When my oldest son, Jack, was two, he fell madly in love with the color pink. His favorite shirt was a pink, oxford-cloth button-down, now memorialized in his nursery school picture. His costume for the school mini-parade was a hot-pink ice skate. When he turned three and we bought a “big-boy” bed, he chose pale pink and white polka dotted sheets. I found this all terribly charming. My husband, Tom, however, was conflicted about Jack’s preferred color, a concern that peaked when Jack said that more than anything, he wanted a pink bike for his fourth birthday.
A few weeks later, I took Jack to the cycling store, and his dad began to squirm. A magenta bike with a white seat and butterfly decals adorning its body caught Jack’s eye. Yes, this was classified as a girls bike, and no, you couldn’t get it minus the butterflies or with a different color seat. Jack declared this deeper hue to be his new favorite color, and Tom’s discomfort became more apparent.
“Emily,” he whispered that night in bed, “can’t we just tell Jack that the store ran out of pink bikes?”
“Are you seriously going to tell your little boy that he can’t have a pink bike because pink is a ‘girl’s color’?” I shot back. “You wouldn’t refuse your daughter a blue bike, would you?”
He insisted his primary concern was that Jack might be made fun of, but I maintained that such a situation would be a grand opportunity to learn more about self-confidence and standing up for oneself.
I didn’t grow up with brothers. My father was the lone man in the sea of women and now, I’m the solo woman amid my posse of boys. While I respect the innate differences between boys and girls, I’m consciously raising my sons in ways that honor traits often considered “feminine.” I want them to be gentle, knowledgeable about their emotions, empathetic. And I have little interest in stereotypical norms of what is or isn’t gender appropriate. While Tom doesn’t disagree with any of that, he entered fatherhood with more traditional conceptions of gender, a perspective I didn’t fully understand until the pink bike situation brought our core differences to light. When faced with his own son wanting something that so publicly screamed “girl,” he struggled.
Jack loved pink simply because it was pretty. In considering the bias we might perpetuate if we refused our son something because society deemed it “girly,” Tom overcame his hesitation, and we bought the bike. Jack was thrilled. Over the next year, still wearing his button-downs regularly, girls in Jack’s class began telling him that pink was not a boy color. He came home one afternoon and told me he didn’t love pink anymore, but he still liked it.
“Honey, that’s totally fine” I said, and then suggested we take our bikes out for a spin. Smiling, Jack dashed to get his helmet.