Feminism, Parenting

Gender Schmender – how the world denies our daughters

26 April, 2012

When I was a little girl, five or so, I had a desperate desire to be called Eric. You can’t be Eric, the world said, with incredulity! Fine! I replied! I would be Girl Eric! (No one mentioned there was such a name as Erica.) And for quite some time I corrected people if they dare say Lucy; “It’s Girl Eric, actually.”

And then there is my little one. Ramona really does love a plane. When we are out and about if she sees one fly past it really gives her fits of giggles, she’ll point and squeal and fall about in stitches. What is going through her little mind? Is it total glee in simply spotting something so random in the sky? Does she think it’s kind of like a duck? (She is obsessed with ducks.)  Is she taking joy in the scientific conundrum of human defeating gravity? Ramona also passes many a happy minute chugging her little trains along, crashing her cars together, exploring the carpet with her little tractors.

That’s how we roll, Ramona and I. PAH! Boy things?! Boy names?! Whatever!  We don’t care about your gender constructs!

Of course, I could use these as an ideal example of how girls just simply aren’t hardwired to do and be the things that we always associate with girls. See! Look at Ramona! She loves planes and trains and automobiles as much as any little lad! 

But I’m not going to, as it is this kind of personal anecdote, albeit from the opposite angle, that perpetuates myths around the differences between boys and girls

. I have been slowly working my way through  the epic book, Pink Brain, Blue Brain by Lise Eliot. To put it simply boys and girls are born with slight differences, but it is very much how we treat them that determines their choices and “gendered” personalities eventually – often by the age of two. Robust research like this should be enough for us! But it isn’t. It is as if we want there to be a great divide between our boys and girls.

The truth is this divide isn’t actually there originally  – but the chasm between their future prospects IS.

It is curious having a little 17 month female who acts more “male” then her male chums. Ramona is the toughie- leading the climbing expeditions, throwing herself fearlessly down slides while they look on, trembling. She is so hardcore she has even BROKEN HER LEG! HA!  I am working hard to make sure that her gender doesn’t define her at any point- trying to show an equal interest in her micro machine play as her cabbage patch kid tea parties.

It is particuarly curious knowing that were she to wake up tomorrow age 20,  she would not only be defined by her gender but she would be absolutely limited by it.

A report released last week showed exactly how stark the pay inequality is between men and women in London, and just yesterday as I flicked through Stylist on the tube (Oh! The LUXURY of browsing a mag whilst on public transport as opposed to convincing a toddler not to suck every surface/pick chewing gum off the seat/ run out of the doors!!) I came upon some rubbish info about the English female Footy team – despite their MASSIVE success, they are NINTH in the world (male team is 7th) yet get around 1% of the pay of their male counterparts and occupy only 5% of the media coverage.

Playing football proffesionally wouldn’t really be an option for Ramona, tomorrow. (For lot’s of other reasons too, of course, namely that her Kiwi dad would go nuts.)

We have had quite a few tradesmen in lately, doing jobs on the house, and I say men because they are ALL men. I am sure something so subtle as this provides limitations on our daughter’s futures too. And just to cement it, as if the message isn’t coming in loud and clear, old Lego go and release a new package for girls where they can chose from such  wonderful hobbies as baking and visiting beauty parlours – and all featuring many shades of pink. (The especially sad thing is how far they have retreated from their excellent gender neutral stance of the Eighties.)

Gosh, it all gets me pretty ragey actually. To look at my little daughter and know that her chances of realising any career ambition, or getting access to more physical lines of work,  are slimmer than her little male counterparts.

To look at myself, and know I missed out on simply being Eric.

What can I do?

I can email Lego about their ridiculous new line.

I can try and employ more female tradespeople.

I can reflect on my own language and play with Ramona – encouraging those areas that are naturally not quite  as strong in her female brain.

I can take more direct action, like that time I did vandalism.

Do I reject all  pink/ princesses/ and beauty?

How do you do it? Do you take some hardline approaches because the default is to exacerbate the differences? Part of me wonders if this is what needs to happen. I would love to hear from you.  

