Pink and Blue


Statistically, you won’t like this post. You won’t identify with it, won’t understand it, and won’t care for many of the points I’m going to make.

That’s OK. You can leave if you want. I’ll wait.

<drums fingers>

Fine. Still with me? You’re probably a homeschooling mom with a husband who’s not super-involved in the task of teaching your kids. He’s probably got a busy job, and you ended up taking over this responsibility. Am I right so far?

If I am, that’s because you’re the statistical norm. I’m the outlier – I’m a husband who, like his wife, works part-time and homeschools part-time. In our house, everybody fights; everybody eats. We don’t have assigned roles. That dishwasher has no gender, and neither does the checkbook, the math curriculum, the garbage cans or the household repairs that need doing. If you buy 1950s-style gender roles, that’s fine. We don’t, and neither of us takes kindly to being pigeonholed by society in responsibility sets that were starting to lose relevance when Ford was President. So when Facebook sites post sexist cartoons portraying moms as the exclusively beleaguered providers of kid-related everything, it sets my teeth on edge.

Mostly that’s due to the fact that this is happening in your experience. In your home. In your perceptual set. And it may be true for you, but it isn’t true for everyone. There’s a strong human drive to make our own experiences the common experiences, to belong to something greater than ourselves that includes and validates our own way of life. We want to feel that those things that make us laugh make others laugh, and that those things that make us cry make others cry, and that our joys and miseries are one with a greater body of such sensations. We like to paint red and white rings around the spot the arrow landed. That’s natural – but if the goal is progress, or change, and not just self-pity, it can be counterproductive.

Here’s what endlessly fascinates me about these posts: they ‘gender’ the task of educating children. It’s women’s work. I’ve posted before about how untrue this was millennia ago, how the natural state of a human family is in sharing the task of teaching children to grow into responsible adult members of society. But you’ve been taught differently. And recently. In fact, you’ve been taught so many wrong things that it’s worthwhile to talk through a checklist of them. We’ll start off easy, though; we’ll start with something you know is right – or at least something you think you know is right. We’ll start with pink…and blue.

That’s easy, right? Didn’t a hundred visuals just flash before your eyes? Pink is for girls and blue is for boys. It always has been, hasn’t it? Didn’t your own mom teach you that? She was probably born in the 40s or 50s, and even her mom might have taught her that. But maybe she didn’t; consider that, just three generations ago, these colors were completely reversed.

…a June 1918 article from the trade publication Earnshaw’s Infants’ Department said, “The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.” (Smithsonian Magazine)

1918. It’s taken a hundred years, a blink of an eye in human existence, to get you to agree that black is white and white is black. That’s all. A hundred years. A hundred years ago, men taught their sons, sitting behind them on tractors, palm atop palm, working a stick shift for the first time in blazing Midwestern sun. Fathers squatted in rich black earth and explained how to rotate crops, how nitrogen was fixed in plants, how to manage the seasonality and risk of farm economics. None of this would have been outsourced. To whom could it have been, anyway?

A hundred years later, you believe that education is women’s work, and so does your husband. That’s wrong. The saddest part is not that you believe it; it’s that he believes it. You believe lots of things, don’t you? So when the loan officer tells you that your home mortgage shouldn’t be more than 20% of your household earnings, did you question whether it should be much less? Did you question whether, in an era of 300,000-mile duty lives, it’s necessary to have a new car every four years? Did you question anything being pushed at you as society’s norms?

I think you did, and I think that’s how you ended up here, but maybe you stopped short. Maybe there’s more thinking to be done about whose responsibility homeschooling is, and whether it might make sense to make room for this vitally important task in your lives instead of forcing it into cracks and crannies and gaps between more societally endorsed actions.

In the end, I don’t care whether you do or not, because I don’t write this blog for you. I write it for my son, and for my daughters, and for the men and women they will marry someday. I write it to impress on them the need to question what they’re being told. I hope the lessons sink in – because I hope that, someday, they’ll see a post like this and tell their own kids, “You know what’s funny about that? Let me tell you a story about when pink used to be the color for boys.”

7 responses to this post.

  1. I think there need to be more genderless dishwashers and team parents in the world. Schedules be damned a dad should know what their kid is doing too!

    And in MY house the Dad is also on 24/7.


  2. Posted by monika on March 2, 2014 at 11:24 pm

    I’m curious what your statistics are that make you assume most of your readers will be offended by your post, or if not offended, won’t relate?


    • The cartoon in the last link in the post actually appeared on a well-known site for gifted homeschoolers. 46 group members ‘liked’ the post (at last check; probably higher now). I’ll take that as tacit agreement with the substance of the cartoon, for want of a better proxy. Four people – including myself – offered resistance to the concept of the cartoon. So, a bit of relatively safe statistical extrapolation tells me that 92% of readers of that cartoon agreed with it – and, by extension, would not take kindly to alternative viewpoints.

      Short version on the denouement of that, by the way: I was right. They did not.


  3. Posted by Maryjane on March 3, 2014 at 7:19 am

    I think you are correct that your situation is not the norm. It is difficult to be the outlier but congratulations on being a great role model for your kids and others. I wish things were more balanced in our home. My husband was raised differently than I was. He is uncomfortable around children in general and while he freely shares his opinion on how I should handle things, he has always been reluctant to step in. Even before we decided to homeschool. Our kids are older now (15&17) and while I have a great relationship with both of them, they are not close to their dad at all.


    • I’m sorry to hear that. My father was very hands-off, also quite uncomfortable around children, and to this day we’re not close, either.

      There are benefits beyond the educational for homeschooling.


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