there is no evidence that children raised with gender freedom and a celebration of diversity of gender expressions are damaged or confused at all. The key here is the difference between coercion — which can happen both toward strict traditional gender norms or toward gender-elimination or “androgyny” — and freedom. Coercion around gender is harmful for children; freedom is not and cannot be.

Myth: You’ll make your kid gay!

TRUTH: Oh, if only.1 The simple fact, proven over and over and over again both experientially and scientifically, is we can’t control, predict, or change our children’s sexuality.

(What we can do is make life easier for queer/non-straight children, by modeling for all our children celebration of various sexualities, and by being educated ourselves not just about straight and gay but the whole QUILTBAG2. We can raise confident queer kids and strong straight allies, and part of how we do both is by not assuming we know their sexuality until they tell us.)

But back to the myth, which comes from a conflation of gender performance and sexuality. That is, it is only a reflection of:

Myth: Gender = gender performance = sexuality.

TRUTH: There are many permutations of this myth, including the above “Dressing your boy in pink will make him gay”. Other variations include “How will she know she’s a girl if she dresses ‘like a boy’?” and “Oh, what a handsome little lady-killer!” They all rest on the conflation of gender (one’s innate sense of boy, girl, or neither/both/other-ness), gender performance (how one presents one’s gender through clothing and speech and movements and accessories) and sexuality (the gender[s] or lack thereof one is attracted to). These are three different things, and though sometimes they go together in ways we expect, they often don’t. There are femme lesbians and girly straight boys and trans girls who are tomboys and every possible variation under the sun — and then some. The thing is, people are not stereotypes, even those who appear to fit the stereotypes.

How does this relate to gender neutral parenting and especially to gender diverse parenting? One of the goals of this parenting style is to recognize that each of these things is different (and that phenotypical sex is yet another distinct category), so that our children can choose the combination that is right for them — yes, even if what’s right for them appears to conform to the stereotypes.

Myth: Gender neutral parenting means banning Barbies and trucks and princesses and Nerf guns.

TRUTH: Some parents do ban one or all of those things, and often for well-thought-out and highly personal reasons, but it’s certainly not required in order to practice gender-neutral (or especially gender-diverse) parenting. What is discouraged is only having one “type” of toy, whatever it is, or disallowing one “gender” of toy in favor of another (even if it’s cross-gender: that is, banning dolls, but not trucks or guns, for an assigned-girl).

Instead, a gender-diverse household tends to have lots of different kinds of toys, preferably ones that encourage open-ended imaginative play: for example, blocks to build a garage for Barbie to park her truck in, knocked down by a sudden Nerf attack! And if we find our children exclusively playing with one sort of toy in one sort of way, we might use Playful Parenting or similar tactics to encourage a broadening of play; but most children rarely get so stuck as to call for any sort of even subtle adult redirection.

Myth: Gender neutral parenting is impossible. / It’s all or nothing.

TRUTH: While 100% “gender neutral” parenting perhaps is impossible, even for the families who decline to share the phenotypical sex of their child and do not assign them a gender, there is a wide spectrum possible between that absolute idealism and the most rigid of “traditional” sex-segregated and stereotyped parenting. In truth, most “mainstream” parenting falls somewhere in-between as well, with very few parents completely disallowing all dolls or light colored clothes for assigned-boys and even fewer banning balls or blocks or pants for assigned-girls.

What most self-identified gender-neutral or gender-diverse parents do is try, as much as is practical or possible in their own lives, to move closer toward the “ideal” by turning down the sex-stereotyping and offering their children more options. In truth, many “gender neutral” families look not much different than many “traditional” families, especially past the infant months, whether due to following the child’s own preferences, gifts from more traditional family members, a bias in hand-me-downs, concerns about push-back from the public (especially in more marginalized families, who may depend on extended family or social services), or any number of other reasons.

Certainly as a child ages and comes into their own identity, it may be harder to tell a gender-neutral family apart from any other, which brings us to:

Myth: Gender neutral parenting is a failure if your girl wants to wear pink (or your boy refuses to).

TRUTH: All children are individuals, with their own preferences, and eventually with their own awareness of their gender and preferences about their gender performance. For many children, especially during a period shortly after coming in to a solid internal sense of their own gender (usually somewhere around 3-4 years old), this means wanting to align themselves strongly with what they perceive to be the cultural norms for that gender. Far from wanting to do away with this process, gender neutral parenting is all about leading up to this process in an entirely healthy way, for children of ALL genders and gender performance preferences, including the probably-majority who fall along “stereotypical” lines.

