This morning I have read articles about Paw Patrol pyjamas designed for boys, with the girl character removed. I have also read about girls’ school shoes called ‘Dolly Babes’ and shoes for infants with wedge heels.
I have also dropped my daughter into creche and had her ‘pretty dress’ commented on, immediately, each day she arrives. I have had a stranger in playground telling her girls are more delicate than boys and needed to be treated more carefully. My daughter also looked at me with dismay one morning this week as she left the house without clips in her hair, ‘Mammy my hair wont be pretty.’
For every article rallying against these offensive stereotypes, there are an infinite amount of comments that these are first world problems, or the age old ‘political correctness gone mad.’ Parents who complain about these things must have nothing else to worry about. Why aren’t you campaigning about things that really matter? Well , for one, many of the parents who bring attention to these matters online, are also campaigning for other causes, because if you care about gender stereotypes chances are you care about a whole load of other sexist shit. Secondly, this does matter, and this issue that you think is trivial is part of a scale of sexism that slides from high-heels for toddlers, to girls not taking part in sport, all the way up to the gender pay gap and beyond.
Isn’t it clear to you the message we send to our daughters when we sell them shoes called ‘Dolly Babe’ whilst their brothers are wearing shoes called ‘Leader’ ? And if you think the names of the shoes don’t matter, what about the style of them? Which pair do you think is the most comfortable and appropriate for running and playing? You could play a game of football at lunch break in the ‘Leader’ , but you might be considerably slowed down trying to do the same in the ‘Dolly Babe’. And we bemoan the fact girls don’t take up or pursue sports in the same was as boys – we are actually, physically, preventing them from doing so.
So you may role your eyes at me when I complain about people calling my daughter a beautiful princess, but if all people ever talk to her about is her appearance, isn’t it inevitable that she will come to think this is her only value?
You may shrug your shoulders when I complain about people urging her to be careful at the playground, but how will she know she is as strong as her brother if she’s told she isn’t, or she’s not allowed to try.
We fool ourselves that these are choices our children make, but really how much choice are we actually giving them?
Recently we were visiting friends with the children – the boys were play fighting on the trampoline and the girls were playing quietly on the grass. We saw what we wanted to see – boys being boys, and girls being quiet. What had actually happened was that the girls had been removed from the trampoline to make way for the boys. They would have been up there bouncing if they had been allowed. Even when we think our kids are naturally adhering to type, we are, intentionally or not, moulding them.
I’ve focused mostly on the impact on girls here, because I think the stereotyping is more rampant and noticeable for small girls, but of course it’s an issue that affects boys too. What harm to the boy who is scorned for wanting a fairy style face painting, as was relayed on Twitter this week? How isolated is the boy who doesn’t want to play ball in the schoolyard? Or the man who is struggling with mental health issues, who has been told all his life that men can’t show their emotions?
We know these are our kids’ formative years, constantly being told about the importance of early childhood care and education, about healthy nutrition and not too much screen time. So why the apathy about this? Why think this doesn’t matter if everything else does?
Online commenters might think parents should get a grip and worry about more important things, but the reason we get so frustrated is because we see everyday how our children are not the stereotypes. How they defy the labels society wants to impose on them. I look at my daughter, and yes she may be wearing a pretty dress, but she amazes every day with her sense of humour, her intelligence and her confident and outgoing demeanour. Likewise my son is physical – he is also caring and sensitive and thoughtful. We see how our children are personalities of their own – nuanced and complex as any of us are, and that’s why we don’t want them to be boxed in and labelled before they’ve even passed through the school gate.