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Oh, Baby

To the Editor:

Miriam Axel-Lute, in her prepartum quest to enlighten the cluelessly congratulatory [“It’s a . . . Baby!!” Looking Up, March 23], might be interested to know that it wasn’t too long ago boys were living “la vie en rose” and girls were singing the blues. Although the French introduced pink-for-girls and blue-for-boys in the mid-19th century, it did not become standard issue stateside until after World War II. Hitler was an early adopter of the pink link (triangle for homosexuals), although the Catholic Church chose blue for the Virgin Mary, their ultimate female. Since the word pink comes from the flower Dianthus, commonly known as “pinks” for the way its petals appear to have been trimmed with pinking shears, Freud might say there’s a good reason boys have shied away from the color. But whichever way you cut it, people have always been quick to try and circumscribe it somehow.

In 1918, the trade journal The Infant’s Dept. referred to “the generally accepted rule,” explaining that “pink being a more decided and stronger color is more suitable for a boy; while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.” And the Sunday Sentinel, in 1914, advised readers to “use pink for the boy and blue for the girl, if you are a follower of convention.” Greeting card companies, however, favored the reverse in birth announcements (citing 18th-century paintings The Blue Boy and Pinky), which caused clothing manufacturers to complain that they were unduly confusing matters. According to a 1939 poll of New York shoppers conducted by Parents Magazine, most agreed with Hallmark and the “English school” painters, but about a fifth did not.

As Axel-Lute charitably allows, it’s difficult to speak of infants without knowing if they’re male or female, and in this respect our grandmothers’ generation may have been less gender-bound than our own, given the Victorian practice of referring to children as “it”—admittedly more of a Brit thing. Author E. Nesbit writes: “Everyone got its legs kicked or its feet trodden on in the scramble to get out of the carriage that very minute, but no one seemed to mind.” In any event, it seems that plus ça change, plus c’est le mums choose. And yet, just like with our eternal euphemizing to elide the realities of inequality (if we just start calling them “black” instead of “colored,” etc.), it’s clear that it’s not the color that matters, it’s what we perversely persist in making that color mean.

As Mary Ellmann put it in the 1968 book Thinking About Women: “[Sexual opinions] are often bold—I mean in their flights beyond embarrassment. I rather like their crazy proliferation too—in that sense, sexual opinions are sexual themselves. They mate with each other and multiply—incessantly!”

Carol Reid



To the Editor:

I just got done reading your great piece in today’s issue and I wanted to let you know you’re not alone. My wife and I just had our first child on the first of March and we didn’t know the sex throughout the entire pregnancy. We chose not to know the sex for many of the same reasons you do—wayyyyy too many assumptions and predictions that come with the knowledge of the sex of a baby who often is months away from even drawing their first breath. Plus, the volume of people who know these days is absolutely crazy. We were in Albany Med and every doctor/nurse that asked us what we were having and heard our reply (“A baby”) almost fell over with surprise. The entire operating room (my wife needed to have a C-section) was placing bets with excitement because nobody seems to make it without knowing the sex these days. I’m 29 and my wife is 27 and nobody could believe we weren’t the hip young kids who knew the sex of their baby ASAP.

Off to change a diaper. Thanks for the great piece.

Lars Thompson


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