Thus, after years of wearing blues and browns and reds as well as pinks and pastels and purples, and with a closet full of similar diversity, when your 3-4 year old now-self-proclaimed girl wants to wear exclusively pink, you can know that it is her own knowledge of her gender, her personal preferences, and her awareness of her culture’s gender norms that are driving her choices, rather than highly segregated, sexist programming she might, in a more traditional household, have grown up with. And, you can know that just because this is her preference for now, it might not be reflective of her desires for all time, and you can use the tools of gender neutral parenting to continue to offer her an array of options, while honoring her choices, in the years to come.

Myth: You’re engaging in a social experiment with your child! / You’re indoctrinating them!

TRUTH: All parents “indoctrinate” or “experiment” with their children, in that we follow our own beliefs or our cultural memes and myths and parent accordingly. Everything we do with and for our children communicates to them our ideas about how the world works, how it should be, and what we want for them. The only difference with paths such as gender neutral or gender diverse parenting is that we are going against the current cultural mythos, that says boys and girls are two distinct, discrete genders that as such need to be given entirely different sets of clothes, toys, names, endearments, and role models — which is hardly a universal human belief itself.

Myth: Gender neutral parenting only benefits children who don’t conform to gender expectations.

TRUTH: While as previously mentioned gender neutral/gender diverse parenting is especially beneficial (and necessary!) for non-conforming children, it has numerous benefits for “stereotypical” children as well. For one, also as previously mentioned, it lets us know that if our children do conform closely to socially-approved gender expectations, this is authentic and is coming from within them. But also, many “normal” (cisgender and gender-typical) children are less strongly gendered than traditionally thought, and when raised in a gender neutral way care less about the “boy” or “girl”-ness of their clothing and activities than we might expect.

Further, as peer pressure increases and their awareness of gender norms expands, having a gender-neutral/gender-diverse base (meaning both their home life and the early years of gender neutrality) helps them question the “rightness” of culturally assigned roles and stereotypes, and the very existence of unnecessarily gendered products. And, gender diverse parenting helps prepare even the most culturally-conforming child to be more aware and more accepting of diversity, making them more supportive friends for their gender non-conforming peers.

BONUS Myth: Your children will hate you for screwing them up.

TRUTH: Well, maybe. But that’s pretty much a risk for any parenting path, most definitely including “mainstream” parenting. Considering the very little we have to lose, and how much we have to gain, isn’t it worth it to take that risk on something you believe in? Isn’t it worth trying some variation of gender neutral parenting?

  1. I jest!
  2. Queer Unlabeled Intersex Lesbian Transgender Bisexual Asexual Gay.

Gender neutral parenting, gender stereotyping, and the “genderless baby”

Odds are, you’ve already heard about the Toronto couple who are “hiding” their youngest child’s “gender” — I know I’ve seen stories about it show up in my various social media feeds dozens of times in the past couple days, and had no fewer than half a dozen people send me links or ask my opinion directly. I was even contacted for comment for an article about the family.

To be honest, I think I gave a particularly enthusiastic quote mostly because I’m very tired of this family — and any family who steps outside the mainstream in attempts to avoid or counter the bigotry therein — being so put down and criticized. That said, I don’t think it’s as simple as “everyone should do this!!!”

To start with, let’s get it clear that what Witterick and Stocker are doing isn’t “hiding Storm’s gender” or “keeping the baby’s gender a secret”: someone’s gender, like their sexuality, is something which only that person can reveal for themselves. What it seems, from the stories I’ve read (and that’s a big caveat, given how distorted a person’s life can become through the filters of media), that this family is doing is declining to assign their third child a gender of “boy” or “girl”. And while others are free, should they see Storm’s diaper being changed while out and about, to peer at the baby’s genitals and make their own assignment based on Storm’s apparent sex, they’re not revealing the baby’s phenotypical sex1, either, because in this culture, in which vagina = girl and penis = boy, to do so would be to assign the child a typical binary gender.

(Still with me? Good.)

Next: is it a good thing that they’re doing?

Aw hell, I don’t know.

What I do know is that I’ve heard some transgender people say they wish their parents had done this for them, or that all parents should, or that maybe this will help raise people’s awareness that there aren’t just two genders2. I know that as “damaging” as some people think Witticker and Stocker’s choice is, every day kids (both transgender and cisgender) are being damaged by the assigned genders and gender roles they’re forced into by a culture that cannot abide not “knowing what it is” and the parents who go along with that culture’s dictates.

I know that this is a path made easier by the fact that in most other respects, Storm accords with hir culture’s idea of the “default person” and hir family with the “default family”: apparently white, not visibly disabled, apparently middle class, the parents married and apparently cisgender, the children not adopted3. While sexism and cissexism are hardly only middle class white people’s concerns, having privilege in these areas means this family are not being questioned about race and class and sexuality and dis/ability the way a more marginalized family would likely be, which frees up time and mental energy to approach gender and sexism, and to attempt to protect their child(ren) from the worst effects thereof, in this particular, culturally disapproved, way.

