Fight The Pink
by Johanna Stein
Back when I was newly pregnant, sometime during the first trimester we found ourselves at the OB’s office for a routine ultrasound to determine that the kid was healthy and to find out what it was going to be. (1)
Some people like to save this knowledge to be revealed as a surprise the moment the baby is born. Personally, I can’t stand the idea of someone possessing information about me to which I am not privy. Though it does give me the opportunity to use the word privy, it generally feels to me like the first step of a blackmail plot. And while I’m certain that I could have kept the secret from the husband if he’d insisted on waiting, there’s no way I’d have been able to keep from taunting him mercilessly and holding that knowledge over his head, which I’m guessing is probably not the optimal environment in which to bring a child into the world.
Fortunately, he felt the same way I did; neither of us could understand why anyone would need to save the surprise for the delivery room. Aren’t there enough surprises, between “Guess how much college is going to cost in eighteen years?” to “Whoa, Nelly! I think I just gave birth to a Conehead.” But, as I like to say, each to his own. (2)
After I lay down on the examination table, Dr. V. Jay lathered up my pooch-y tummy with KY Jelly and began peering through my guts.
Swooping the ultrasound paddle over my belly as though it were an air-hockey table—a flabby, bloated air-hockey table—the doc directed our attention to the monitor, on which he pointed out the baby’s head and facial features, the spine, and some tendrils that would apparently become arms and legs, all of which looked more like a thermal weather map than a human to me. Then, with all the drama of a game-show host, he said, “Let me ask you one more time: are you sure you want to know the sex of this baby?”
The husband and I looked at each other.
“Uh, yeah,” I said.
“So you do want me to tell you,” said the doctor.
“Yes,” I said.
“You’re sure about that?” he asked again.
“Yes!” I said, feeling agitated and certain that my fear of blackmail plots was about to be validated; either that or we were about to win the Showcase Showdown.
The doctor pointed to the low-pressure front on the ultra sound screen and said, “There’s one lip, and there’s the other lip. It’s a girl!” My husband looked at me, confused, and asked, “He can tell that from her face”? To which I responded quietly, “I don’t think he’s talking about the lips up top.” (3)
Once we’d both taken a moment to get past the doctor’s strangely porn-y choice of words, the husband pumped a fist in the air and shouted, “YES!”
Me, not so much.
* * * * *
The husband was confused by my lukewarm, less-than-overjoyed response to the news that we were having a girl.
Certainly, a big chunk of my disappointment was the loss of possibility. I’ve always loved those life moments of infinite potential—like when you get something in the mail from the gas company and your first thought is “Maybe there’s a check for five thousand dollars in there!” followed by the next thought, “Or maybe it’s awkward nude photos of me taken from inside our bathroom heating vent.” It’s why it takes me forever to choose from a list of thirty-nine flavors and why I die just a little after saying, “I’ll have the chocolate.” There’s something so delicious about that sweet spot of unlimited possibility. And learning that we were having a girl meant closing the door on a lifetime of unique, mom-to-a-boy experiences that I wouldn’t get to savor, like being my son’s first “special lady” and the privilege of making life for every subsequent “special lady” in my son’s life a living hell.
I’d assumed we were having a boy, for a number of very good reasons. There aren’t many females in our lineages; I have two brothers, and my husband has one brother. Also, my friend Pete (who also has a brother) had dangled his wife’s wedding ring over my belly during a backyard kegger, and when the ring swung back and forth in a straight line, Pete had drunkenly proclaimed it a boy.
Between all that hard science, I was certain there was a tiny penis up in there.
Of course, I’d been spewing that old hairy chestnut, “It doesn’t matter what it is, as long as it’s healthy,” right up until the moment that we heard it was indeed going to be a lip-tastic girl. But the deep truth is that I wasn’t just assuming it was a boy; I’d been hoping for one.
Certainly, there are things about little boys that I’ve never quite understood—like the way they mindlessly yank on their penises as though they’re made of Silly Putty. Still, despite my own lip-having status, I’ve always related to boys better than girls (4), and the fact is, I didn’t know much about the care, feeding, and raising of a girl. Maybe it has something to do with my upbringing (5), maybe not.
Regardless, once we learned that there would be no tiny penis-tugging in our immediate futures, my feelings about raising a girl human progressed fairly quickly, from confusion to ambivalence to fear to sleepiness to a powerful sense of duty, which is where it stuck. If I couldn’t raise a boy who would grow to appreciate a nontraditional Manly Lady like myself—then, by golly, I would do the next best thing and raise a Manly Lady-Girl.
So while other mothers-to-be (and at least one particular father-to-be) cry in delight at the prospect of their precious, dainty little girls-to-be, I went in, shall we say, a different direction. Not so far as that Canadian couple who named their baby “Envelope” and attempted to raise her/him entirely gender-free . . . but probably further than most, when I established “Operation Fight the Pink.”
(Although I did not keep a formal record of the events that ensued, what follows is a reasonable facsimile, using old e-mails, text messages, conversations with my husband, and random bits of paper stuck at the bottom of my purse.)
