The International Writers Magazine: Growing UP - From Our Archives
‘Nothing pink or fluffy mummy’
The usual scowl begins to creep across Isabella’s forehead as I try to entice her into a new cardigan. I had avoided pink and chosen blue this time - her favourite colour. Weary of the daily clothes battle I give up and ask her what she’s objecting to this time....after a long silence she points to some ribbing along the middle of the cardigan and I realise that this time it isn’t the colour she objects to but the style!
And she’s only five years old, but her sartorial stubbornness began as soon as she was able to articulate that she hated pink!
‘Nothing pink or fluffy please,’ is my standard response whenever someone asks me what she’d like for her birthday. Most people know the score by now, so we don’t get presents deemed to be ‘girly’... but it’s a bit of a problem for this age group as most of the options including books are all pink, plastic and glittery and totally ghastly in the eyes of my tomboy daughter. Give her play dough, paints, pens or crayons and she’s in heaven, anything ‘girly’ gets short shrift. Building dens with her brother, junk modelling and building with lego are a few of her favourite things. When I caught her trying to pee standing up in the garden I had to laugh.....
Purchasing school uniform recently proved another ordeal. When we went to Clarks shoe shop on our hunt for suitable school shoes for her, I steered clear of the girl section fearing utter contempt if I even suggested such a thing – sure enough, my hunch proved correct as Isabella blanked all the ‘mary janes’ and instead made a beeline for the boys shoes. ‘Are you sure you want to get these boys shoes?’ I asked feebly, already knowing what the answer would be before the words were even out. I asked the shop assistant whether many girls came away with boys shoes, ‘Not many really’, she answered with a wry smile, but added that she thought the boys’ ones fitted better anyway.
Relieved it was over and armed with a box of size 10 standard boy’s black school shoes, and a pair of black and mercifully unisex gym shoes, we set off to the next hurdle.... the rest of the uniform. The grey tunic option and grey tights had been rejected outright - ‘I am not ever never wearing a dress,’ Isabella had already informed me. In fact, when I was at school we weren’t allowed trousers, but luckily these days it’s not so much of an issue, so we came away fairly easily satisfied on that front. She rolled up on her first day at school wearing a denim jacket and grey trousers. “To cool for school,” giggled my friend in the playground.
I felt more exasperated the other day as I went looking for roller skates, for both her and her older brother. ‘Do you need boys or girls skates?’ every shop assistant asked. ‘Err I um, I suppose I want boys’, I stammered, wondering if I needed to explain she’s a girl but hates pink. I was assuming, correctly as it turned out, that by girls and boys they were asking whether I wanted pink or blue. ‘I have these in pink’, the manager offered hopefully, after I had already explained the situation about 3 times. He just couldn’t get it that I had a five-year-old girl who didn’t like pink. I glanced at the awful fluffy glittery pink and purple ones, and thought how horrified Isabella would be and how disappointed if she ever received such a gift. In the end, I opted for bright red and yellow ‘hero’ roller skates for her and blue and silver for her brother. Fingers crossed I made the right decision!
I’m not really surprised Isabella is a tomboy. I can remember when I was her age, I wished I was a boy, believing it was more fun. I only wore trousers, had short hair and played with cars and guns.... people thought I was a boy till I was about fourteen when I finally entered puberty and decided that isn’t what I wanted people to think any more. In other words, I see it as a phase and nothing to worry about.
But when you ‘google’ tomboy there is very little information and it’s almost invariably associated with sexuality , masculinity, lesbianism and aggressive behaviour, which I find a tad alarming and choose to ignore. None of those issues are relevant now at this tender age and although she has a tendency to choose male friends and enjoy playing with her cars, she certainly doesn’t display the merest hint of aggression. At school she’s hooked up with another little girl, just like her, who loves Ben 10 and Buzz Lightyear. But they are the only ones in the class. When I watch them play together, they don’t roll around on the floor wrestling with each other as you’d expect a tomboy to do. They sit and chat in a very civilised almost dare-I-say-it ‘girly’ way, they paint and draw and play scrabble although neither can spell very well yet!
Neither is she outspoken or competitive or rowdy, she’s quiet and shy and softly spoken. She shows consideration for others and doesn’t like it if someone is upset.
We used to give her ‘pink’ things as a baby, partly because everything was that colour and partly because we didn’t really think about it too much. Until she was old enough to express an opinion and told us in no uncertain terms that she did not like pink. Even a hint of pink on something is frowned upon, and her cushion she’s had since she was a baby and which lives on her bed is very unceremoniously and wordlessly thrown to the floor every night as she climbs into bed.
I just wish clothing manufacturers would realise that there are girls out there who would gladly wear feminine clothes if only they weren’t pink or glittery. Children shouldn’t be pigeonholed at such a young age. I believe it can affect the way they perceive themselves and the choices they make for the rest of their lives. It’s too narrow-minded. Toy manufacturers don’t help the situation either. If you go and look for something for girls aged five, there really isn’t much choice apart from pink or plastic so we automatically search in the ‘boy’ department, which isn’t always a very satisfactory solution for a five-year-old tomboy! Hamleys only recently stopped their sexist labelling and colour coding according to perceived gender preferences but lego continues to promote pink or purple lego for girls. As I was growing up it was just plain ‘lego’ for all.
Isabella was cast as an ‘angel’ in the Christmas play recently and was supposed to wear a pair of pink wings! I told her teacher she probably would balk at the suggestion, but the teacher waved it off and said, ‘Oh she’ll wear them when she sees all the others dressed up’ – funny how she suddenly developed a fever on the day thereby avoiding the situation altogether!
Personally I love it. I love how she doesn’t care when she’s the only girl pirate at the princesses and pirates school party, and that she thinks suitable party clothes consist of a faded old t-shirt and denim cut offs. I feel relief that she has the will power to be herself. Being a ‘tomboy’ merely gives her the freedom and fluidity to move across the spectrum and be who she wants. Long may it last.
© Lorenza Bacino March 2012
Our family witnessed a Revolution
In the spring of 2006 my husband was offered two months work in Kathmandu, Nepal, working with an organisation promoting peace and reconciliation