I know that logistically, in the English language at least (and many, but not all, others), it’s ridiculously difficult to avoid gendered pronouns, unless we are to call a child “it”. While I very much hope, and work toward the day, that pronouns such as “ze” (or “zie”) and “ou” and a singular4 “they” are universally known and understood, the truth is that right now, they simply aren’t, and playing the pronoun-avoidance game gets wearying. All this on top of dealing every day with people who obsess over gender if it doesn’t accord with their expectations5, much less if you try to introduce a third category to their binary-believing minds, means I completely understand why it’s such a rare choice — one The Man and I don’t make, for instance.

Ultimately, I know that whatever gender (or supposed lack thereof) we assign to our children, the best things we can do for them are:

1) realize that such assignments are, by necessity, provisional, and that we cannot really know our child’s gender until they tell us,

2) turn down (and to the best of our ability turn off) the coding that says gender determines activities, desires, and personalities, and

3) let them be who they are — whether or not that accords with the gender or gender role(s) we’ve assigned them. This means both supporting our assigned-boy children’s enthusiasm for pink and dresses (and supporting our assigned-girl children if they like the same!), and understanding that while gender-neutrality is an excellent place to start kids off from, it should never be our goal for them in the long run.

There are ways one can be any level of “gender neutral”, including taking a path such as Stocker and Witticker are taking, and fail at all three of these, and there are ways one can take the easier path of going along with gender-typing-based-on-genitals6 and follow them well. And while I certainly think that gender-neutral, or better yet, gender-diverse parenting is inherently a good thing, I have no desire, much less the time or energy, to sit in judgment of whether people are doing it “right” — especially a family I don’t personally know and have never talked with directly.

(There’s a lot I want to say about the inflammatory, and often explicitly bigoted and hateful, ways this story is getting reported and commented on7, but I’d be here for another week, and y’all would probably stop reading. But I will say this: 10,000 Dresses is not a story about a boy, it’s a story about a girl whose family thinks she’s a boy, and the fact that even the less overtly biased reporters get that wrong speaks volumes.)

A friend of mine said, “I may not agree with how they are trying to send counter signals [to society's gender stereotyping messages] but I respect that they are.” To me, that is what it comes down to. From what I’ve read, this family has chosen one, albeit unconventional, way to attempt to counter the ridiculously and horrifically stereotyping gender messages and gender roles society puts on children — starting well before birth, now, thanks to ultrasound8 — and regardless of whether I think it’s a (or the) “right” or “best” way, I’m entirely pleased that they are at least trying.

  1. Phenotype: a category based — for our purposes — on appearance, and is not necessarily the same as one’s genotype. That is, a child can have entirely “normal” appearing penis and testicles, and not necessarily have an entirely XY genotype; ditto vulva and vagina and XX.
  2. A hope perhaps proven false by reports that call the baby “genderless”, as though if not “boy” or “girl” one doesn’t have, and could not possibly have, a gender at all.
  3. To my knowledge; I only am sure, from the reports, of the (non)adoption status of Storm.
  4. Or at least, singular-bodied.
  5. But insist that we’re the ones who make such a big deal out of gender by “obscuring” or subverting it. Sure.
  6. And note that because “gender neutral” is a spectrum, these are overlapping categories.
  7. In fact, I had a troll here earlier who called me a “mental case” and a “fucking insane cunt” because I spoke positively about it and about gender neutral/gender diverse parenting in general.
  8. A factoid I find fascinating: I am asked nearly daily if I know “what (I’m) having”, and when I reply “a probably-singular baby”, the other person is more likely than not to admit that they, too, declined to find out the “gender” (read: genital sex) of their child(ren). Ultrasound sex determination (read: guessing, if educatedly) is so ubiquitous that even those of us who decline it nevertheless assume everyone else is doing it.

“Gender Neutral Parenting”, in which Lisa Belkin at the NYT confuses “gender” and “gender roles/performance”

Lisa Belkin, who writes the column Motherlode for the New York Times, has a piece out called Gender Neutral Parenting which explores the “seeming contradictions” in what we know about gender — that it is inborn, more or less immutable, and assigned gender is not always congruent with true gender — with those of us who parent in a “gender neutral” or gender diverse1 manner.

Her question in response to the assertion that gender is inborn, and not even Cher’s “almost drag-queenlike hyper-female persona” could be responsible for her son Chaz being transgender2, “Then why are all those [parents] working so hard to paint nurseries brown, yellow and orange?” betrays ignorance — hardly hers alone — between gender, gender roles, and gender performance.

