Help! My toddler isn’t a feminist! (International Women’s Day Blog Link Up)

8 March, 2014

“Right, now, you be the patient, I will be the nurse and he will be the Doctor.” Yesterday three year old Ramona was carefully and patiently directing the game of Hospitals. She went on to clarify “I have to be the Nurse, ‘cos I’m the girl, and he’s a Doctor, ‘cos he is a boy.”

You know that most tragic of movie scenes, the one in My Girl at the funeral and Macauly Culkin is in the coffin and the little girl comes in and cries all over him saying “Where are his glasses? He can’t see without his glasses!”  Well, that was pretty much me. Wailing over my toddler’s lost sense of gender equality, the death of her ambition, shedding my tears upon her liberation, imprisoned in a casket.

Ha. I jest. But I was well mad.

It is a pretty big thing, eh? For a little child to feel that the most responsible, highest paid role within a medical team isn’t for her because she has the wrong genitalia?

How on earth had this happened and where had this come from?

All those fairytales I have done a cut and paste job on in order to place females in significant roles, all the times I change “He” to “She”, all those stereotyped films we have boycotted, all the princess clothes we have avoided. I regularly consider our lives and my own role modelling, making sure we have strong female leaders about us and having conversations about how all attributes and all colours and all toys are for all children.International Women's Day Link Up

And then she comes out with that, the day before International Women’s Day, for goodness sake.

I guess all it takes is one game of Hospitals and one snippet of conversation from some older kids and BAM, her feminist spirit begins gurgling out of the bottom of her Spider Man trousers.

Because however conscious and determined we are as parents to allow our children to grow into whoever they want to be, regardless of gender, we simply can’t balance out a whole skewed society.

Gender inequality permeates every bit of our culture, every single industry. Even if we try and control the media in our lives, and the conversations in our own home, the presence of limiting gender ideas and biases will somehow soak through.

We can’t do it by ourselves.

So, this International Women’s Day, where the theme is Inspiring Change I want to celebrate a few people and projects that are doing THEIR bit in challenging sexist and oppressive ideas about women.

1- A Mighty Girl. The world’s largest collection of books, films and toys that don’t submit to stereotypes and instead encourage girls to be smart, confident and courageous.

2- Marks and Spencers. Marks and Sparks have committed to gender neutral packaging for all their toys this year, which shouldn’t really be a big deal but when you consider most toy aisles are fairly strict about what is appropriate for what child I think this could set a new standard for a pretty sexist industry.

3- Miss Representation. It is both a movie and a movement that challenges the lack of strong female roles in the media, and subsequently across industries. They are full of scary stats and hard hitting infographics and I like their work! (Thanks to Mel, for highlighting it.)

4- Tootsa Macginty. It is just one of a few stores committed to unisex clothing and yes, clothing is superficial but it is norm-forming! WHHHHYYYYYYY do we dress our tiny children so differently? It is ridiculous! And it just gives children another reference point for choosing to play with some and not others. Hooray for gender-neutral threads and the parents who dress their children in them.

5- Egalia Kindergarten. Egalia is a gender-neutral Kindergarten in Sweden. It is extreme but what a healthy environment for children to grow up in? I am not convinced all preschools should be this way but I am convinced that preschools like this can inspire change in sexist and stereotyped practices in other education and childcare establishments.

6- All the other parents committed to feminism. Are you one? Do you make sure your children are aware that no matter what gender they are they can achieve anything? Thank you. You are awesome. You are changing the world.

Happy International Women’s Day. Here is to a future where our children can grow up to be surgeons or sculptors, mechanics or M.Ps, bakers or bouncers.

Below is the International Women’s Day Blog Link Up. If you have blogged about an inspiring woman or an issue facing women please stick your URL in the box below!

IWD14 blog link up

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  • Mammasaurus 8 March, 2014 at 9:34 pm

    Thanks for hosting this Lucy – I’ll sit down properly once I get home tomorrow and have a read with a big mug of tea x

  • mel j 8 March, 2014 at 9:55 pm

    Really interesting reading. What a statement from your little girl. I teach feminism as part of the a-level English Literature syllabus and only one girl in my class of 18 would admit to being a feminist. Its such a dirty word nowadays. Nothing I could say could change their minds!

  • libs 8 March, 2014 at 10:06 pm

    Gahahahha. This story is so sad. I really believed your little family would be immune to our gender oppresive society. Still even sadder. Why was noone a Physiotherapist?!?!?! Give a child a stethoscope and they decide they are a male doctor. Yet most doctors a rubbish with a stethoscope – its the, very often female, physios who work their magic with a stethascope and get a ventilated or brain injured patient out of bed.
    I joke but it does wind me up that at work I’m immediately assumed to be a nurse- obviously female and then when they clock the stethascope I suddenly morph into a doctor.
    Nurses are amazing and its a vital job but it is horribly hard work and paid appallingly. Gender normative roles always seem to push women into the low paid low status jobs. And there’s some research to show that as roles become more female dominated/acceptable they become lower status and paid worse.

