I saved this as a draft post over a week ago and have been mulling it over since. The issue of the differences between boys and girls is an ongoing one and much can (and has been) said on probably every aspect that you could think of. With that in mind, this is probably just another drop in the ocean, someone else’s two cents. But, it has been playing on my mind recently so even if it’s only useful for me to feel it out, I’ll humbly offer my thoughts to add to the myriad that is already out there.
Before I had children, I was staunchly of the belief that the way children were was a direct result of their surroundings, what they were exposed to and their parents expectations of them. Four years and one of each later, I’m not so sure. I think that most definitely, the pinkification of girls and culture of separation when it comes to toys is completely limiting and unhelpful. But. Men and women have a different chemical makeup, there are different hormones surging around inside us. I think it is foolish to completely ignore that.
Like most babies, Sophia didn’t show any interest in toys until 9-12 months. Previously to that she was just happy to explore whatever was around her, to interact with people and to try and move. Once she had mastered that and her attention span slowly started to grow, she turned to toys. We bought a selection of toys; instruments, wooden stacking and sorting toys, craft materials, dolls, cars. I was a bit of a control freak about what we gave her. This was partly due to the lack of space on the boat, if something was going to be taking up precious room I wanted it to be an open ended, well made toy that had durability.
She played with most of them to varying degrees of success but as the months went on I couldn’t help but notice that she naturally seemed to gravitate to what would be seen as more ‘girly’ activities; baking, playing with dolls, drawing. We didn’t have television and she didn’t go to nursery or playgroups where there would have been an outside pressure to choose those toys so I assumed it was a natural inclination but not particularly indicative of her gender.
But then came Isaac. Like his sister, he showed no interest in toys for his first year. His only interest, his mission in life, was to move. He was crawling at 6 months, surfing sofas by 7 and took his first steps at 10 and a half months. After he turned one he still didn’t show much interest. He liked to climb, to empty things, to eat. But then, at 18 months, it was like a switch in his brain. And suddenly it was all about wheels. Seemingly overnight he developed an obsession with all modes of transportation but mainly wheel based and especially tractors. He also entered what I call destructor mode. If there is a container, it needs to be emptied. If there is a ball, it must be thrown. If he finds a pen, he will draw on something that is most definitely not paper. He also loves to sort, to move things from one container to another.
If I were to stop there you could draw your own conclusions. Isaac is a male, full of testosterone, and therefore loves ‘boy’ things. Sophia is a nurturing female and therefore loves ‘girl’ activities. But I refuse to do so. Because Sophia also loves to run riot outdoors, to dig up the garden, would choose to dress up as a dog or chef over a princess, to dance like a lunatic and hurl herself around. And Isaac is starting to join us in the kitchen, will have books read to him for hours if your voice can stand it, worries about children if he hears them crying, draws pictures at the table with Sophia (when he’s not chucking the pens everywhere) and won’t go to sleep without his baby and bear.
So I guess what I’m trying to say is that it’s not so black and white, or blue and pink if you will. There are differences between boys and girls and at times it is most definitely very important to remember these in our parenting, but these hormonal differences do not define our children. There are a million other shades between. A veritable rainbow of personalities to be found within the children around us.
But what worries me is how ingrained our attitudes towards children are. From the father at a Church I used to go to who was dismayed when his young son wanted to be a pink butterfly at the face painting stand I was running to my friend’s daughter who has recently started school and was told twice in a week by classmates that she had a boys lunch box and questioned over her choice. Kinder Eggs have recently introduced pink and blue packaging, pull up training pants come in a choice of blue motorbikes or pink princesses and even at the Christian music festival we went to this summer, I spotted a girls and boys Bible – identical but for the colours. We don’t have television and I am so glad at the moment that we are not being bombarded with the heavily pink vs blue adverts that overwhelm ad breaks in the run up to Christmas.
But the good news is that there are a lot of people angry about this, fighting for change. Pinkstinks is a long running campaign that (to quote their blurb) ‘targets the products, media and marketing that prescribe heavily stereotyped and limiting roles to young girls. We believe that all children – girls and boys – are affected by the ‘pinkification’ of girlhood. Our aim is to challenge and reverse this growing trend.’ Go and check out their website to see some of their ongoing campaigns and some of their successes. Harrods and Toys R Us are two retailers that have recently picked up on this dissatisfaction and have been dissolving their pink/blue divide and just tonight I saw an ad for a company called GoldieBlox who are on a mission to inspire the next generation of female engineers. The tide is turning, but slowly.
So what can we do?
We can not assume that every young girl’s favourite colour is pink and that she is into princesses and dolls, we can not comment on her looks. I remember reading an amazing article, quite a long time ago which you can find here. Because the author is so right, sometimes without thinking the first thing I want to say to daughters of friends is a comment on their appearance, sometimes the urge to praise them for their clothes or the way they look is strong. And this is madness. A child’s worth shouldn’t be in how they look but should be found in what makes them feel good, in what excites and captivates them.
So let’s dig deeper. Let’s get to know the girls, to shed the pink and to give them more respect than that. But also, let’s not assume that all boys are rough and tumble hardy things that like trucks and trains and fighting. Let’s not say ‘boys will be boys’.
Let us get to know each child individually and stop making assumptions, find out whether they like music, reading, making, moving, see if their favourite colour is red, gold, green or yellow. Let’s find out who our children really are.