We live in a world that, like it or not, discriminates heavily against gender. We, as parents, are becoming more aware of this and most of us do our best to teach our kids from an early age that we are all equal. However, we (and/or the people around us) may be perpetuating the discrimination without even realising it.
It starts right from the beginning, when our precious bundles are born. Our babies are dressed in ‘sex appropriate’ clothing – pink for girls and blue for boys. As they grow, we realise it’s the same way with children’s toys. They are separated into definite groups; boys or girls. And as the age range gets older, the worse it gets. Girls are expected to gain enjoyment from make-up, jewellery and clothes. Boys are veered towards ‘tougher’ toys, in dull colours. They are even conveniently separated in the toy shop.
This trend continues well into their young adult years, and by then, the damage is done. Just last night I was surfing the net trying to find a Christmas present for my niece. She is 12, and on several occasions she has expressed an interest in science. So, I thought some kind of science-y activity set would be a good idea. I started hunting, and was incredibly incensed to find that every single science kit for children is heavily marketed towards boys. The only ones marketed for girls (pretty pink box – sigh) were kits to make stinky, chemical-y bath bombs. And soap. And make-up.
So, what, girls are only good for making themselves look and smell pretty? Only boys are allowed to learn about things of substance? I was furious. Of course, I could buy her one of the ‘boys’ kits, and I’m certain she would love it regardless of the colour of the box it comes in, but that doesn’t take away from my fury that her card has been marked before she has even hit her teens. If she wants to pursue her interest in science, she will have to go against the grain – and that’s quite a scary concept for a young child.
So where does this begin? How can we ensure that our children grow up knowing that, regardless of gender – more precisely, regardless of how society tries to limit people through gender – they can do whatever they want with their life?
It starts from birth. Even before birth, in some cases. How many people do you know who have demonstrated a preference for the gender of their child? I know one woman who desired a girl so that, in her words, she could “dress her up in all of those gorgeous little dresses and tights”. That baby’s fate has been decided before s/he has even been born. A girl? She will be expected to be the quintessential Little Princess, and woe betide her if she wants to play in the mud or with toy cars. A boy? A disappointment to his mother from the moment he is born, preventing her from fulfilling her shallow dreams of playing dress up with her little mannequin.
This is an extreme example, of course. Most of us are happy just to be lucky enough to be blessed with babies, regardless of their gender. Of course, it is natural to sometimes ‘want’ a baby of a certain sex. When pregnant with my first, I desperately wanted a girl. When I found out he was a boy at the 20 week scan, I am ashamed to say I felt a little twinge of disappointment. I was 19 years old, and had no idea of the magnitude of what was happening within my body; what it meant and how incredible it really was. In all honesty I felt as though I would probably just deflate after 9 months; I couldn’t imagine that I would actually have a child. But the moment he was born, I realised that his gender didn’t matter. Hell, he could have been born with two heads and I still would have adored him, and I felt very differently during my second pregnancy. I couldn’t have cared less whether my unborn was male or female (and this time, we didn’t find out at the scan). I was just happy to be pregnant with a healthy baby.
One way of helping your child feel able to fulfil their own dreams and desires is to avoid unintentionally stifling them with gender-targeted toys, activities and clothes. Choose gender-neutral toys and clothes for your child – or even better, allow them to choose for themselves, without steering them towards the pink or blue section of the store.