New born babies, and gender: what is it good for?

4 Oct

As I welcomed a baby boy into the world last Wednesday,  I wondered just what kind of a planet he’ll be inheriting from his elders.

For a start I’d been unable to buy any decent clothes prior to his birth in either the US or here, because the parents decided they didn’t want to know their baby’s sex. Access to prior knowledge has come to mean insanely stupid gender divisions in the infant clothing market, and if you say you don’t know shop people look at you as if you’ve come out of a cave. So the infant had nothing much other than hospital garments to wear for his first couple of days on Earth, as everyone waited to hear about the newborn genitals before they went on a spend.

If I was still bringing children into the world I’d dress them in primary colours from birth, stuff the pinks and the blues, and anybody who said girls always or boys always would be banned from the infant’s presence.

Which reminds me that I am seriously pissed off with the likes of Clive Hamilton telling me all about women and men, as if the possession of a vagina or penis is the only determining factor in the life span of one’s entire being. Women, according to Clive, are supposed to provide an ameliorating presence that soothes the warring and destructive instincts of men. The very idea it’s the role of women to soothe the violence of men is so ludicrous that you wonder what Hamilton’s on that he’d even suggest it, let alone seriously argue for it.

Well, Clive, I could tell you some stories about a few warring and destructive women that would make your hair curl. Sorry, I forgot you haven’t got any, but you know what I mean.

I could tell you some stories about tender, pacifying, nurturing men that would turn all those essentialisms of yours right on their heads (is that another new word I made up? Essentialisms?) because the argument you’re running flat-out denies the possibility of such men, and shame on you for that.

I just watched a young man with his first baby and I’m telling you Clive, he’d match any woman any day in the nurturing stakes. Talk about feeling the love.

It seems to me that the gender card is usually brought into play when somebody wants to use it as a blaming weapon. Like, men never do the dishes properly, women never read maps right. Men abuse women, women are the victims of men. Women are compassionate, men would rather fight. Men are from Mars Bars, Women are from Venus fly traps. Gender, like race, is a construct and it pays to have a long hard look at who is currently constructing it and why.

I’m all for acknowledgment and appreciation of difference, but not for using difference as a reason for discrimination, accusation, blame,and lower pay scales.

OMG! I just got up to close the door and shut my finger in it. There’s a gender devil in the room, and it’s looking to hurt me!

I told our baby boy, whispering it into his tiny (pink) ear, that he can be as tender, nurturing and ameliorating as he wants, and he’ll probably feel violent and aggressive now and again as well, but somebody, likely his dad and mum, will show him how to handle that without acting it out on somebody. I told him he could grow up to love men or women or both and none of us will think twice about it because he’s ours and we love him, and love is love whether there’s a penis or a vagina involved. By the time he gets round to thinking about it, I told him, gay marriage will be legal and that’s one less battle he might have to fight on his own behalf or that of others.

I hope, I told him, that the climate change deniers will have gone to their god, and somebody in charge will have attended to the situation before it gets so bad his life will be spent in a hostile environment. I am so very sorry, my darling, I whispered, that we have let it come to this, and that we’ll die off and leave you with the wreckage.

The world is an amazing place, I told him (I watch a lot of SBS) in spite of all its problems, enmities and murderous ways. There’s still wondrous people in it, and thrilling things to see and do.  I’ll shout you a trip around the globe when you finish school, if they still do gap years then, so you can see its marvels for yourself.

I’ll mind you as often as your parents will let me, I promised him. It’s a family tradition that at some point in adolescence, everyone goes to live with a grandmother when their parents get naff. I did it, your dad did it, your uncle did it, your aunties did it, and I’m pretty damn sure a few of your cousins will do it as well. I’m here for you, then and always, I told him, if I’m the granny you choose.

And here the infant opened his eyes and looked at me for the very first time. How, I wondered, as I fell immediately and irrevocably into love, can we live with such disregard for the futures of those who’ll succeed us? They are newly formed human beings. They come in utter helplessness and trust. They come with a vulnerability that makes the heart ache.  Don’t we owe them everything?


12 Responses to “New born babies, and gender: what is it good for?”

  1. gerard oosterman October 4, 2011 at 8:48 am #

    Go and tell you friends to buy baby clothes in continental Europe, but leave out UK where all that blue and pink nonsense originated from.. . It’s mainly an Anglo thing.


    • Jennifer Wilson October 4, 2011 at 9:12 am #

      That’s a long way to go for little garments!
      Have you got anything to put up on Sheep?


