Pirate swords and burglars’ hats: that’s what little girls are made of

gender stereotyping

I’ve been thinking about the issue of gender stereotyping lately.

When I found out I was expecting a girl, I was dreading the idea of having one of those little girls who likes princesses and glitter and sparkles. I’m just not sure how I’d relate to that child, frankly. I’ve only worn a dress once as an adult (on my wedding day) and look how well THAT turned out.

Fortunately for me, Flea never worried about conforming to old-fashioned ideas about girls and boys. As a five year old, she loved pirates, monsters and dinosaurs. She preferred to wear jeans and she loved her red racing car trainers. She would tell me that when she grew up, she wanted to be a burglar.

I don’t think I encouraged her in any direction. My mantra has always been: “There is no such thing as boys’ toys or girls’ toys. You can play with whatever you like.” 

The same applies to clothes. I’m sure if the girls’ section included clothes with dinosaurs and pirates on, Flea would have been very happy to wear girls’ clothes, but the reality is we mostly ended up buying from the boys’ section. And I never commented on that, I just let Flea choose what she wanted.

The only thing I found odd about our situation is how odd other people found it. When Flea was smaller, I honestly lost count of the number of children who said to Flea, “You can’t play with that, it’s for boys,” or “Why are you wearing a boy’s t-shirt?”.

Adults, who really should have known better, were some of the worst offenders when it came to gender stereotyping. One woman even told me that I was in denial because Flea was obviously trans. Which would have been perfectly fine if she was, but last time I checked liking dinosaurs and thinking Peter Pan is cool isn’t a defining diagnostic trait for being trans.

When Flea started school, gender stereotyping became a real dilemma. I didn’t want Flea to feel weird, or to be the odd one out. But I also didn’t want her to buy into what I consider to be a stupid notion that girls should be ‘cute’ and ‘pretty’ while boys get to be ‘cheeky’ and ‘adventurous’.

We were really up against it. The retail industry works very hard to convince us that boys and girls are entirely different creatures – has anyone else noticed now that even toys like the Leapfrog Tag and VTech Early Walker are available in boys’ and girls’ versions? You can even buy gender-specific tins of spaghetti hoops. Jesus, that’s depressing.

I remember watching High School Musical 3 with my then six year old niece, who told me it was her favourite film. And I wondered, am I the only person who was concerned with the scene where the group of male characters openly ogle a female character’s rear end? Yes, little girls, one day when you grow up, if you’re very lucky, a group of teenage boys will ogle your butt, and then you’ll know you’re a success. Gross.

This kind of gender stereotyping is a big part of the reason why Flea didn’t watch television when she was younger. I tried to be really careful of what toys I introduced to her, but once our girls are at school, there will be new influences in their lives. What do other mothers of girls (and boys) think? How do you approach issues of gender with your kids?

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