Motherhood, mental illness and beyond

My daughter is 4 years old and has just started school. She likes her uniform and school bookbag but she absolutely adores her backpack, snack pot and water bottle. They’re all Spiderman, you see, and she really likes Spiderman (she’s pretty keen on Batman too but there weren’t any Batman bags at the shops!).

This morning, instead of gleefully putting on her bag she was subdued. On the way to school she confided that one of her classmates had told her she shouldn’t have Spiderman things because she’s a girl, and Spiderman is only for boys. Outwardly I was cheerful and reassured her, explaining that Spiderman is for everyone and that she is allowed to like whatever she wants. But inside my heart was breaking for her.

My daughter doesn’t fit the ‘little girl’ stereotype. She likes pink but only as much as every other colour; she has no interest in princesses but loves pirates; her favourite CBeebies programme is Octonauts. She likes dinosaurs and cars as well as dolls and Sylvanian families. She is her own person and until now no-one had ever told her that she couldn’t like something because she’s a girl.

Children are bombarded with stereotypes via shops, adverts and television. Thanks to the Let Toys Be Toys campaign many big retailers are changing the way they display toys, removing their “boys” and “girls” signs (although often the pink and blue colour coding remain). But go into any shop that stocks children’s clothing – one section contains mostly pink and pastels, sparkles, princesses and teddies while the other contains bold colours, cars, spaceships and superheroes. I was recently admonished by a cashier at Tesco for buying Batman socks for my daughter; that’s how pervasive this nonsense has become.

It is our job as parents to gently encourage our children to think outside the colour coded boxes. A child should be free to explore and play with whatever kind of toy they like, instead of toys that they think they should like.

We need to teach children to play and explore the world around them, to be active, curious, kind and nurturing. We need to let them pursue their interests and encourage them to be confident in who they are and the choices they make. Restricting a child’s play because of the mistaken belief that some toys are only for one gender, or telling a child that their interests and passions are wrong or inappropriate because of their gender, is short-sighted and nonsensical.

My daughter likes Spiderman, my son likes dolls. That’s absolutely fine and I will continue to correct anyone with the temerity to tell my children otherwise.


Comments on: "Boys and girls, come out to play…" (9)

  1. Alison Jones said:

    You sound like you are describing my 3 year old daughter !
    She likes exactly the same things as your daughter and LOVES her Batman Imaginext toys. She was set upon in a play park in the summer by a group of similar age boys telling her off for wearing a Disney Cars watch. Like you my heart breaks for her and for when she does start school (she is longing for a Batman or Spiderman lunchbox, having seen them in so many shops).

  2. My daughter started preschool last week. Her rucksack of choice was Bob the Builder. She was standing in corridor as we waited to go in yesterday & every other girl had a Disney Princess, Peppa Pig, pink, sparkly rucksack. I thought then it’s probably a matter of time before her choices are questioned. Makes me so sad.

  3. My eldest daughter (17) is the hugest Marvel and 2000AD fan and has a collection of Batman/Superman/Superhero stuff that would make a small boy cry (though my particular small boy will quite happily play with sister’s old Bratz and Barbie dolls in the bath) while Daughter3 was the only girl in her class with a train fixation and a full Hornby trainset. Children are what children are and like what they like and I say a big Sod Off to anyone who thinks they can tell my children what they should and shouldn’t play with.

  4. My 3 year old daughter loves Spider-Man, pirates and shouting “and beyond” as she leaps about being buzz lightyear. She is also likes playing within dolls, tea sets and play cooking. She has already told me what are boys and girls toys but I hope she will remain confident in her choices and be pleased she’s a girl whose favourite colour is orange.

  5. It only becomes an issue if you make it an issue. Your daughter gets to wear/buy what she wants. Who is anyone to criticise what she plays with? My friend’s daughter wore a Spiderman onesie out for weeks and not one person told her that she should be dressed in something more “girly”.
    Similarly though, lots of little girls DO gravitate towards pink and glitter and I assume you wouldn’t discourage that. Freedom of choice amd all that.

  6. When you mentioned your daughter’s Spiderman backpack in an earlier post I thought to myself, “She’s going to hear about that at school sooner or later.” I’m sorry I was right. Poor little babe. I hope she sticks to her guns! I was super-ridiculously self-conscious because my mother was super-ridiculously hypercritical and unsupportive (to put it very, very nicely). Your daughter is lucky to have you. So very lucky! What I wouldn’t have given for a mum like you!

    I have been picked upon and ridiculed in my day for colour choices and styles I have attempted to enjoy. Quit and hid myself behind plain-Jane-ness. As a grown up artist today I utterly revel in being able to do whatever I bloody well please with colour, line, and form! Thumbing my nose to them all! HA! I can be bright and bold and wild, or enjoy dark and moody, whatever I choose. Both have their places and their patrons. I hope your daughter is an artist in the making.

    Stephanie Kirsten Hansen
    Monkey Hill Creative Arts

  7. My daughter sounds a lot like yours, although she does like princesses and sparkly things as well as pirates and spiderman. I am very proud of her for being her own person at such a young age, but there is so much gender stereotyping even over some things that I would consider unisex like Postman Pat and Toy Story. For some reason girls are supposed to only like Jessie, Woody and Buz are for boys! Who decided that! So I have been buying pyjamas etc in the ‘boys’ section for years.

  8. You have described my daughter there, she is obsessed with Octonauts, trains and dinosaurs! She is at preschool just now and only plays with boys. I am worried about what will happen when she starts school as I have been told there is a strong boy/girl division in schools 😦

  9. My eldest daughter loves all things pink, my youngest daughter likes tractors and cars. It makes me sad when parents don’t just try to teach their children to be kind and accepting. Having said that though, most kids can be pretty horrible given half the chance. Unfortunately the playground is very dog eat dog and as parents watching it all, it’s just awful when we see our children being teased or taunted.

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