      • Sam Jandwich October 4, 2011 at 2:17 pm #

        You could try asking a black sheep – who would probably say she has one for the master and one for the dame, and one for the little boy who lives down the lane. If your new grandson’s into fashion he’ll probably end up wearing black eventually. Why not start now?

        Lovely article though Jennifer, and congratulations to you and his mum and dad. If I were Prime Minister, I’d pop a copy into everyone’s letterbox. It’s so obvious, isn’t it? But for whatever reason I’m realising more and more as I get older that your grandson is one of the lucky ones.


  2. Spinifex Dreaming October 4, 2011 at 8:47 pm #

    Congratulations Grandma.
    When my eldest daughter was born, in the early 70’s, we had light purple & mid-green & soft orange. Tops, bottoms & flower-printed cloth nappies. Way out even for the hippy era. It confused a lot of gooing gaaing people who were unsure how to pitch their baby-talk when asking the infant “Are you a boy or girl?” They couldn’t decide whether she was big & bouncing or tiny & petite unless we put them out of their misery and answered “She is a she”

    A couple of years ago I was on a 4-hour train journey. Soon after leaving the station the woman in the seat opposite started knitting, using 4 needles & dark blue/dark green wool. Ah! Footy socks for maybe her grandson, I thought, as the garment began growing. Then, by the width I decided it was a sock for a man…then a large fat man. But the circumference continued to expand…a beanie. The garment continued to grow…developing “arms”…ah a tea cosy for a very large teapot. Finally, after covertly watching the woman for about half an hour, I simply couldn’t help myself…”What are you knitting?” I asked
    She explained…she was knitting a nightie for a South African AIDS baby. It was seamless (thus the 4 needles) so it would be comfortable for a thin child to wear…wool because they feel the cold. And the dark colours because a) the mothers like those colours and b) because, unlike pink & blue, dark colours don’t show the dirt so well, esp when the infant starts crawling on the dirt floors.

    Having, in my youth, spent hours scrubbing black knees from pale coloured terry towelling jumpsuits, I love the practicality of South African mothers. I’ve also longed for a nightie without seams…esp on those long nights when seams start to cut in.

    BTW…the old woman told us (half the carriage joined in the conversation after my intial question) she had volunteered to knit 50 baby garments, had completed 41 in less than a fortnight, and had 2 more finished by the time we reached our destination.
    You bet.

    So if you’re looking for dark coloured baby clothes I’d suggest either Soweto in South Africa…or travelling Melbourne-Bairnsdale V-Line train in the off-chance of meeting a beautiful chatty old woman with a large bag of wool.


    • Jennifer Wilson October 4, 2011 at 9:30 pm #

      Ah, yes, I’ve seen those gorgeous baby garments made for South Africa –
      Being a grandmother is so much more fun than being a mother – someone else has all the real responsibility and I don’t have to endure broken sleep. Plus I can watch the parents suffer like they made us… 🙂


      • Spinifex Dreaming October 4, 2011 at 9:44 pm #

        Like I tell my daughter….It’s pay back time.


  3. Steve at the Pub October 5, 2011 at 2:47 am #

    Clive Hamilton? I am beginning to think someone here has a complex about him.

    The man was never heard of (except by a MOST niche group) until he stood for a seat (in Victoria or somewhere) at a recent election. At which time he exposed himself as a raving nutter.

    Congratulations on the breeding! Always a happy event to welcome a new cleanskin into the world!


    • Jennifer Wilson October 5, 2011 at 7:05 am #

      Well, thank you Steve – I think 🙂

      Not a complex, just responding to Clive’s sudden tilt at fame as a feminist commentator. I’m over it now!


  4. gerard oosterman October 5, 2011 at 8:58 am #

    Congrats from here as well. Having grandchild(ren) really rocks. Almost preferable as a short cut in bypassing having children. I am sure with modern medicine it will be possible soon.:)


  5. paul walter October 5, 2011 at 6:58 pm #

    I don’t agree entirely with Steve’s comments re Hamilton, he IS a well enough public figure, over a couple of decades and as such his views need to be considered, endorsed or refuted. I am personally suspicious of him because he is another bod involved in environmentalism long term who switched to the orthodox conservatism of New Labor and now argues social conservatism on a number of issues, so he can’t be forgiven for ignorance of the issues, unlike the worst of the populist righties.
    At his Institute, he is given the job of “spinning” New Labor apologetics (as with Sinclair Davidson at Cattalaxy, perhaps, with Abbottist stuff, for contrast), rather than questioning these or other orthodoxy-derived positions, let alone developing actual ideas, which is why his work is both easily dismembered and perhaps a source of his own developing misanthropy- he’s had to sellout or go into denial on issues he was once honest and forthright over.


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