Friday, 11 June 2010
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?!