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  • Raych 26 April, 2012 at 11:49 am

    Really interesting.I often am surprised by things I see and hear parents say to children about colours, toys, clothes, etc and how they are ‘boys things’ or ‘girls things’.I am worried at the damage such early knowledge of ‘differences’ can do.I read a blog the other day all about gender and the stereotypes in children’s toys and play and how the ELC catalogue is full of such stuff-pictures and toys aimed at boys or girls.My main aim as a parent is to encourage my children in all they do, be fair and have fun.I have two boys, but sometimes how they play or what they like to wear might suggest otherwise!We have full on fisticuffs over dollies, we try everyday to wear mummy’s high heels outdoors, we like to be called by girls names and we are obsessed with the kitchen, cooking and washing up!I love it!If my children are happy I am happy. If they are dressed in pink, blue, purple or green it doesn’t matter all colours end up covered in paint/food/dirt anyway.If they are playing with lego or being a nurse I am excited by their creativity.If they are pushing a buggy down the high street or riding a scooter I enjoy trying to keep up with their energetic speeds!My children are my world and I hope that the world will accept them for whoever they are!

    • lulastic 26 April, 2012 at 9:55 pm

      Hi Raych
      What a BEAUTIFUL comment! So, so brilliant. Play is such an important means of discovering the world and who we are and I love that you encourage it so much.

      I think play is a really important way to narrow eventual differences too, I need to look into this more.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

  • Anna 26 April, 2012 at 12:25 pm

    Hi, I’m Anna, I’ve just started reading your blog it’s great. Have you heard of this campaign?: http://www.pinkstinks.co.uk/

    • lulastic 26 April, 2012 at 9:57 pm

      YES! I LOVE THEM! They won a Mumsnet award this week for simply being so fantastic. I think we could easily get a Pink Stinks Mums Army happening to support their work.

      Thanks for reading, keep in touch!

  • Butwhymummywhy 26 April, 2012 at 1:31 pm

    This is such an interesting topic that has so many nuances and layers that I’m really not sure where to start!
    My mum brought me up with both dolls (not Barbies) and cars refusing to gender stereotype with toys. I was proud of this when I grew older and was determined to do the same if I ever had a daughter.
    However, what I didn’t bank on as a (then) working mummy was the influence of nursery on her. From a young age she was convinced that blue was for boys and pink was for girls and that there was a divide in toys too. She became obsessed with Barbies and princesses and sparkly pink stuff. Even to the extend that she hasn’t worn trousers since she was 2, she is now nearly 5!! I have worked super hard to combat this but she will not budge (yet!). I have let it go and embraced the pink as it is part of her now, however this will not stop me challenging any other forms of gender stereotypIng.

    • lulastic 26 April, 2012 at 10:03 pm

      Yes, sooo true. Every time I click PUBLISH I think “Eep, I meant to write this caveat, and this and that” but then I guess that is why a blog is a blog – you wouldn’t conclude anything if you explored every angle.

      I think the peer to peer thing is really vital in their gender difference, from the youngest age. It sounds like it has been full on for your little one.

      The other thing to say is that pink isn’t inherently evil (I’m sure Pink Stinks are only that because it is catchy and rhymes) – it’s just what it stands for and is associated with; hugely limiting menu of choices for our girls and their toys/ clothes.

      Mind you, I would weep if Ramona fell in love with pink. *steels oneself*

  • glosswitch 26 April, 2012 at 3:17 pm

    My sons have a mixture of dressing up clothes. My eldest loves dressing as a witch but our relatives can’t stand it. He runs around saying “I’m a witch, I’m a witch!” (he loves “Room on the Broom”) and they’re all going “No, you mean WIZARD!!!”. It drives me insane that this even infiltrates our own home, as if school and nursery weren’t bad enough!
    Sorry, not proposing a solution. But feeling your pain, as it were.

