Boys will be boys and girls will be girls
How many times have you heard the above? Such common sayings yet have you ever thought about what meaning is behind them?
I have a child of each gender and whilst I appreciate that my two children have differences they also have a huge number of similarities. I know that the physical and mental development of boys and girls can be different, but my own parenting experiences have also taught me that at no point does my daughter take into account her own gender when deciding what she likes and dislikes.
For years toy retailers and manufacturers have seen a difference though. There were often separate sections marked "girls toys" and "boys toys" with Barbie dolls and play kitchen utensils in one and Lego and train sets in the other. Huge amounts of campaigning has already taken place about this and this week Toys R Us has agreed to drop all references to gender in store and when marketing their products.
An important step in the right direction but at the same time amazing that it has taken so long. In the same week we finally had a female conductor at the Last Night of the Proms and as Marin Alsop herself said she was "quite shocked that it can be 2013 and there can still be firsts for women". I too am shocked and saddened, but not surprised as it seem that even at a very young age people still want to divide things by gender.
My three year old loves Thomas the Tank Engine, Mike the Knight and Tree Fu Tom – they're her favourite things to watch on television and she loves acting out their stories when playing, either alone, or with her friends (both boys and girls). A couple of weeks ago we were in our local branch of Marks and Spencer buying school uniform when she ran over so so excited shouting that she'd found some Tree Fu Tom pants. It was that kind of childish enthusiasm that just makes you want to hug them tightly and bottle the moment forever. She was absolutely heartbroken when I explained that they were boys' pants and she couldn't have them. Without a moment's pause for thought she instantly just said "well let's find the girls bit and get some from there". Apart from, as we adults all sadly know, there are no Tree Fu Tom pants in the girls' section. Nor any Thomas the Tank Engine ones. Nor anything with Mike the Knight on it. Don't get me wrong, she likes Peppa Pig and Hello Kitty too, but she wanted Tree Fu Tom pants.
What's niggled me since is that I didn't just buy her the boys pants. I should have done – after all we did need some new ones – but I let the store's policy of only putting certain characters on boys' clothing sway me. And it's not just one store that does this.
This whole attitude isn't just limited to clothes and toys. It seems children's magazines are getting in on the act too. Earlier today I saw a request for bloggers to help review a new magazine called DC Super Friends aimed at pre-school children aged 2 – 5. The sales pitch went on: "DC Super Friends offers exciting stories about the super friends Batman, Superman, The Flash and Green Lantern and many others. DC Super Friends is packed with lots of creative learning quizzes and activities, colouring games, cut out and keep, make and wear activities, character fact files, a fan mail section for all of those lovely pictures we receive and brilliant prizes to be won through our competitions. DC Super Friends stimulates the imagination of pre-school boys through play activities and great stories of good role models uniting through friendship." It all sounds fantastic and to make it even more attractive each edition also comes with a free toy. Brilliant I though. But there was a bit of a problem.
You see the original email didn't say it was for "pre-school children". It said it was for "pre-school boys". What? Why? I questioned this with them and it was pointed out that it focuses on male characters so was aimed at boys. Sorry, but my blood was boiling at this point! Are girls not allowed to like male characters then? Are women not supposed to read books that have male characters in them? Are women not supposed to watch TV programmes or films with male characters in them? If we're already telling pre-school children what they should and shouldn't like what hope is there?
I'm off to plot a campaign against this silly sexist nonsense, and to buy my little girl some Tree Fu Tom pants!