The point of “gender neutral” or gender diverse parenting isn’t to raise androgynes — as though it were possible to force someone into a fully androgynous nonbinary gender — but to give kids a chance to develop without the programming of conventional (though hardly traditional) gender-coding. While in no way does this determine — much less subvert — a child’s inborn gender (or sexuality), it does make life easier for those whose genders, or gender performance preferences, are atypical, as they grow up welcome to explore and to pick and choose from a variety of colors, clothings, toys and activities, with which to construct gender performance(s) that feel most correct to them.

And further — and more traditionally the argument of “gender neutral” parenting advocates — gender neutral/diverse parenting influences a child’s perception of gender roles: according to popular gender-coded clothing and toys, girls are expected to be passive, perform male-centered superficial beauty, decorate, and caretake, whereas boys are expected to be active, not care about appearance (except for avoiding appearing “girly”), construct, and destroy. Even the most binary, “typical”, cisgender children benefit from the destruction of this imposition and expansion of their horizons — and options.

Ultimately, I agree with Belkin’s conclusion3, but the “contradiction” she prefaces her piece around — and fails to deconstruct — is in fact nothing of the sort.

  1. Gender neutral parenting is often presented as eschewing, or rather attempting to eschew, all gender coding altogether; the term gender diverse parenting indicates offering a spectrum of products and options from all sorts of gender-codings.
  2. In his words, “There’s a gender in your brain and a gender in your body. For 99 percent of people, those things are in alignment (ed note — aka cisgender). For transgender people, they’re mismatched. That’s all it is.”
  3. “You can’t “make” your children anything. You can’t really “stop” them from being anything in particular, either. But you can help them explore the fullest definition of who they are. And you can try to work it so they feel good about whoever they discover themselves to be.”

Guest post: Binary Underwear

While I am hard at work this week finalizing my side of the preparations for the blog redesign — unveiling January 1st! assuming kids and computers stay virus-free! and please do pardon the dust whilst I knock about the categories — I’ll be having guest bloggers make sure your end-of-year is as content filled as the previous 12 months have been. (Which is to say, sporadically.) Today I am honored to have a guest post from Laura Schuerwegen of Authentic Parenting.

Binary Underwear

I went shopping yesterday. That doesn’t happen too often. I live in Africa and shops aren’t actually at every street corner. Well, there aren’t too many streets either, so… But I am deviating.

Now we are in Belgium, we do get to shop. Generally that means we have this huge list to fulfill and we run around like hamsters in a maze. I actually set out to find winter pajamas (living close to the equator, I don’t need any over there), and underwear. I am a breastfeeding mother and my hips have gotten bigger with my daughter’s birth. I like being comfortable without looking too frumpy. So I guess I am quite demanding when it comes to shopping.

So I went from shop to shop like Christmas Carolers go from door to door and with the trillionth shop I visited, I started noticing a pattern: in nightwear and underwear, women have only two choices. Either we’re reduced to mere objects of pleasure, there and ready whenever it would please our male counterpart, because indeed — and every woman’s magazine will agree on this — the key to feeling confident is wearing sexy lingerie. Because what could better boost a woman’s self esteem than her sexuality? Her openness toward sexual encounters? Her eagerness to be taken by any predatory man at large? The other option is to be completely infantilized, teddy bears on the breast and buttocks and all. There is nothing in between. Unless you go to a discount shop and buy white cotton grannywear (which I have nothing against if that’s what tickles your fancy, but it doesn’t apply to all the criteria I am looking for in my underwear).

Now donʼt get me wrong, I donʼt mind women wearing sexy clothes or sexy lingerie; I’ve worn my share of both. And if you like wearing teddy bears, cartoon figures and the like, you are completely free to do so. However, I feel that we — women — should have a choice when it comes to our underwear and nightgowns, and that choice should not be limited to two options.

It is completely possible to design underwear and nightwear that is comfortable and looks good, and isn’t inspired by childhood themes. Just as it is possible to design underwear that isn’t good for the wardrobe of ‘Burlesque’. Seriously! I do not want to run around with Hello Kitty on my ass. And as much as I can appreciate silks and lace and ruffles and ribbons, they are hardly practical when you’re running after a two and a half year old.

So to underwear designers all over, if you read this:
1. women don’t only wear underwear to please the opposite sex.
2. sometimes burlesque doesn’t even light the spark with our significant other
3. women like options and two options isn’t much of a choice
4. underwear should first and foremost be comfortable
5. and seriously? What’s with the bears and pussycats and cartoon figures. We’re adult women for freezing snowflakes’ sake!

So – for the time being – no new underwear for me, and I guess Iʼll have to continue wearing my lounge pants and husbandʼs T-shirt to bed.

Laura Schuerwegen aka Mamapoekie is a Belgian expat mother and wife. She is currently in between African countries of residence and blogs at Authentic Parenting.