    • lulastic 26 April, 2012 at 10:06 pm

      Hehehe, funny (and annoying). I can’t believe your rellies won’t let the poor kid be a witch! It is total madness that we have such strong ideas about which is which (groan, sorry)

  • farfromhomemama 26 April, 2012 at 7:09 pm

    I offer my son free choice of stuff. He has toy cars but he enjoys pushing a little pram around with a baby in it. His favourite dressing up outfit at nursery is a tutu and he likes to carry a little handbag round with him. When we went to buy sunglasses for him, he chose pink. I simply don’t care what is considered traditionally male or female. I have no preference and therefore don’t push him either way.

    • lulastic 26 April, 2012 at 10:08 pm

      Yeah, my nephew wanted bright pink Crocs. Of course, it was the boy colour until the powers that be changed their flighty minds.

      Thanks for coming by, LOVE your gender nonchalence 🙂

  • Expat Mammy 26 April, 2012 at 7:25 pm

    my son has all boys toys at home not forced onto to him it’s just the way it went, however i have absolutely no worries about him playing with prams and stuff at nursery, i bought hima tea set for the bath and he’s getting a kitchen for his birthday

    • lulastic 26 April, 2012 at 10:11 pm

      Boys love doing what they see their Mammys doing too eh?

      In some ways it is a bit harder for mums of boys – I can so easily buy Ramona cars to play with but it would be a bigger step to buy dolls for sons, particuarly when packaged with girls in mind.

  • Summersday 26 April, 2012 at 7:31 pm

    This is an interesting topic and Sue Palmer also goes into the research on differences between girls and boys in her incredibly useful book ’21st Century Boys’. From Palmer’s book though it seems the differences are not that slight, particularly in the way that boy’s brains develop so much more slowly (there can be several years’ difference in language development between an average girl and a boy for example).

    I was truly shocked when I read Palmer’s book, realising just how different girls and boys are, including in their need for physical movement (boys tend to need it much more than girls).

    Of course, there are exceptions (apparently my sister and I were much more energetic/adventurous/boisterous than most boys and I certainly was a ‘tomboy’ until I was in my early twenties!).

    But on the whole, almost all the moms I know, tried to bring up their children ‘gender neutral’, but by about 18 months realised stark differences between the girls and the boys, in terms of what they’re interested in and how they do things.

    It might be that Ramona is still quite young for those differences to be showing up.

    I definitely agree that children need to be as free as possible to chose what they want, whether its toys or colours of clothes etc (my boy’s favourite colour is bright pink). I think boys have it much harder than girls tho when they are young because the dads are more obsessed with making sure nothing is pink or ‘girlie’! Girls can much more easily wear ‘boys’ clothes than vice-versa (why is so much ‘girls’ clothing so kitsch?!). In addition, as Palmer explains, boys have it much harder when they are babies also because they tend to get significantly less emotional and physical affection from their parents!

    • lulastic 26 April, 2012 at 10:19 pm

      Hmmm. I haven’t read the book so really can’t say, but most research tends to suggest that the differences are reallly, really slight. Polly Toynbee did an interactive day of gathering research and concluding stuff lately- really quick easy read, GAH, can;t find it!

      I think by 18 months a huge socialisation has already occurred. And as Palmer points out we treat them differently even as new borns- all of this effects who and how they will be.

      On one hand it is reassuring to hear things attached to gender “This tantrum is due to testosterone surges” – but on the other hand has massive implications – we focus less on maths with our daughters as we know somewhere in the back of our minds that it is the boys who have this particular skill etc.

  • WandP 27 April, 2012 at 1:19 am

    This is such a fascinating topic! I think gender identity is an incredibly important thing. Knowing who I am as a woman is a defining part of my life. But like you I hate the gender stereotyping that comes with it.

    I know of a woman that defines herself by the stereotype of femininity. Pink and frills and childish behaviour coupled with revealing clothing and a self-centred attitude. To me this is not femininity, its being a disney princess.

    I think being a woman means to be strong. Standing up for your family. Taking charge and being determined, approachable and kind.

