Freddy's blog: Being a boy-boy

World Book Day and lots of our children will have gone to school dressed up as their favourite characters. I say lots because my wife overheard someone in the supermarket who was unsure if her daughter’s school’s World Book Day would be on the same day as World Book Day. Like how you might not have Your Christmas on the same day as World Christmas maybe.

The instructions from our daughter’s school were simple: please don’t send your child (son) in a superhero outfit because “their behaviour changes significantly” (they fight). It always draws neatly along traditional gender lines doesn’t it? Boys, unless prohibited, are Batman and Spiderman. Or otherwise Gruffalos and dinosaurs. And from what I heard this morning, girls are Snow White and Cinderella. I wonder which is better. Add 20 years to their age and I’d prefer to be around superheroes than princesses.

My wife was thinking she’d keep our daughter off (pre-school!) this week while I’m away with work, but our daughter came home one day last week and announced she was going to World Book Day as one of the characters from her favourite book, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Violet Beauregard? No. Shame - the big blueberry costume could be easy. Veruca Salt? Even better, just wear school uniform – but sadly not. Although neither is better behaved than a 4 year old Batman, really. But no, our daughter decided to be… Willy Wonka.

So aside from the new skills in costume-making my wife just acquired, we’ve enjoyed the hilarity of our girl wanting to dress as a man aged 60-plus in the book and about 40 in the films. And on the eve of Her Wonka Day, she said “Tomorrow mummy, I’m going to be a boy all day aren’t I? I’m not going to be a girl-boy; I’m going to be a boy-boy.” If she was any older she’d have to be careful where she says this stuff because if the wrong person overhears she’ll be in a gender reassignment programme before she’s really had a chance to think it through long-term.

And that’s the trouble isn’t it? We categorise so easily along these lines. And then we want to break out of the categories. World Book Day is also the eve of International Women’s Day (if all the countries do it at the same time, of course…), where we hope to improve gender parity by celebrating female achievement. But the picture this paints often seems to fall into the same trap of fulfilling male and female roles, meeting male and female expectations, and looking magazine-perfect while you do it. 

I’ve written and deleted several paragraphs trying to work out what being Willy Wonka means to my daughter – through my adult eyes of course. All I’ve done is overcomplicate it. I hope as a dad to raise confident, independent girls and as a husband to support my wife to be the same. I don’t think it’s possible for me to ever know if I’ll have achieved that. But my daughter’s achievement on World Book Day is to be a character by casting character aside. To be the boy-boy she wants to be for a day. I hope she’s the woman she wants to be when she grows up. That would be a real achievement.

Freddy works in communications at trade association in the City, except on Friday afternoons when he takes his daughter swimming.

Category: A Cityfather's Diary

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