Friday, 11 June 2010

CBeebies is for Girls. Salami is for Boys.

We are going through a funny phase in our house at the moment, or at least the youngest is. She has become inexplicably convinced that everything in her world can be categorised and sorted into two distinct camps - the boy camp and the girl camp. Everything is either for boys or for girls and woe betide anyone who is caught doing or touching anything that she considers to be outside the boundaries of their gender based confines. Extracts from recent conversations include:

"CBeebies is for girls. It's not for boys. Not for boys with short hair anyway" (WTF?)

(Pointing at a strange man in the street who is daring to wear white trainers with a small dark pink motif) "Look mummy, that man is wearing giiiirrrls trainers!"

(Looking suspiciously at some new foodstuff) "That looks bisgusting. I think that must be for boys" (I am ashamed to say that that one made me laugh. A lot.)

The thing is, it's all getting a bit random. It started off predictably enough with the obvious gender stereotypes being applied to colours and toys and the like, but these days anything - food, inanimate objects, words even - can be assigned masculine or feminine status by my three year old daughter. She is the worlds self-appointed leading authority on what is supposedly for boys and what is for giiiirrls.

Where is it all coming from? Before I had children I was convinced that gender was, for the most part, socially constructed. As a mother I am now less convinced by that argument, but not much less. I still think that boys and girls simply learn very early on what is expected of them in terms of demeanour and behaviour and that no matter how much we as parents try to guard against gender stereotyping, our children are still receiving messages about what it means to be either masculine or feminine from many different sources. It is a very human trait to seek approval by behaving in ways that you know are expected of you. Some of the earliest lessons we learn are in how to tow the line. But still... CBeebies is just for girls???

So I have started gently challenging my daughter when she makes these sweeping declarations. I ask her why she thinks girls shouldn't like the blue Power Ranger and why salami is only for boys, but her reaction is simply to look at me as if to say, 'Good lord I really have got my work cut out with you haven't I...'

Do you believe that gender differences are to a more or lesser extent innate? Do you go out of your way to avoid gender stereotyping at home? Is there a limit to how much we as parents can do? And how the hell has my daughter got it into her head that salami is boy food?!


  1. No signs with my youngest boy yet (3 in October). His ethos is far more simple. Everything in the world is his. Unless, of course, it is something he doesn't want. In which case I can have it.

  2. I think it is partly innate and the rest is learned. When my daughter was 10 months old herself, her brother and I were watching a language building DVD. She started doing the excited arm/leg waggle when the dolls came up and she didn't own one at the time. It might just have been coincidence or the way they were filmed but she never had that reaction for the rest of the dvd!

    Could your daughter be using this method to let you know what she does or doesn't like? Maybe she doesn't like salami and by saying it is for boys then she doens't have to eat it. It could just be her way of expressing preference for now:)


  3. When my three kids were young I didn't want them to boxed into the gender stereotype at the time, so I made toys available across the board. Both daughters had their own dolls and trucks, the son had trucks and dolls. Interesting that very early son only played with fire engines, trucks, mini cars and sports things. His father did not like anything to do with sports. Never watched sports or talked sports. The shocker was that at age five my son knew without a doubt he wanted to play football and I didn't even know he knew what it was.The girls preferred mini doll houses, shake and bake oven, playing house. I was always a tomboy, played ball, climbed trees, played marbles with boys, was rough and tumble, definitely not a doll playing little girl.

  4. I was heavy handed with my daughter when she was small. Her school was all 'pink for girls and blue for boys' (I kid you not, the teacher would say 'who likes pink' and all the girls had to shout 'I do'!) So I told her that people who said some things were for girls and some things were for boys didn't want girls to succeed. It seemed to work. Now at 11 she calls herself a feminist and tells people she wants to become a feminist philosopher like her mum... Maybe I was a bit too heavy handed...

  5. When my brother and I were kids he used to spend all his time dressed in girls clothes and had a thing for my Mum's jewelry. EVERYONE said that he would be gay... He is now a body building muscle house (who hates hearing this story retold) and I am the gay one... NO ONE saw that coming ;0)

  6. I only know that *my* boy was very "boy" from the moment he rocked up. My girl is not terribly "girly" but she doesn't bounce around the room determined to destroy as much as possible. She can sit for longer periods, etc. She's not huge on pink and never like dolls or princesses, prefering sports and coloring. I do think that they are hard-wired into their own temperment but each one is unique. That said, if you had a bell curve of BOY and one of GIRL, they would overlap but the boys would tend to be more destructos and the girls would tend to be more peace-loving!

  7. She sounds priceless Gappy, I'd say it's great fun with her around. I've heard people say this before that no matter how much you try not to differentiate between genders, ultimately boys will be boys and girls will be girls. Little L's favourite toy at the moment is a football and I often wonder if she was a boy would that attract more attention i.e. would people say 'oh she'll be a great footballer when she grows up' etc. but because she is a girl do people just assume it is a temporary thing?
    We'll have to wait and see I suppose x

  8. Oh you made me laugh with the salami! It must be a phallic thing!!! However much you try, I think they tend to revert. We did the whole gun amnesty with our son, just shot us with sticks. My daughter has inherited a lot of his 'boy' toys but is much more nurturing than he ever was with her soft toys, putting them to bed, giving them pretend milk, all that sort of stuff.I didn't like it much when she got given a whole heap of 'domestic' toys but she loves them. CBeebies just for girls? That's classic.

  9. I used to take my kids to a playgroup on a Friday morning when I was only working 4 days a week. Of course there was the usual selection of toys. What I found interesting was how both boys and girls would play with the toy pushchairs. The girls would take the teddies or dolls, tuck them in with a blanket and wheel them around. The boys, on the other hand would career around the room with them, banging into each other like dodgems. That really make me think that maybe there is something so the nature argument.

    Salami only for boys though? Well, I do like a good sausage myself...

  10. My son's school divides everything into boys and girls (it drives me crazy!). They're 4 years old and they have to get into girls lines and boys lines several times a day to go outside, to go to the bathroom, to line up for whatever activity, etc. He's been told repeatedly that pink is for girls and he can't play with toy x or toy y because they're for girls. At home we tell him that we think that's pretty silly, and for now he seems to agree. He definitely tends towards sports and play fighting more than dolls, but he loves pink.

    I do think that some of these differences are at least partly innate, but definitely not to all boys or to all girls, so I go out of my way to keep all options open at home. I find it terribly frustrating that I can't protect him from even the most ridiculous gender stereotypes in the rest of the world, even in nursery school.

    And I'm with your daughter: salami is totally a boy food!