The Next Genderation

Gender stereotypes:  widely held beliefs about the characteristics and behaviour of women and men.

Or maybe – girls and boys.

Toddler is a girl and Tiddler is a boy.  They have been subject to gender stereotyping since they were first slotted into a babysling.  Strangers would peer in and comment on a pretty baby or a strong one; not because they looked pretty or strong (at two days old, Toddler definitely looked the strongest) but based on their sex.

Our babies were sometimes colour-coded, having mainly worn hand-me-downs and some awesome gifts.  But we tried not to routinely make their flavour obvious.  When in doubt, my advice to the discerning baby coo-er would be to look at the shoes.  Boys: dull colour and sturdy.  Girls: pink or purple, adorned with butterflies or flowers. After all, boys and girls have different feet.  Boys feet need extra protection and girls feet need to attract insects and butterfly-eating birds.  You don’t get neutral feet.  Isn’t that right, Clarks?


Then come the toys.  There are STILL pink and blue aisles in many leading toy-shops.  Knowing a child’s sex is fundamental when buying them a present.  Now don’t get me wrong: people have bought my children gender targetted toys that the kids – and I – absolutely love.  I am just pleased that in our house, Tiddler gets to play with a ballet-dancer music box and Toddler gets to play with dinosaurs, as well as the other way around.  As for the toy-colour issue, this recent exchange made me smile:

– Playgroup leader:  Do you want to play with the pink car, Toddler?

– Toddler (pushing an identical blue one into the garage):  No.

But we do still treat our children differently.  Their haircuts, for instance.  We have always explained away Toddler’s head of blonde ringlets by pleading laziness.  We didn’t want the drama of regular haircuts, so we let her hair grow long.  But will we get Tiddler’s hair cut more frequently?  It seems likely.  Will we encourage Uncle A to buy Tiddler a fairy-dress like the one we suggested he bought for Toddler?  Possibly less likely.

‘My hubby doesn’t like it when I paint my son’s nails pink,’ my friend wailed.  ‘He thinks I’m going to make him gay.’

Friend’s Hubby might lack some understanding of what makes a person gay and I might ask what detriment he perceives a gay son to be anyway.

But for different reasons, I don’t envisage myself actively encouraging Tiddler into Toddler’s fairy outfit either.  Not in the enthusiastic manner in which I encouraged Toddler into a pirate costume, before she had expressed an interest.  Women have spent years fighting for the opportunities to ‘wear the trousers’ and actively encouraging our daughters to follow suit.

I am such a woman.  To the bloke who criticised me over my daughter’s purple dress on her first birthday: you got it wrong.  It’s fine for girls and women to look pretty sometimes.  The one area where women actually get a better deal than men, is in the range of socially accepted clothes that we get to wear.  I am not about to limit my daughter’s wardrobe range because boys don’t share that priviledge yet. I think baby boys should get to wear purple dresses too.

Sadly, if I took my little boy to playgroup in a dress, people would, at best, think I was very radical (it would be ace though because I could recycle more of Toddler’s outfits).  Our society hasn’t reached a point where I would feel comfortable doing this unless Tiddler showed a strong and clear preference for purple dresses. But give it time.

It shouldn’t take long: it wasn’t that long ago that boys in dresses were normal anyway (this portrait dates back to the eighteenth century) and I’m sure we will go there again.


And here’s an article you can read later, explaining that before the first world war, most babies used to wear white.  And that in the twenties, there was still a bit of confusion as to whether pink was the appropraite colour for girls or for boys.


In fact – shock, horror – it is quite possible that many gender stereotypes are to do with cultural fashion and bear no relation to the actual, innate characteristics of boys and girls.

Polly Curtis has researched the scientific articles about this.  Apparently, women are very slightly more likely to show a preference reddish hues (for example, pink) than men are.  Boy monkies have a slightly stronger preference for push-along toys than girl monkeys.  Perhaps a convincing paper is just in the pipeline about whether girl monkeys prefer elaborate but impractical dresses and boys practical but boring trousers. Curtis, it would seem, finds it unlikely.

(Her article is here if you’d like to read it. And yes, the whole report about children and gender stereotypes has been filed in the part of the Guardian website entitled: ‘Women.’  See what we’re up against? ).

But what is really going to shape my children’s lives?  Their innate beliefs and capabilities, or the lens through which society views them?

Furthermore, who really cares?  Because we can’t do anything about the innate skills and preferences our children are born with.  However, we can try to make sure that we treat our children in such a way that their unique set of skills and preferences is nurtured (once they are old enough to express them) and not redirected or suppressed.

This post explains what I am talking about:


I know it sounds crazy but we should be heading for a society where people can dress in the clothes that they want to; grow their hair as long as they want to; play with the toys that they want to.  Where people can aspire to a career or life goal that suits them. Wear the shoes that they want.  Listen to the music they enjoy. Have crushes on the people they fancy. Marry whichever adult makes them happy.

The next generation ought to be closer than we were to that.


Above image:

An interesting article I found on the subject:


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