    If my kids watch movies, it is always a Studio Ghibli film. Almost every one has a strong female role who inevitably saves the day with their complete sense of purpose and bucking the trend. I cringe each time a family member gives me a gift of clothing for my baby, because it is ALWAYS PINK!

    When I was working I worked in IT. Often the only woman in the office. I don’t want to shelter my children from what lies out there but help them have a keen sense of who they are and what they are capable of. And if it means my daughter becoming a plumber or my son becoming a hairdresser, FANTASTIC!

    • lulastic 1 May, 2012 at 7:49 pm

      Actually yes, it is true about gender identity. Too often (like in my post) we forget the importance of that.
      It is sterotyping and segregation that just makes me want to throw the whole thing out – which is inaccurate.
      I like the descriptions you use of womanhood. We need a new list, to reframe gender identity!

  • Sian 27 April, 2012 at 7:46 am

    I can only come at this from the boy point of view, but have witnessed through his cousins how desperately pink their world has become (or been allowed to become!) We home ed so the peer pressure question we can dodge quite nicely, we now have a little boy who’s equally at home knitting and weaving as he is tearing about the garden with a rugby ball : ) So no solutions I’m afraid, but a boycott of lego’s new range would be a great idea!

    • lulastic 1 May, 2012 at 7:52 pm

      I think Home Edding is one way to ensure our kids don’t get a skewed perception of their roles. Another is to try and become really involved in the school so you can reject anything too offensive! (Is this even possible? Not sure.)

      Loving the image of your rugby playing, weaving wee chap!


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  • Patch 27 April, 2012 at 8:17 pm

    I also only have boys but this REALLY affects them too. Its very, very wrong. Lego may have brought out a new pink and purple range for girls (yuk, yuk, yuk) but the other Lego sets are focussing specifically on the traditional male stereotype too. Firemen, policemen, Indiana Jones, Star Wars, etc. There are no houses, or hairdressers or even a bakery in Lego City!!
    Have you watched these videos?
    Very enlightening. But also very sad.

    Playmobil seems better but lacks the building and constructing angle. We have female police officers, female spies and paramedics. J got the swimming pool for his birthday as it is gender neutral – neither pink or blue. He enjoys some of the games on the Lego website that are aimed at girls but I can’t see that lasting much longer 🙁

    • lulastic 27 April, 2012 at 9:00 pm

      So, so true. This kind of limiting within products is debilitating for lads too. We NEED more males in our female-centric industries and unless they see that, even from a young age in their play, it just won’t happen. Makes me so sad that boys could be made to feel odd for liking pink or baking. 🙁

      Thanks for posting the video 🙂

  • Lakota [Faith hope and Charity Shopping] 30 April, 2012 at 1:36 pm

    I have a BIG issue with the new lego – ugh – luckily I have boys, but as someone who was once a little girl I know for a fact I LOVED my lego police station just as much as my lego riding school. I’m pissed off on principle that they’ve suddenly felt the need to have two separate lego club magazines, one for girls and one for boys – and that they’ve automatically signed up any girls on their list to the new ‘girlie’ one. You can be changed back, but would have to request it. Stupid segregation. Both my boys’ best friends are girls – why should they be made to feel that there are girls toys and boys toys and never the twain shall meet?

    I also loathe walking into ELC – a sea of pink on one side and blue on the other.You rarely see a pink or a blue kettle in real life – so why do toys have to be one or the other? What’s wrong with silver? Or red? GRRRRR

    • lulastic 1 May, 2012 at 7:54 pm

      YES, it is total segregation and it is so wrong. The magazine thing is utterly unbelieveable.

      I think there was a real consciousness about this when our mothers were bringing us up. It seems we have forgotten, taken it for granted that the feminist case had been won.

      I think it is certainly time for Mums to take some serious action.

  • Victoria 1 May, 2012 at 7:12 pm

    My daughter aged two sounds just like your daughter. As she got older she went through a princess phase, which I didn’t exactly encourage, but I went with it, it seemed mean to say that she couldn’t play how she wanted. Now she’s ten and pink is no longer her favourite colour, but she plays a lot more make believe games than her brothers, who tend towards the mechanical. We just encourage their interests as much as we can, without reinforcing the stupid gender segregation that is all around us.

