There has been a lot of talk in the media this week about gender equality and children. There was the picture that went viral of the little girl looking very unhappy next to a supermarket sign about toys for boys. And in the same week Ladybird announced they will no longer be publishing books under gender specific titles such as ‘fairy tales for girls’.
I think there’s a lot of truth in the expression ‘girls will be girls and boys will be boys’. I have dined on many make-believe sandwiches and cups of tea from my sons kitchen. I have watched my son play for hours on end with Woody and Jessie from Toy Story, and what are they if they are not dolls? Yet that very same boy refuses point-blank to wear one of his T-shirts because it pink. And despite the fact I will not allow toy guns in the house he will use other toys as guns whilst he runs round shooting bad guys in his make-believe world.
Is gender inequality taught through the toys that we give our children to play with, or the messages we are giving them? Boys and girls alike should be told they are clever, beautiful and strong. We should be teaching our children self-confidence and self-awareness, so when they are older they will know that beauty is more than what a Barbie doll portrays, and strength is more than just what Action Man can do. We should teach them that they can be whatever they want to be no matter if they are a girl or a boy.
Have you heard a boy being told “don’t be such a girl” if he cries after a fall? It’s a phrase I have heard too often. What is that phrase teaching children about girls? That they are weak? That it is bad to be a girl? That boys are better than girls? What is it saying about boys? They must always be tough? Being brave means showing no emotion? This is everyday language that is creating gender inequality. Are our children being taught that for a woman to be successful she must be pretty? Are they being taught that for a man to be strong he must show no sign of weakness?
Girls and boys are different. As a mum of two boys I experience every day how they are just wired differently to me. They think farts are funny, they are fascinated by bodily functions, they make friends by making fun of one another, they cannot possibly sit still for more than 5 seconds, and they hate the colour pink. But it’s OK for girls and boys to be different. It’s OK if girls want to play with dolls and boys want to play with cars. Even within our own gender groups we are different. Some boys like cars, others like dinosaurs and others like football.
The danger is when we don’t respect each others differences. When we think we are better than someone else because we are different to them. That’s what creates inequality. Our children should be allowed to be who they want to be and taught that we are all equal. If your little girl has asked for an Elsa doll this Christmas it’s probably because she is pretty and sparkly and most little girls like pretty and sparkly things. I know a lot of women that like pretty and sparkly thing too, myself included. As far as ‘girl power’ goes Elsa and Ana are pretty good role models. But is it a problem if the child asking for an Elsa doll this Christmas is a boy? Or is the problem in the message we are giving that little boy if we say “no, it’s for girls”?