OPERATION FIGHT THE PINK
Be it resolved that on this, the day of our daughter’s birth, I am putting my gnarled foot down, and, with all due respect to the husband (who is, let the record show, shaking his head right now), I hereby decree the following feminist goals for my child.
- My daughter will not be “defined” by the color pink. (This is in reference to clothing, toys, and accessories, less so to naturally occurring food items and her own body parts. Those are permitted to remain pink.) If I’ve learned one thing in all those women’s studies classes—well, that one I took in my first year of college—it is that pink is the color of oppression and tyranny. And Mary Kay cosmetics.
- She will be exposed to gender-neutral activities (soccer, karate, electric guitar lessons, WWE wrestling) over female-oriented activities (ballet, needlepoint, harpsichord lessons, So You Think You Can Dance).
- She will never, under any circumstances, be allowed to dress up like a princess (Disney trademarked or otherwise). Ever. Possible exception: Princess Leia. (Exception to the exception: space bikini. That will not fly here.)
- My child will be a survivor—I don’t just mean metaphorically; she must be able to handle herself in an apocalypse (zombie or otherwise). This means that when fully grown, she must be strong enough to carry me (anywhere between 130–200 pounds; I will do my best to keep it on the low end, but you know . . . metabolism) and demonstrate a basic understanding of electricity, chemistry, several martial arts, weapons handling, and some emergency medical training. She must also know how to use a chain saw.
I feel confident that, in adhering to these guidelines, our daughter will not follow in the dainty footsteps of countless girls before her who have mindlessly welcomed the pink shackles of lady-hood, but instead will be her own person—a self-sufficient, self-respecting, powerful member of society. With zombie-ass-kicking abilities.
EIGHT MONTHS IN
Operation Fight the Pink is fully under way, though it has not been without its challenges.
It has been difficult to enforce the “no pink” rule. Throughout the year we received many gifts for the baby, and while I am grateful for the generosity of our friends and family, 85 percent of the gifts fell somewhere on the pink spectrum from “light cherry blossom” to “neon hot ’n slutty.” It seems we are stuck with said gifts, as attempting to return them seems impractical and time-consuming; also, the husband got very pissed when I even suggested this (that sappy bastard).
Regarding gender-biased activities, it may be too soon to tell, but based on her affinity for the Jolly Jumper, I think she may have a talent for basketball (coed).
On the subject of princessification—we may have some work ahead of us; while at a birthday party she reached for a princess tiara with flashing lights. I intercepted said tiara and handed her a building block instead. When the child became agitated I attempted to demonstrate how much fun a rectangular piece of wood can be. A screaming tantrum ensued. So as not to ruin the party, I allowed a compromise: I let the child wear the block on her head. Success (?).
OFTP is not going so well.
Pink continues to dominate the color palette in our home. I tried to remove all the pink crayons from her crayon box, only to find that the child had been hoarding—and eating—them. (Her diapers have been a daily reminder of my failure in this regard.)
Took child to the park to watch a peewee baseball game. She was eager, but quickly lost interest after consuming one hot dog, a bucket of popcorn, and two ice cream bars. We lost more ground when she was invited to run the bases after the game—which she declined in favor of chasing a butterfly into the outfield.
If she absolutely has to be interested in princesses— and it appears by her unwavering tiara obsession that she does—I am praying that they at least be the tougher, less pansy-assed ones, like Mulan. Just please, not Cinderella, the lamest of the princesses, who waits helplessly for some fancy-britches-wearing prince who uses far too much hair gel and who “saves” her by identifying her tiny shoe size, which I’m guessing is simply evidence that her feet had been bound.
In addition to the foregoing, a troubling development has arisen.
While at the grocery store the other day, an elderly man stopped to tell me that my daughter was “very pretty.” I said, “Okay,” and continued sniffing a piece of raw chicken. The man went on, “Really. She is so cute!” “Okay then,” I said and started to walk away. The man continued, “Really . . . ,” to the point that I nearly shoved the old geezer into the frozen shrimp section.
The fact is: sure, she’s “cute.” She’s got that blonde-haired, blue-eyed, leggy thing going on that our society seems to like so much. And as humans go, yes, her features are organized in a symmetrical configuration that one might call attractive. Me, I call it disastrous. It’s not that I’m jealous (though it is a fact that the highest compliment I was ever paid as a child was, “You would have made a really good-looking boy”). What irks me is that, just by virtue of being a girl, she will face constant evaluation on the basis of her looks. (6) I was really counting on her being homely—but things are not looking good, as it appears she may, in fact, be good-looking. Fingers crossed that I’m wrong.
THREE YEARS, ONE MONTH
She wore a tutu for five straight days, at which point it started to smell like an old, rotting fish net. And then I caught her wearing my bra. True, she was wearing it on her head, but I attribute this to her poor hand-eye coordination more than anything else.
Also, the child has become obsessed with wearing makeup. I have tried to express to her that, for me, makeup is primarily for spackling purposes, but this has not swayed her from habitually attempting to paint her face like some two-bit, pull-up-wearing floozy.