    • lulastic 1 May, 2012 at 8:00 pm

      Thanks for your comment. Have just enjoyed your own post on this subject. Don’t you want to DO something? x

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  • mumofalltrades1 15 May, 2012 at 6:45 pm

    I never grew up feeling I was inferior to boys and I’m confident my own daughter will be the same. We have some very strong women in our family who have achieved great things and who are also great homemakers and fashion fanatics. I don’t think you have to reject pink and beauty. I love pretty things and I am enjoying having some of the frills that come with having a daughter, especially after 4 boys, but my daughter is as strong willed as the boys and I will make sure she feels she can do anything in life. I think a lot of it come down to individuals confidence, not whether you are a girl or boy.

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  • Kate Poskitt 24 May, 2012 at 11:55 pm

    Lucy, I thought you might find part of an article I read for law interesting in relation to this. It addressed the issue that although more women than men graduate with law degrees, hugely more men than women move up into the higher echelons of the profession. However I think it also gives insight into societal perceptions of gender and gender roles.

    “A related explanation for disparity has been the different perceptions of men and women in society. A study undertaken by two psychologists in the US in 2007 found that people associate women with communal qualities which convey a concern for the compassionate treatment of others. By contrast, men are associated with qualities which convey assertion and control. In most people’s minds those qualities more associated with men fit in with a traditional view of the qualities required for leadership positions. For example, it has been suggested that “appropriate” leadership skills are often viewed to embody the “masculine” characteristics of dominant, assertive, and decisive behavior, rather than the supportive behaviors which are often identified with women.

    The question this arises as to why leadership skills and masculinity are often seen as intrinsically entwined. One reason has been propounded for the notion that so-called “masculine” qualities equate with leadership success is that it has been difficult to separate the qualities associated with masculinity in light of the fact that there has been a long history of male domination in leadership roles. Interestingly, psychological research has established that there is a strongly el societal perception that the traits associated with successful leadership are also those associated with successful lawyers. This means that women have to surmount significant obstacles created by societal perceptions if they aspire to positions of seniority within the legal world.

    Moreover, it has been argued that the perceived incongruity between the female gender role and the typical leader role tends to create prejudice toward female leaders and potential leaders in two ways:

    a) less favorable evaluation of women’s (than men’s) potential for leadership because leadership ability is more stereotypical of men than women; and

    b) less favorable evaluation of the actual leadership of women than men because the behavior commonly associated with leadership is perceived as less desirable in women than in men.

    Such consequences have been seen to create a behavioral double-bind for women who strive to attain positions of power. It has been argued that the propagation of gendered stereotypes has created a “femininity/competency bind” for women who seek to advance to positions of leadership in society. This theory is predicated upon the societal assumption that acting in a “feminine” manner is associated with incompetence, while masculine traits are associated with competence. Accordingly, the argument is that to succeed as a female leader one must be “unfeminine” to be competent. However if a women adopts “masculine” behaviors, she then can be criticized for displaying such characteristics as they do not fit with behavior recognized as acceptable for women.”

    • lulastic 26 May, 2012 at 8:15 am

      A great quote! Thanks Kate. So very true

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  • Nicole 23 March, 2015 at 8:37 pm

    It is so weird … I don’t even remember this being a thing when I was a kid. I equally loved Star Wars, Lego, Barbie, Shorts, Princess Dresses, running around in barefeet, building cubby houses, doing gymnastics, pretending I was a pirate and many other things that now seem to be gendered. My nine year old self thought that Legoland was one of the best things that ever happened to me (as well as the London Dungeon) and I don’t think there was ‘girls’ and ‘boys’ Lego. I was horrified to read something the other day about Star Wars being for boys …WTF????? How wrong is that? One of the strongest female fantasy/scifi characters ever and it’s for boys? I know this all came from marketing but why is everyone falling for it?