  • Pinkoddy 8 March, 2014 at 10:21 pm

    I do find this all very interesting. I whole heartedly agree with not enforcing ideas about gender on us, but also feel that we are trying to forget any biological differences we have too. Great post and thank you for the linky.

    • Corissa 9 March, 2014 at 6:50 pm

      What “biological” differences might those be? If you really are interested in this topic, I highly recommend the book Delusions of Gender by Cordelia Fine. She systematically and scientifically shreds all of that biological differences bs.

      • Pinkoddy 11 March, 2014 at 12:26 am

        I’ve got a first degree in psychology and looked at it for my dissertation.

  • Sonya Cisco 8 March, 2014 at 10:29 pm

    Syd told me ‘pink was for girls’ the other day. Where the f*** has he got that from?! One week in pre-school and it has all gone down hill!?! Anyway, I handed him his pink tea set and said ‘well, this is yours and you are a boy so that can’t be right can it!’ X

  • Actually Mummy... 8 March, 2014 at 11:21 pm

    I’m not sure what the answer is, other than to continue inspiring our own children by example. As you say, it isn’t possible for us few to change an entire society overnight, and these values are so entrenched that whatever we do as parents, our girls will find the stereotypes in society eventually. It’s frustrating, but I guess what we have to do is just keep pushing the right messages, in the knowledge that our daughters’ daughters will eventually reap the benefit.

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  • Nickie 9 March, 2014 at 2:51 am

    Interesting post that displays that it’s not just up to us as parents to display equality and empowerment but we must pull together as a whole society – and that includes media, film/television programme making, books, etc. It’s OK to show women (and men) in every type of job role but not to focus on it solely.

  • Michele 9 March, 2014 at 3:43 am

    We are raising our son to be as gender neutral as possible. It is harder as he gets older, though. (He is five, now.) Most toddler/baby toys can easily be gender neutral. . . But then the pink and blue toy aisles start. We have taught him that there is no such thing as boy colors or girl colors and that toys are for everyone. But he got picked on when he brought his favorite pink stuffed dog to school. The next day, though, he brought his big pink cat to school. I was worried because he was very upset about being picked on about the dog. He looked at me, stood up straight and said, in a very strong voice, “I’ll just tell them that they are being silly. That colors are for everyone!” *sniff* I was so proud of him!

    But you should see the looks we get in toy stores or clothing sections of stores. If he wants a Hello Kitty shirt, who am I to stop him? If he wants Dora the Explorer shoes because, at the time, she was his BEST FRIEND, why shouldn’t he wear shoes with her picture on them? Now we’re into Spider Man, Despicible Me Minions and Doctor Who but my husband and I will never stop him from choosing what clothes he wears. . . Or what toys he plays with.

    He also dances and does gymnastics–again, you should see the looks we get from people and he talks about dance class or gymnastics class!

    I realize that this is International Woman’s Day but as the parent of a boy I must say that it is, I think, harder to fight against gender stereotypes when raising a boy. It is perfectly fine for a little girl to like comic books and super heroes and cars and trucks. The term “tom boy” doesn’t really have much of a negative connotation. But in reverse, a boy who dances and has a doll house and Hello Kitty toys (along with rockets and cars and trains) is called a sissy or momma’s boy or a fairy or any number of very hurtful and very negative names.

    It is a hard, up hill fight but a fight I believe is worth fighting. If only more parents cared.

  • Cakesphotoslife (Angie) 9 March, 2014 at 4:42 am

    A wonderful post, my daughter has chosen a career that is male dominated and I have told her she is as good as them and always will be, she felt a little uncomfortable at first on her college course as she was the only girl xxx

    • Lucy 9 March, 2014 at 11:39 pm

      AWESOME 🙂

  • Katy 9 March, 2014 at 6:48 am

    Thanks for creating such an important link-up.

    I’m celebrating International Women’s Day by attempting to get the hairdresser across the road from me to take down the bare-breasted photographs they’re using to advertise their services.

    We can only move forward…

    • Lucy 9 March, 2014 at 11:39 pm

      GO YOU!

  • Thalia 9 March, 2014 at 7:55 am

    Thanks so much for hosting this, Lucy. A great collection!

  • looking for Blue Sky 9 March, 2014 at 9:33 am

    As you say, the stereotyping is almost impossible to avoid. I provided fairly gender neutral stuff to my kids when they were small, but let myself be led by their choices…some of which do seem to be innate. I know I’ve said it before, but I find it hard to believe that my severely intellectually disabled 17 year old daughter is entirely influenced by outside forces when she continues to choose things that are pink and sparkly!

  • Jenny from Cheetahs In My Shoes 9 March, 2014 at 11:18 am

    I came over to link up and realised that I have written about one of my inspirational women for #iwd being a female surgeon. It shouldn’t be a significant fact but it is – not only because she is female but also, as a fellow woman, I feel she is so much better at her job than the male consultants that I’ve met along the way. We’ve let ours lead the way with regard to toys – the little pink pushchair was a long term favourite with both of them

    • Lucy 9 March, 2014 at 11:36 pm

      *high five*

  • ThaliaKR 9 March, 2014 at 2:46 pm

    I’ve been thinking more about the nurses-and-doctors story.