When we moved a few months ago, the husband insisted that the child be allowed input into redecorating her room. As a result, her bedroom now has pink walls, pink sheets, and a pink light fixture. It looks like someone ground up a bunch of flamingos into a paste and flung it on her walls.
Today she asked me if she looks cute when she’s sleeping. My immediate, unedited response, “No. You’re hideous.” It didn’t hurt her feelings—on the contrary, she simply chose not to believe me. So, on a positive note, her self-esteem is rock solid. On the other hand: GROSS.
FOUR YEARS AND CHANGE
On Halloween it really seemed as though we were making progress. Though she’d asked to be Cinderella for her preschool Halloween party (ugh), she also expressed a desire to go trick-or-treating as Spider-Man (yay!). This was a decided win, though in retrospect, perhaps I shouldn’t have shouted, “HELL, YEAH!!!!”
I made my way to the mall, where I found a top-notch Spider-Man costume, the last one at the store. Another mother tried to wrest it from my hands, but I wasn’t about to give it up. She even made her son ask me for it (seriously, lady, how desperate can you be, shoving your crying kid at me?), but I think the experience will serve him well—he should learn that life is filled with disappointment.
When I awoke on Halloween morning, the kid was already dressed in a homemade Cinderella outfit she’d cobbled together (blue towel, dishwashing gloves, tinfoil crown, and “magic toilet paper wand”). Unnerved, I held out the Spider-Man outfit, but she shook her head and said she’d “changed her mind.” I bit my tongue and let her wear the damn princess outfit to preschool. It was later, when she got home from school and refused to change into her Spider-Man costume for the evening’s festivities, that I may have lost my cool. I won’t divulge exactly what went down, except to say that strong words were spoken, tears were released, and a twenty-minute time-out was given (to me; by me).
All of which is to explain how I found myself, the following morning, filled with a form of regret that can be purged only by driving to the mall and purchasing a fully licensed Cinderella costume, complete with a real fake wand and Lucite slippers. Yes, it was a hard pill to swallow, but at least the gown is blue. The look on the kid’s face when I gave it to her—that did help the pill go down. And the 25 percent off post-Halloween discount—that paid for the pill.
Despite my attempts to mold the girl in my Manly Lady image, it seems that it is not to be. She’s proven herself to be a Barbie-playing, jewelry-loving pretty pink princess, a fact that baffles me, as all I’ve ever wanted is for her to be her own woman (unless that woman is a Barbie-playing, jewelry-loving pretty pink princess). So rather than impose my will on her—as righteous and correct as I still believe it to be—I have chosen to stand down and abandon OFTP, and instead will look upon this as a “learning experience”: she may be my daughter—but in the end, she’s her own person.
We all have dreams for our kids, until the day we discover that their dreams are not ours to have. And though you may pray that your daughter becomes a judo–black belt, multilingual engineering student at Yale, she just may end up the second-highest-paid stripper at “Cheeks’ Bar and Grill.” And I guess, as long as she’s happy, there’s nothing wrong with that. (7, 8, 9)
(1) I.e., Gender-wise; species-wise we were pretty clear on what to expect.
(2) A phrase I like to use when talking about people whose opposing beliefs are both (a) different from mine and (b) 100 percent wrong.
(3) I still can’t explain why he used the terminology of Hustler magazine, but I’m just going to stick with the assumption that he thought we were cool enough to handle it.
(4) Fact: I am known in some circles as a Manly Lady.
(5) Please see Appendix A: “I AM MY FATHER’S SON”.
(6) Look, I’ve heard about all those studies linking physical attractiveness to professional success, and if she can sail through life on her looks, then I guess that bodes well for my husband and me and the quality of retirement home that she’ll eventually stick us into. But for the sake of her humanity, I’d still rather she were a little more nerdy/awkward/homely/ dorky. Not just because all of those words have described me at one time or another (also now), but because I’ve heard it straight from the mouths of “babes” (i.e., the grown-lady kind) that their striking good looks often make life more—not less—difficult (i.e., problems with female friendships, men feeling intimidated by them, the world not taking them seriously). This being so, two rhetorical questions: (1) Is it too much to hope that my child could learn to get along in life solely on her personality, intelligence, and pluck? And (2) would I be going too far in considering physically disfiguring her? Just wondering.
(7) As long as she’s your kid.
(8) (Just kidding.)
(9) (No, I’m not.)
Excerpted from the book “How Not to Calm a Child on a Plane (& Other Lessons in Parenting from a Highly Questionable Source)” with permission from Da Capo Lifelong Books.
As a writer, director, and actor, Johanna Stein‘s work has appeared on Comedy Central, Nickelodeon, PBS, HBO, CBS, the Oxygen Network, VH1, the Disney Channel, and all across the Internets, where her comedy shorts, PSAs, and popular Yahoo! web series “Life of Mom” have been viewed millions of times. In addition to her TV and film work, Johanna’s essays have been published in such outlets as the New York Times, Parents Magazine, and the Huffington Post.