My life began as a tiny seed, one amongst a million others, in the soil of Punjab. My only company was that of a farmer, who took great care of us and grew us into plants. Following the initial process of winnowing, we were all sold to a cloth merchant. After being transported to a cotton manufacturing mill, we were taken to the spinning department and placed on spindles that turned us into yarn. I was then, by the process of weaving on machines, turned into a cloth. My masters chose a bright pink color for me and after being dyed I was converted into a polo shirt. I soon found myself on display at the kids section of a popular brand, excited to start my new life and find a loving home.
Every day, I get to see new and different faces. Children come into the store with their parents, looking around at various garments, much like me. There have been a lot of instances where my bright pink color has proved attractive to children and they have been mesmerized by my beauty, but this one incident of a little boy crying to his mother about how much he wanted to try me on deeply saddens me.
One morning, I noticed this little boy advancing from my left, his eyes slowly browsing the clothing on the aisles next to mine. He was accompanied by his mother, who followed slowly behind. The boy stopped right in front of me, grabbed my collar and informed his mother that I was the one of his choice and that he wanted to make the purchase that same day. However, his mother barely took one short glace at me, and told the boy that pink isn’t the color boys wearand that I was way too girlyfor his choice. The little boy, visibly saddened, continued on to find more pieces that his mother might approve of.
We live in a world where gender roles are so deeply engrained that even a little five year old boy isn’t allowed to wear a shirt he found attractive because the color just isn’t rightfor him. In many cultures worldwide, one stereotype emerges: Pink is associated with girls and blue is associated with boys. Patriarchal society greatly benefits from promoting gender stereotypes, punishing girls for not being adequately deferential and boys for not being toughenough, despite the harm these narrow stereotypes tend to do to people.
But why are instances like these so problematic? Assigning colors to children since such an early age enforces a role they are required to grow up and fit into. It reinforces the idea that men are supposed to be masculine and girls are supposed to act feminine. This has long lasting and damaging effects on a child’s self-esteem and body image.
As I recount this experience years later, sitting in the back of a girl’s closet who outgrew me, tired, worn out, and forgotten about, my only hope is that gender neutrality is promoted to its maximum and we start teaching children that they can grow up to be whoever they wish to be.
– Zainab Habib, Volunteer from Eye on Ivy