Lucy's blog: Happy International Women’s Day

“Boys don’t like unicorns mum, they’re for girls.”

“WHAT??!!” I scream internally.

“I see…” I actually say “…and of course, girls don’t like dinosaurs, girls don’t like playing football, girls don’t like Lego…” listing things she definitely does like, to escalating protestation.

She drew the line at “girls don’t like spaceships” because in our house the former commander of the International Space Station, Peggy Whitson, is an icon. My daughter learned about her from a book on the forgotten and undervalued women who have contributed to space discovery - the kind of book she needs because notwithstanding how-much-better things are, the default is still to focus on history and culture through a certain, overly exclusive, lens. If you want to be truly depressed look up ‘Oscar nominations for best director 2020’, ‘scientists named on the national curriculum for science’, or ‘percentage of male dialogue in movies’ - even Frozen with its two female leads isn’t equal.

The theme for IWD 2020 (on 8 March) is “I am Generation Equality” and like every parent I know, I absolutely want to raise my child to value equality and to be anything she wants to be. However, I also don’t want to ban a six year old from doing the things that she feels the other girls are doing - in this case, ballet. It wasn’t my top choice extracurricular activity but she asked to start lessons and has participated in them enthusiastically ever since. I can’t help but wonder if we’ve swung the pendulum so far away from this-is-your-option-because-it’s-what-girls/boys-do that we’re now ever-so-slightly disappointed if they are interested in unicorns and pink tutus. Thankfully, thinly concealed disappointment is great for children I hear…

So I’ve been thinking (okay obsessing) over this because I am a professional in the City, where the grown-up consequences of all the gender stereotyped toys and hobbies play out. Women are still desperately underrepresented in leadership roles and so many friends and colleagues still early in their careers downplay their interests in family life to seem ambitious (as if the two are mutually exclusive). The bottom line is that these ‘traditional’ childhood stereotypes need some degree of resistance if we want the next generation to grow up more equal. So how do you strike that balance?

I’m not perfect (in fact, on the morning of writing this post said daughter told me I looked pretty because I blow-dried my hair for a meeting and I was instantly chuffed at the compliment) BUT it is something I want to be pro-active about. So reader, I have distilled my top 3 personal rules for empowering a child fit for Generation Equality:

1.       No one colour should have a monopoly. If I could report pink to the competition authority for dominating the market to the exclusion of the rest of the rainbow, I would.

2.       There is nothing intrinsically negative about any of the traditional “girls” activities. Little boys should be able to imagine nurturing their family by cooking in a toy kitchen or to learn the disciplined practices of ballet or yoga. Little girls should still be able to enjoy them in exactly the same way i.e. in moderation to allow for all the cars and Lego (and if you didn’t read number 1, I don’t just mean pink cars or Lego.) Seriously, toys are just toys.

3.       Take a look at what you’re reading your child and letting them watch. My daughter’s favourite character is usually the girl and often it’s a bit part (Ros in Monsters Inc., the nameless girl who sings at the end of the Jungle Book, you get the picture) so I think you have to be really consciously choosing content that is written by women and has substantive female characters (and I know it’s IWD but it cannot be unsaid that this extends to authors and characters from all the under-represented walks of life). And talk to them about it! Why are all the little pigs boys? Is it essential to the story that they are boys… the answer is often no and we need to be the ones challenging it.

If I take a step back from obsessing (breaking the habit of a lifetime) and just think for a moment about the turtle coding game she loves, the Lego spaceship creations, the make-believe surgeon games, the football in the park or the fact that she is the first person to say it’s okay that I won’t make it home for stories tonight because of my job and realise that my daughter’s world is much more equal than my own childhood. So here’s to generation equality.

Lucy is an associate at a corporate law firm in the City who lives almost-in the suburbs, with her joyful 6-year old, supportive fellow-City-worker husband and co-parent, and their enormous cat.

Category: A Citymother's Diary

Hayley Cross - 03/03/2020 - 16:04
brilliant blog - I find the impact of the things that our children see and hear, on TV, in books and from others around us so scary and no matter how hard we try as parents to represent gender balance, clearly this is often not enough against the huge amount of other information that flows into their minds!  I was devastated a couple of weeks ago when I asked my 3 year old son what the doctor had said to him at his appointment earlier that day and he told me it wasn't a doctor, it was a nurse.  When I probed (already suspecting his reasoning) he told me it was a lady, so she was a nurse, followed with "mummy, doctors are boys and nurses are girls."  His own Godmother is a doctor.. and we have never suggested this as the norm at home, so it has clearly seeped into his mind through books, TV and (I suspect even) dressing up games at nursery.. *sigh*

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