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.