Until you have a two-year-old or a three-year-old asking, very literally, “How do you know it’s a boy?”, somehow you breeze through life identifying the gender of humans without actually needing to articulate how you manage this feat.

Adults are relatively easy — breasts or no breasts? (Okay, there are exceptions… but now’s not the time to start naming names… you know who you are.) But children are another matter. And it’s the kids that your kids are looking at and loudly enquiring about.

Length of hair is not necessarily a factor (as mothers are reluctant to trim those gorgeous curls from their sons’ heads), and earrings are not ubiquitous here. (David spent a week in a remote Aboriginal community in Western Australia, playing with the local kids without realising that some of them were actually girls. In Africa, the earrings or earring-holes would give them away.)

How is it that we can look at some children’s faces and just know the baby is a boy? Is it the nose? The jaw? What makes a face masculine, and why are some babies definitely feminine-looking? Their finer features?

If the characteristics that define gender are so vague to pin down with words, how do you teach this to a pre-schooler? (“That baby looks too dainty to be a boy, although she’s wearing blue” is not going to stave off the inevitable “Why?”. )

So, in the pursuit of simplifying matters of identification, we first used length of hair. But that backfired when the girls started noticing men-with-long-hair — always a run-together noun in our house. (Now they like to exchange the coiffures on their little people so they have some men-with-long-hair within their family groups.)

Playmobil men with long hair
"Howdy, pardner, I can see you're starting to cultivate a mustache there." "Sure am, it's Movember after all!"

Next, we started pointing out various colours that give a clue as to whether that curly-locked child is male or female. Pink, purple = girl. That’s about as far as we could take it.

Then we had a bit of exposure to a young man who favoured purple shirts. And he looked good in them. So the colour-identification-clues had to be simplified. Pink = girl. Foolproof on a baby, toddler or child.

This works pretty well. Yesterday, Brioni talked about a boy climbing the stairs, and then corrected herself, “No, it’s a girl. I see pink shoes.” Case closed.

But… men appear to be the exception. A couple weeks ago, a man at church was wearing a pink t-shirt. After the service, David accosted him and explained that his fashion statement was ruining our nice little generalisation. “It used to be more red,” the man stammered, unsure of David’s intentions.

Recognising defeat, I decided to jump on the gender-equality bandwagon and started pointing out all the men I could see wearing pink shirts. If you start looking for them, you’ll see them everywhere! David has kept dismissing these as exceptions, but the girls delight in the truth.

I hammered in the final nail in the colour-gender-generalisation coffin yesterday when I picked up this shirt for David at a exclusive boutique (starts with B, ends with W).

Pink shirt
I was surprised when David was pleased with this new shirt and readily put it on. He did, however, insist that it was red.

So now I’ll be able to get the whole family dressed in pink for a special occasion, continuing the matching theme to David and my outfits too… OCD bliss!