Wednesday, August 24, 2011

More Reasons for My Smith College Diploma to be Revoked for My Failure to Toe the Feminist Party Line

I took my kids to Staples yesterday to load up on home-school supplies. They are so cute right now and so independent! Hannah (age 8), Alex (age 6) and Maria (age 4) each grabbed their own individual carts and had a blast browsing the sale racks for great finds. Afterwards, I was reviewing their selections to make sure that each item was truly in the $1 to $3 price range.

Each kid had gone with a color theme. Maria had chosen all pink: pink scissors, pink pens, a pink pencil case and a pink notebook. Alex had chosen all blue--except for one glaring exception. His notebook was a deep purple.

I struggled inside. "Do I say something, or let it go?"

I was raised with the firm social truth that "Gender is a construction in the mind, and a child's freedom of expression should trump 'outdated' social norms." Yet deep in my gut, I didn't like it. I decided "Well, I might be just a socially phobic jerk, but the truth is that I'm going to be totally embarrassed if my son's main notebook for school has a deep purple cover."

So I said something. "Er.....Alex, this notebook is purple. That's usually considered a girly color. Wouldn't you rather have a notebook in blue or red?"

My son looked deep into my eyes and said something that rocked my whole world.

"Mom, I thought it was deep blue. I wanted it to be blue. Sometimes I can't tell the difference between blue and purple."

This was light a lightening moment for me and the Holy Spirit, right there in the middle of the Staples aisle!

A ton of thoughts hit me at once.

First, my kid is color blind! Which I sort of suspected was happening between the colors red and green, but I never expected it to also be a confusion between purple and deep blue.

Second, there were all of these moments in the past where my son had chosen the purple candy, or the purple pencil--all these times when I assumed he was just a boy heavily influenced by having three sisters clustered in close proximity around him. But that wasn't the truth at all. My son couldn't see! Each time, he thought he was choosing the blue lollipop!

Third, it is clearly OKAY for me to be more bossy as a parent when it comes to color selection choices. Pink and purple are for girls. My son wants (and medically needs!) those type of leadership decisions from me.

I treasure that precious interaction with my son inside of Staples. Unless I tell the microscopic truth about myself, even embarrassing things like "I'm NOT cool with my son choosing a purple notebook", I miss out on so many things going on around me.


  1. It is amazing how we learn things like that in such little moments. I remember being on vacation as a family in D.C. over a decade ago and it was only because we were all standing on one side of the Lincoln Memorial reading the quote on the opposite wall that we learned my youngest brother needed glasses.

    I do set limits on my girls that they know they are girls. For example, they can wear pajamas all week as long as they aren't going out but come Sunday they have to wear a dress to church. Pants for Church are not an option for them. When I am correcting some behavior of theirs, I will sometimes tell them it is not "ladylike." They can love playing with cars and trucks and trains and more power to them, but I likewise think it is very important not to treat them like they are gender neutral.

  2. I am sure he really appreciated that! I wouldn't call myself color blind, but I do have some problems judging between purples, blues, and pinks if they are not the bright "true" colors. I probably would have thought that same notebook was blue!

  3. I guess I should stand by the Sears rack in the Boys section and warn children that the dark purple Transformers t-shirt I saw this weekend will make then look "girly." Or maybe I should spend my time in the Girls section and warn girl off of buying anything dark blue (a boy's color), or red (a power color), or any pants (lest they be mistaken for rejecting their gender).

    I'm sad that your blog is taking such a dive into weirdness, cloaked in Carmelism and Christianity when I don't think these thoughts are reflective of either of these schools of thought.

  4. Do you think preists look "girly" in purple vestments? What does it matter what color one's notebook is, and if your son, in fact, liked purple, why would you cast that preference as a negative?

  5. Abigail,

    My landlord was colorblind and once painted our entry hall a bright pink, thinking it was a neutral beige. We teased him for it to no end, but in a good-natured way.

    It makes sense to me that he'd not be able to tell blue from purple if he's red-green colorblind because purple is a blend of blue and red.

    My mom and I always disagree about colors. She calls purple things I would label and shades of red or burgandy. And she calls blue things I think of as purple. I wonder sometimes if it's a form of color blindness. Do we actually perceive the colors differently or just that we use different labels?

