Feminist Friday: boys will be children and so will girls

Girls and boys go out to play

When Boy One was born I had lots of notions about parenting. He would eat the same food as me, I’d discuss things reasonably instead of dictating and there would be no gender stereotyping.

Eleven years on, I realise how naive that was and how complex the area of sex and gender is. I only have sons, therefore, I can’t compare boys and girls, however here is what I’ve learnt.

While the sexes aren’t as far apart as Mars and Venus, to coin a phrase, boys will be boys. They will run, kick, punch and shout. They will be fascinated by machines, tools and vehicles. They will fight and, probably, shoot each other with pretend guns… even if they have to bake them out of cake mixture.

That’s not to say that girls won’t do all of these things, but I just haven’t seen so many of them do it.

So it seems that possession of a penis will coincide with a tendency towards snips and snails and puppy dog tails and there’s not a heck of a lot we can do about it.

However, among the cars, Lego and bows and arrows two of the most enduring toys my sons have played with are a pram, into which the favourite teddy is strapped, and a dolls house, but wood mind you not pink. They bake, do housework (badly), cry, cuddle, sing, dance and, in some cases, care what they wear.

Just the other day when I dropped Boy Three off with the child minder, she asked if I mind if he dressed up with her female charges. Sparkles and wings were the order of the day. Why would I mind? Boy Three is partial to a sequin. But some parents do. I remember a friend recounting her husband’s fury on finding his small son running about in a tutu. This is both sexist and homophobic and stupid and has nothing to do with a sensible discussion on gender.

Elsewhere I’ve found frustration in what business think our boy and girl children want. Publishers, for example, think boys are only interested in reading about farts and football whereas girls want friendship and frocks. And don’t get me started on the Tiger Who Came To Tea. Boy clothes will be in shades of blue and sludge whereas girls will have an array of pinks and glitter to wear.

There isn’t a neat conclusion to this one: boys and girls differ and should be allowed to do so; boys and girls should be free to choose books, clothes, games and activities. I suspect the best thing we can do, is teach them to respect and responsibility whether they want a pink toothbrush or a blue one. It’s not easy, but I’m trying.

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  1. says

    My boy loves to climb and is fearless, but as far as I know if he'd been born a girl he'd be the same. I think a lot of personality traits associated with boys might just be personality traits of our children.

    I often wonder if those same men who get so upset about their sons wearing tutus would be as upset if their daughter wanted to play football and climb trees. It's quite the double standard isn't it?

    Thanks for taking part and happy birthday!!!

  2. says

    Thanks. You're right children just have personalities although there does seem to be a boyification that happens to preschoolers. There is a theory it's to do with testosterone.

  3. says

    Guess what this feminist's daughter (4) said yesterday on the way out of nursery? “Boys are smarter and girls are prettier.”

    I was distraught!

    I think I've commented elsewhere on this blog, C has got into Disney Princesses in a Big Way. They represent the exact opposite of how I would like her to see women. But I decided that as it was the first thing she got into independently, it would probably me more damaging to her self esteem to discourage it than to let her get on with it. I just make sure she's exposed to other things as well. She wants to be Woody (from Toy Story) when she grows up which is reassuring.

    C is quite physical and active as well, I think, but that is unusual amongst her friends as far as I can see.

    But you are right that it seems to be ingrained very early on. Peer pressure seems to count for a lot much earlier than I thought.

  4. says

    Anna has an eclectic range of tastes. Loved pink & Disney princesses, hates dolls & barbies, but has loads of plastic animals. She was able to name all the planets in nursery & Walking with Dinosaurs was a favourite pre school DVD.

    She now loves Doctor Who & can't be bothered with talk of hair, fashion & make up.

    I found the My Little Pony phase hard because I loathe the things with a passion. I just felt that I had to let her be her.

    I've always taken the opportunity to present alternatives but tried not to dictate. I remember taking her to a more feminist princess show for kids at the Festival at the height of the Disney thing.

    And although I sound disapproving, I'm a complete sucker for Enchanted.

  5. Jo says

    Caron, I think the newer ones (Tangled, Princess and the Frog etc) are not-so-terrible, but I just hate the way they simper about on stickers and merchandise, SO MUCH. I hate it even more when DD does it!!

    Very interested in the feminist princess alternative, off to google that!

  6. says

    This is such an interesting topic and the nature nuture debate is never ending. I just hope we all continue to do our best for our children.

  7. says

    Jo, Caron, it's interesting to hear the views of mothers of girls too.
    The princess thing must be quite hard to stomach, but then so is the Horrid Henry phenomenon.
    As Emma says, all we can do is try our hardest at every turn.

  8. says

    Excellent post. I agree completely (and don't get me started on The Tiger who came to Tea either!). I am bound to have influenced my daughter's choice of toys slightly and probably without realising it, but she now chooses what she wants to play with and has for some time. She's never made a gun but she could if she wanted to. She has definitely swayed towards all things you would consider typically girly. I think genetics do play a very strong part in the behaviour of boys and girls and there's not a lot we can do about that, except play our part with the nuture side of things. Not letting a boy wear a tutu is alittle extreme. If he's banned from doing things like that, he'll be more inclined to want to try it in the future. Or maybe I'm confusing that with smoking and speaking from experience!!

  9. says

    Rosie, thanks. Might be smoking, but then again I can see it: “I wasn't allowed a tutu as a kids, so as soon as I got the chance I got one, then there was the leotard and before I knew it I was into tights and those shoes with ribbon laces.”

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