Okay, I’m just going to say it. Does anyone else think this whole gender neutral thing is getting a bit out of hand?
I know it’s ‘the thing’ now to give children unisex clothes and toys, and to publicly lambast retailers who are seen to gender stereotype, but can we just face facts for a minute – boys and girls ARE different.
Clearly our bodies are different on the outside but also on the inside. Male and female hormones affect our behaviour, and our brains differ in structure and function. And surely we all know from our own experience as parents that there are very obvious differences that inexplicably come from nature rather than nurture?
I have two boys – the youngest is only just one – but already he has typically male interests. I expected him to simply follow and copy his older brother who loves diggers and Lego, but actually the little one is happiest chasing a ball around, making car noises, or trying to climb onto anything with wheels – things our first son has never shown much interest in. So where have those desires come from?
A friend of mine has four year old twins, a boy and a girl. They had the same toys from birth and obviously an identical upbringing. She’s never tried to force or steer either of them in any way, and yet, from a very young age she said the difference in them was striking. Her daughter wanted to sit quietly and play with imaginative toys – and zoned in on anything pink like a magnet – whereas her son was climbing any piece of furniture, taking things apart to see how they worked and was obsessed with anything with wheels.
Where’s the harm in that if they’re both doing what they enjoy?
There seems to be a lot of concern that women currently only account for 21% of STEM jobs. And questions have been asked around whether this is due to the way we are treated as girls, and the toys and opportunities given to us. But what if it’s simply because fewer women WANT to work in those industries than men. And maybe a similar percentage of girls would CHOOSE to play with typical ‘girls’ toys rather than trucks or footballs. So why is that a problem?
I’m not saying we should pigeonhole our children according to their gender. I wouldn’t care if either of my boys wanted to play with dolls or said their favourite colour was pink. I absolutely think girls clothes should have dinosaurs on them rather than ‘Wannabe WAG’. Of course I was angry with Clarks for naming the girls shoe range ‘Dolly Babe’, and the boys range ‘Leader’. And clearly I want girls to have equal opportunities in life – who wouldn’t? But trying to banish our natural differences isn’t the way to do it.
My concern is that children shouldn’t be burdened with an awareness of what we believe they ‘should’ or ‘shouldn’t’ be interested in. It’s our job as parents to nurture them and help them succeed in whatever they want to do. And to teach our children that boys and girls may have some differences but neither gender is superior or more capable.
As a child, I had a pink bedroom with flowery wallpaper that I adored and filled it with cuddly toys, dolls houses and My Little Ponies. These days a lot of parents feel under pressure to steer their daughters away from such ‘girly’ things. Why? I got a great education and grew up feeling like I could do whatever I wanted in life – and I did. Even if I was wearing a pink top at the time.
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Heather lives in Hertfordshire with her husband and two little blue-eyed boys. In between naps and nursery runs, she works as a freelance writer. In 2015, she had a series of children’s books published, inspired by her experience of adopting ex-battery hens as pets. You can find out more on her website.