    Anonymous, (It would be nice if you could choose a pseudonym to aid in discussion.)

    I think I missed the part of the blog post where Abigail linked her color preferences with Christianity and being a Carmelite.

    From what I read her main concern was her own embarrassment because she feels purple is a girly color. I'm not sure I entirely agree about purple. But if it were pink and I had a son of that age... in Abigail's position yes, I might feel concern on my son's behalf lest he get teased. Knowing how sensitive pre-teen boys can be I could well see her son reproaching her at some future point: "Mom, why didn't you tell me purple is a girly color? All the guys are making fun of me!"

    Of course, I can also see the point in teaching a lesson about rejecting conformity. My mom used to do that all the time, insisting that we question the importance of fitting in to the crowd. But really it's all about personal preferences and prejudices which is kind of a silly thing to argue about.

  6. Sigh. What does this blog post have to do with the color of priest's vestments? Honestly Anonymous, you're jumping to random conclusions from a harmless story about a mother and her son. And Abigail, I completely agree with your reasoning. I would have done the same thing.

  7. How does a bias against purple -- its "girly" and an embarrassment to a mother to see her son choose a notebook for homeschooling--stem from good Christian and Carmelite beliefs if priests wear the color? That feeling is coming from some provincial and unkind place, but its isn't Christian!

  8. FWIW, there are at least two separate anon posters here.

    FWIW, I pretty much agree with the other anon posters.

    Finally, dark or royal purple has been seen historically as a royal color and a color often reserved for Christ as King in Christian iconography.

    Yes, I can see why it would be soooo wrong for a homeschooled boy to in any way align himself with a color used by Jesus. Oh, the ridicule from your "classmates"!!


  9. To Anon1 from Anon2 -- thank you for your posts, which are far more articulate than mine.

  10. I do think it's interesting that you found out that your son was colorblind like that. I do think, however, that telling our child that any color is specifically "girlie" or "boyish" is a really dangerous thing.

    I think the thing that makes it most questionable is that the decision to say something was based on the mother's personal embarrassment. Especially for a homeschooled child you will not be facing any daily ridicule as a result of those choices. Even in that case, you could explain that others may not approve, but that if that's what he likes, he could choose it anyway.

    I think that if you tell someone that color choice is girlie or boyish, it can cause confusion. For example, "Purple is girlie, and I like purple. Am I girlie?" I think that instilling that boyishness has to do with certain attributes (i.e. being protective, strong, and loving) is more helpful.

  11. I did not know purple was considered a girlie color. We're big LSU fans in this house and my son has some LSU purple clothes. I think of purple as in "royal purple" as a pretty masculine color. Lavender, though, I would think of as more girlie.

    Even more interesting is the fact that pink for girls and blue for boys wasn't the custom till the middle of the 20th century. This article is quite interesting.

  12. Funny story, Abby!

    Paul was really into purple for awhile. I completely told him that it is currently considered a "girly" color. He is homeschooled and generally a little unobservant and simply needs to be told some cultural realities. He continued to like purple until the next great color came his way, but with some new info, he no longer ran up to announce to his guy friends that purple was his favorite color and get snickered at by everyone.

    Pretending that gender constructs do not actually exist in society is crazy. Good for you for giving your boy a little real-world info!

  13. The only thing confusing in this post was the title: I had no idea being a feminist was a requirement for a Smith degree -- if so, there were lots of people in my class who shouldn't have graduated.

    Perhaps things have changed since I was there (and my 25th reunion is coming), but all that was expected was tolerance and acceptance of opinions (which included the right to respectfully disagree with them). A woman encouraging her children to make certain choices based on traditional ideas of gender, because she thinks that living according to these ideas is correct and brings her and her family closer to God? It's not what I would choose for myself (indeed, I am raising my kids as gender-free as I possibly can), but I don't see anything objectionable about anyone else doing it.

    By the way, my family has worn purple to support the homosexual agenda:

    So maybe your daughters as well as sons should avoid the color? ;)

  14. That is a funny story!

    How does your blog draw these negative anonymous comments??? It baffles me! Where do they come from?

  15. I ability feel affair on my son's account lest he get teased. Knowing how acute pre-teen boys can be I could able-bodied see her son accusatory her at some approaching point.
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