The pink monkey was lying on the floor staring up at me with its happy little eyes. It was a trap.
“Sweetheart, pick him up please,” I said as I hurriedly tried to get a three year-old into bed.
“Daddy, Monkey is a her!”
It has been happening more and more lately. My youngest daughter is beginning to call me on my gendered thinking. Am I a fraud? Am I sexist? Can I still help smash the patriarchy?
Let’s back up a second and give dad a little credit. I saw a pink monkey on the floor and was able to look past its pastel hue and see a proud male primate confident in its cotton-candy coloured cotton skin.
These are the kind of problems you get into when you’re desperately trying to raise two little feminists — you start running into conflicting symbols of the patriarchy.
I asked my daughter why Monkey was a her and was promptly told it was because she was pink. (Note: despite my efforts to name the monkey in the proud household tradition of 90s hip hop stars, its name is just Monkey).
After a brief internal moment of gloating (that I had just turned the tables of logic on a three year-old), I explained to her that pink was just a colour and it didn’t mean boy or girl.
I reminded her that her favourite t-shirt of mine is pink (it has Animal from The Muppets on it).
Despite my best efforts, I can’t help the fact that I have a male brain, it tends to see the world with a certain bias that applies traits to inanimate objects in a split second. A group of mixed gender people becomes “you guys,” a habit I’ve been told is highly sexist.
The next night, I was reading a bedtime story, one of our new favourite series called The Princess in Black. In it, a young frilly pink princess has a secret identity as a monster fighting superhero who wears black. Her faithful pony, named Blacky, also has a secret identity as a unicorn named Frimplepants who wears a pink horse blanket and a flower in his hair.
“Daddy, Frimplepants is a girl.”
“No, he’s a boy. The story says so.”
“But she’s a unicorn.”
“Well, actually he’s only pretending to be a unicorn.”
The levels of gender confusion in the story were way too much for 10 minutes before bedtime. The silver lining is that I have now reclaimed black as a go-to colour for all things simply by saying the Princess in Black would wear it/use it, etc. Win.
The layers of gender bias are so thick sometimes that it’s hard to unpack them all. The man at Starbucks with long hair that I had to explain was perfectly normal for a male. The LEGO Friends sets that were too girly have been deconstructed and turned into a giant castle with a two-train garage.
The next day while I was shopping, I bought a new pink shirt (40 percent off!) to bring home to show my girls. I try not to harp on gender issues too much with them, I aim to make it a part of everyday life. They see daddy cooking, they see mommy get her hair cut short, they know that whether not they want to be a ballerina or an astronaut we have their back.
The good news is, now that we’ve resolved the gender of stuffed animals, I’m pretty sure it all gets easier from here on out. Right? Right?