    We were talking about Lent and Advent this morning at church, and some friends were telling me how they did Advent Bible stories every night leading up to Christmas. A few nights before Christmas, they said to their son, ‘Christmas is when we celebrate the arrival of…?’ and were rewarded with ‘Santa!’ – who they’d never mentioned once in their house!

    Having grown up in a feminist family but a misogynist culture, I too assume that an animal in a story is male, assuming doctors are male, etc. But because of my family background I’ve never once thought I couldn’t be a doctor.

    So I think as parents we have more influence over who our kids feel free to become, than over how they think the world works.

    I hope so at least 🙂

    • Lucy 9 March, 2014 at 11:38 pm

      I agree. There is also something about Ramona working out the importance of words -he/she/ boy/doctor- it doesn’t really mean her ambitions are curtailed.

      • ThaliaKR 13 March, 2014 at 10:52 am

        Yes, exactly. Well done, feminist Mama!

  • Anna Hughes 9 March, 2014 at 8:55 pm

    Yep we struggle with it too in a house of 3 boys and myself. I was pleased to hear my 6 year old boy correct his 3 yr old brother when he called someone driving a truck (whom they could not see) a ‘he’, saying ‘It could be a woman Niwha.’
    And I love that my 3 year old calls women, women, not lady’s or girls. I’ve worked hard instill that one, though once upon a time everyone was ‘kids’. Men (yes they were all men) working on the road got ‘What those kids doing Mum?’
    Of course there are definitely the strong gender basis comments like anything even boardering on pink is for girls and right now, according to my 6 year old girls are gross. Apart from Mum of course. I feel pretty confident that my sons will have a fairly strong sense of equality, just seeing Mum go to work and Dad stay home, Mum taking them rock climbing, biking and fixing things and Dad cooking the dinner, etc. Society will definitely have an influence, but what my boys experience day to day will be stronger. I think you can have faith in that too Lucy. As much as it is sad to hear your daughter say that, a gentle explanation from you and what she experiences everyday will make not only her a feminist but her brother too. Isn’t anyone who believes in equality between the sexes a feminist?

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  • ToddlerSlave 10 March, 2014 at 10:04 am

    LOVE this!! My Boo loves everything at the moment, from princesses to astronauts! And I love it! I’m going to try my best to give her a well rounded childhood, she has lots and lots of unisex stuff and we encourage her to follow any theme she’s interested in- recently pirates and cowboys. She still loves girly things and I love that too! If we have a boy next he will be treated the same, and be encouraged to play with Boo’s baby dolls and pink toys- think it’s so important for it to work the same way with boys, I studied Primay teaching at Uni and there were only 3 guys on the course! And hundreds of girls! 1 guy dropped out after a year, and 1 had lied to all his friends at home and told them he was studying business! Ridiculous! X

  • Katy Beale 10 March, 2014 at 10:21 am

    Eek! what a moment. Frustrating and tough as a parent – you seem to be doing all the right things. I’m all for shouting about getting kids clothes to be non-gender specific – at least for the early years (see raging blog post).

    I’ve also created a few things in my work life which are about showcasing women and creating equality between the sexes…

    One is Articulate – a speak directory of women who work in the technology and creative industries, so no one will be able to say “we just couldn’t get a qualified woman to talk” at their conference or event. No to all male panels! No to token women speakers!

    You can see the site here:
    We have nearly 1000 women listed so far.

    Another is Phenomenal People, a site we created with Fuel Theatre to showcase inspiring women. It was launched at the Women of the World Festival at Southbank a couple of years ago: http://phenomenalpeople.tumblr.com/

    • Lucy 10 March, 2014 at 10:42 am


  • Sue Denim 12 March, 2014 at 12:30 am

    Wow! I just finished reading There’s A Good Girl by Marianne Grabrucker.. seems not so much has changed in the last 30 years?! I think you’d find it a very interesting read. Thanks again for your blog, love it! Here’s a link about the book: http://parentguideuk.wordpress.com/2012/10/18/review-theres-a-good-girl-by-marianne-grabrucker/

  • Eline 22 March, 2014 at 8:53 am

    I’m super-late to the party, but thanks for this post and link-up. Raising my little boy to be a feminist has been on my mind since he was born, and to be honest I’m wracking my brains about how to stop him from being influenced by what he sees and hears outside our home. I can’t of course, which is precisely why everyone needs to support the campaigns we’ve both mentioned.
    It does drive me nuts though, especially living in Italy. I remember an antenatal class which the dads were invited to, and the conversation turned to how the mums would manage the newborn stage. The reply from the WOMEN was “oh my mum will be there” and the dads-to-be just nodded. What kind of an example does that set to the kids?!

  • Xanthe 9 April, 2014 at 2:22 am

    We had our expected similar sad moment on Saturday: “boys don’t like flowers”