How do you respond to the gender police, kid squad?

My daughters had two incidents this week where other kids asked them why they had boy stuff. The first time was when my nine year old daughter was in ski school and another girl asked her if she had a big brother because she was wearing boy clothes. My daughter was wearing a black parka and gray ski pants. My daughter told me that she lied to the girl, saying she didn’t have a big brother but she had a boy cousin who was older. The girl was wearing white ski clothes and her skis were covered with a pink design that my daughter thought might be birds.


My husband told my daughter, “Just say to her, ‘Did you eat something pink? Because it looks like you threw up all over your skis.”

I kind of like that. I need help from you about how to respond to kids like this. I know exactly what to say to adults but I don’t want to get all intellectual on kids. I also don’t want to shame the kid, even though part of me does. Here are my three daughters, learning how to ski, being brave, taking risks, trying something new, and some little kid makes them think about how they appear? How they look? ARGH.

Have you had similar experiences and what has your kid said or you said that you felt good about?

The next event happened to my six year old daughter. Usually she gets school lunch, but that day, she brought a lunch bag to school that is blue and gray. A boy in line asked her why she had a boy lunch. A boy lunch?

Again, the last thing I want my daughter focusing on is how her lunch looks.

The focus on appearance starts so young with girls, and I hate watching it get programmed into their growing brains. Kids are resilient but girl children get so much attention for what they look like, you can literally see them learn “how I look = attention= love.” Unlearning that message, when it is reaffirmed everywhere for a lifetime, is challenging to say the least.

If there were any way to win this battle of appearance= happiness, maybe I could get behind it. But there is no way for females to feel good about themselves when their identity and power is shrouded in how they look. Even if a woman spends all of her time, all of her money, and all of her mental energy on looking good, say she’s Kim Kardashian, people will still call her “fat” and “a hairy Armenian.” No woman who is in public on any level will escape being called ugly to insult and degrade her. But even say, magically, some woman were so perfectly “beautiful,” she was immune to ever having a bad photo on the internet. That woman will age and then she will be “ugly.” There is no way for a woman to win the “beauty” game. That is why I hate that tiny baby girls are taught by parents, doctors, and teachers that their bodies are valued for how they appear and not for what they do. And one of the saddest things ever is watching little kids do this to each other, because you know who has taught them this– us.


15 thoughts on “How do you respond to the gender police, kid squad?

  1. Wow! It makes me incredibly glad that when I was a kid and went on a ski trip with my school this wasn’t an issue. Most of us rented our ski equipment so there was no choice in colour anyway. Also the colour of your winter clothes didn’t matter. That things chagne so drastically really saddens me. Do kids have to grow up first before they are entitled to have their own taste when it comes to clothes? 🙁

  2. When asked “do you have an older brother who’s ski gear you wear,” you can say, “do you have a younger sister who’s ski gear you have to wear? I’m old enough to choose my own clothes in any color in the rainbow. Aren’t you?”
    When asked “why do you have a boy lunch”, you can answer, “because the food inside will turn me into a boy. That’s what you meant when you said it, right?”

    One thing about the manliness of a pink truck. Driving a pink vehicle will not turn anyone into a man or a woman. Driving a truck will not turn anyone into a woman or a man. Expressions of culturally contrived “manliness” or “femininity” will not change anyone’s gender or sexual orientation. Everyone over the age of three should know that by now.

    • Yes Kara, I completely agree with the whole “femininity” or “masculinity” will change a persons gender/sexual orientation. It’s absolutely absurd!

  3. In ye olden days, blue was considered a delicate girl color and pink was a good robust color for a boy.

    I think Margaret’s answer is excellent: “I like them.” No other explanation is required. Why do you eat apples? I like them. Why are you watching that show? I like it. There is no need to overthink a response to a silly question. Alternatively, throw the question back at the questioner. “Why are you wearing pink?” “Because it’s pretty.” “Why do you think it’s pretty?” “I just do.” “Same with me and black and gray.”

  4. P.S. My daughter who’s favorite color is blue said nobody has ever given her a hard time about it. I forgot to mention my 10 year old son’s 5th grade classmates have all decided that pink IS manly. They wear hot pink sweatshirts, tennis shoes, etc. I think the answer is to make sure your kids know they can like whatever color they want! They might get teased, but let them know it’s the teasers who are wrong for teasing.

