Motherhood, mental illness and beyond

Posts tagged ‘gender’

Boys and girls, come out to play…

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.

Why I won’t be teaching my children to be tolerant

Tolerance is a word often used in 21st century Britain. We are encouraged to be tolerant towards those of different gender, sexuality, nationality, race religion, politics and the myriad other differences that emerge in a society as large and varied as our own. A tolerant society is seen as evidence of a civilised society, with less tolerant groups seen as backwards.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines tolerance as “the ability or willingness to tolerate the existence of opinions or behaviour that one dislikes or disagrees with”. To put up with it, in other words. The word “tolerance” is usually used these days when referring to the widely accepted idea that even if you’re uncomfortable around those who are different you should accept them and just keep quiet about it.

However this implicit muffling of views that mainstream society finds unacceptable can lead to the proliferation of unpleasant groups like the English Defence League and the BNP. It is a widespread belief that these groups are vile, racist, ignorant and inflammatory. Yet they must appeal to some people as they keep acquiring new members. And if we insist that tolerance is the way forwards, then shouldn’t we tolerate their views too? No matter how disagreeable we may find them?

Of course, this leads to a rather sticky problem. Where do we draw the line? Who decides which views and differences must be tolerated and which are unacceptable? Why is it ok to criticise someone for being racist but not to criticise someone for being tolerant? I don’t have a simple answer to this other than to say that it is the law, and that the majority of people in our society agree that this is right.

However I don’t want my children to grow up tolerating the differences that we all have, whether it’s someone’s religion, sexuality or anything else. I want my children to grow up embracing our differences, exploring them and learning from them. But I also want my children to have the confidence to confront and argue against views and attitudes they find abhorrent.

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