Mud, dinosaurs, and sport. Dolls, unicorns, and butterflies. Pink and sparkly, blue or bold. Bravery or beauty. I know for a fact that you’ve already associated each of those statements with a gender.
I’m a girl; I had dolls as a toddler, moved on to a mixture of Sylvanian Families and Red Arrows, played football, climbed trees, made (horrific) perfume from flowers and berries, braided my hair, became a goth, embraced a hippie vibe, travelled the world on my own, dreamed of being a wife and mum, bought two houses while still single, fell in love, got married on a farm and in a wedding dress, had babies, started blogs, started my own business, I have a full time job as a content manager.
Based on my life – one I consider to be pretty successful – there’s nothing wrong with gender stereotyping, because no amount of fluffy pink-ness stopped me from climbing trees, venturing around the world on my own, or getting a good job. No amount of football supporting or business success stopped me being a wife and mummy. So what is everyone’s problem?
Social media is once again awash with commentary surrounding Clarks shoes and they’re pathetically old-fashioned stereotyping. Dolly Babe shoes for girls and Leader for boys – I mean really?!?! Will the names of these shoes change the overall life prospects of youngsters? No. Do they represent a wider problem about how girls and boys are pigeon holed from a very early age? Yes.
But again, why does it matter?
A young girl with an aptitude for science can still go on and become a world-changing scientist. A young boy who is a skilled dancer can still go on to become a star of the stage. But what about the girl who feels that her love of chemistry, or politics, or medicine, makes her too ‘different’ from the way girls are portrayed in society and the media? What if the boy refuses to go to ballet, or won’t play hairdressers, or is worried about quitting the footy team, because all around him are the messages about what boys do?
The world loses an incredible scientist, an amazing dancer, a future politician, a hairdresser who makes people feel amazing. Those children end up as adults doing a job they’re less passionate about, less happy in. Nobody wins.
Do I give two hoots about shops having sections for girls and sections for boys? No – generally speaking it’s helpful for navigating my way to the products I need. Nobody is stopping me from buying a ‘boy’ top for Martha or ‘girl’ leggings for Toby. I do hate the exclusivity of pink, sparkly, fluffy, vomit within the girl sections. The skull and crossbones, dirt and action ‘cool’ stuff within the boy sections. Toby rocks pink and Martha gets filthy playing in mud.
I don’t want gender neutrality, I want all parts of my kids’ personalities to be represented.
Girls’ school shoes are shiny bits of plastic with fiddly buckles. Boys’ are hard-wearing and machine washable. Do girls not run around in the playground? There’s more to this than style, there’s practicality because: Kids will be kids – whether they’re boys or girls! They run around, they get filthy, they scrape their feets when they’re grumpy, they kick stones. It’s great to have the option of which style to get, but let that option encompass all options for all mini people.
I don’t get up in arms about genderfication because in general I appreciate that girls and boy, women and men, are built differently. We are – generally – requiring of different things in life. But the notion of what boys and girls ‘should’ do or like, is potentially very damaging.
Growing up, advertising and society didn’t encourage me to indulge in my interests or strive to achieve a career. My parents did. What about the kids whose parents aren’t able to help them with extra-curricular activities, or to help them understand that they don’t have to fit a mould? I’ve seen incredibly clever and talented kids achieve very little because of a social attitude that inhibits them. An environment that doesn’t nurture their unique identity.
How is that possibly okay? Clothes won’t create future career prospects, but the subliminal messaging from such heavy stereotyping at early stages in life can certainly prevent them.
I’d love to hear your thoughts – do you think it matters whether girls have to wear boys clothes to display an interest in science? Does it matter that boys are made to feel feminine for doing dancing or gymnastics? Let me know in the comments below, or pop over to Facebook and say hello!