  5. Yeaaaaaahhhh. Wish I had something for you here. I recently took my 5 year to two different soccer classes while we were vacationing abroad. One of the classes was all boys, and the other had one girl, with the rest boys. My girl has short hair and peach fuzz on her upper lip. They teased her mercilessly, told her she looked like a boy. She was faster than any of them, but needless to say she felt horrible and never wanted to go back. I didn’t force her. This morning on the way to school she said she saw someone who she thought looked like a woman, because of her eyes and hair. I used to question this kind of thing with her, but found myself not sure about getting “all intellectual”. I’m just sitting back and observing now, trying to find some other way…

  6. It is hard. My 6-year old son has (girl coded) clothes he won’t wear to school but gladly wears at home. “They will laugh at me mom”.

    I was checking eBay for a purple one piece (purple is his favorite color and he still wears it to school).

    His cousin who is 10 was looking over my shoulder, and told me “You know, boys can only like blue”. I replied that this sounded strange to me and that purple was my son’s favorite. He gave this some thought and then said “I don’t have a favorite color”.

    Interesting and sad I think.

  7. I think it is a mix of kids working out their place in the world and categorising people in the meantime – strongest at 3-4yrs in my experience. But we certainly do reinforce these behaviours with our own stereotypes. It would be good if all of us adults focused on challenging and questioning these stereotypes with kids as they get older to broaden their thinking.

  8. My daughter’s favorite color is blue. I will have to ask her what her classmates think of that. Haven’t heard about any problem’s so far. My son’s favorite color was purple, until his classmates (boys and girls) laughed at him and shamed him out of it. Now it is orange. I wish they hadn’t laughed at him. He still talks about it. I told him it’s ok to like purple, but those kids made him feel like a freak. Who wants to be a freak?

    I think it is good for your daughters to deal with this head on. They can say, “What do brothers have to do with it? I like these colors.” If you lived in Brooklyn, they could add: “What’s it to you?” But I don’t think that will fly in SF.

    Whatever happened to Free To Be You and Me??? Open minds??? Ugh!

    -Megan formerly Fitzgerald from KDBS

  9. A simple reply I have found effective for either my daughter wearing boy clothing or my son wearing his older sister’s stuff is “He/She/I feel like it” end of story. No shaming the, child for asking, no reward for a jibe, just as shrug and and unemotional response. Plus I figure it is easy enough to teach and repeat when needed. If necessary, walk away if answer is not good enough.

  10. This is coming from a slightly different angle. My son and I were driving and we saw a man driving a pink dump truck. My son started to comment that the pink dump truck wasn’t manly, so I told him that being a man has nothing to do with color. I told my son that being a man is about who you are inside, and real men aren’t afraid Of pink. We agreed the driver was very manly to be driving that truck. I’m doing my best to Counteract the gender stereotypes that kids are faced with. He is 8 yrs old and I just keep telling him that Everyone is different and unique and everyone likes different things. I’m also introducing the fact that advertising is BS. It does not reflect reality, they are just trying to sell us their stuff.

  11. “Incidents” not “incidences”?

    Question: Was the little girl being rude or curious? That is, was she interested in whether your daughter had a brother and was she making conversation? Or was she teasing your daughter about her outfit? Because, if it’s the former, your husband’s response would have been incredibly rude and unwarranted.

    Sometime when I was in elementary school, a few years after I started, but still fairly early, they instituted a mandatory uniform policy at my school. I won’t say I NEVER thought about what I looked like after that but it wasn’t a major concern for me for the most part.

    I think a nicer way to get children to think about what they’re saying (as opposed to insulting them) is to say something that affirms your ownership of your choices.

    Like “No. It would be nice to have a brother but I love my sisters. I’m wearing this because I like it. I can move around in it for skiing. I like your clothes too though. Are those birds?”

    Or “Well, I’m a girl. And this is my lunch. So it’s a girl’s lunch.”

    • Hi all,

      Thanks for the suggestions (and edits.) In theory, I like Margaret and Marta’s response best. Emotionally, I want to be more snide, but I know that’s ultimately counterproductive. A challenge is that my kids are not passionate about the ski clothes they got. My friend has a house full of ski things– we don’t– and I chose what fit them the best. They complained profusely, not so much about the color, but, unused to ski clothes, they thought they looked puffy and baggy. I told them, who cares, you’ll be warm and dry. So the comments from the other kid were really not helpful. And that’s the thing– if you have a kid who is passionate about blue, she’ll wear it and she can say she likes it. But if you have a kid who could go eiether way, or one of many ways, then the marketing steps in, add some peer pressure, and you’ve lost her.


      • Snide is always fun, but you’re fighting a battle you’ll never win because kids will always be humiliated by the way their parents dress them, thus the classic taunt, “You’re weird and your mother dresses you funny.” The only way to avoid this is to put your kids in a bubble and then other kids will be all, “You’re weird and your mother left grimy fingerprints all over your protective bubble.”

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