Thursday, 24 August 2017

Sugar and spice and all things nice… thoughts on No More Boys and Girls

1960s toy typewriter.
Gender-neutral 1960s Christmas present.

So I’m watching No More Boys And Girls on the BBC, a heartwarming story about how a teacher and a doctor help children to develop beyond the gender stereotypes that our culture tries to limit them to.
And I can’t understand why someone would disagree with this.

Maybe it’s the title, chosen to attract attention. Or maybe it’s because anything to do with gender always brings out the trolls. Or maybe it’s because some people prefer girls to play with dolls because having kids is a higher calling than having a career.
Someone on Twitter says to me: “there is a difference between gender equal and gender neutral” and I’m not sure what the answer is so I don’t say anything. It is a (male) teacher.

Afterwards I think about it and I think this: if you create a gender neutral environment then you are creating the conditions in which you can get gender equality. Also, it’s easy to say you believe in gender equality but we still don’t actually have it.

There are lots of commentators talking about “social engineering”. So why is it social engineering when educationalists try to help children reach their potential, and not social engineering when retailers try to put children into boxes?

There is nothing sinister about helping boys to express their emotions (and become better behaved), helping girls to be more ambitious (and better at football), helping all kids to become more rounded, kinder, more ambitious people. I can’t see how that is controversial.

It did upset a lot of viewers when the TV presenter made the parents chuck out all the “girly” clothes – including a whole wardrobe of “princess” dresses. I did think that was going too far: the problem isn’t with girls wanting to be “girly”, it’s with girls wanting ONLY to be girly. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying glamour and romance as long as that doesn’t circumscribe your life. Which was a point I tried to make but it was too subtle a distinction for some people.

I don’t have kids, and I’m still waiting for my nieces and nephews to have babies, so I don’t know much about children’s lives these days. And I was shocked to find out that the gender differences being imposed on kids are actually much worse than when I was growing up in the 60s.

I knew about the campaign to stop categorising toys by gender, but I didn’t know about the slogan T-shirts. Starting the brainwashing early: girls’ T-shirts saying “Forever beautiful” (translated helpfully by the presenter as “Looks are everything”); boys’ T-shirts saying “Here comes trouble” (like that’s a good thing). “Feminism in reverse” says one parent campaigner, in a well argued blog post.

Nobody tried to impose those messages on me as a kid. Maybe it’s because I didn’t have brothers (so my dad had to live out his university ambitions through us girls), maybe it’s because my parents were teachers (so valued education and intelligence) or maybe it’s because we didn’t live in an era of rampant consumerism where retailers and marketers decided what we think (and what we think we want). And slogan T-shirts weren’t invented.

I never played much with dolls: my favourite Christmas presents ever (apart from book tokens) were a typewriter and a cowboy outfit. No-one seemed to mind. Outside school, I wore shorts and trousers. I went through a phase of wanting to be a boy (I blame Enid Blyton). No-one minded.  And nobody tried to instil an aspiration to be a “princess”.

It’s true that I was never encouraged to think seriously about careers, which still makes me cross, but there was never pressure to be “girly”. I never have been, and I’m still not.

Sadly, I don’t think I was typical. Some years ago, when I was having a quarter-life crisis, I went on a women’s self-development course. We were asked to pick three words to describe ourselves. I picked: intelligent, caring, confused. Every woman in that room picked “caring”: defining themselves in relation to other people, not in terms of their own potential. I was the only one to choose “intelligent”.  And they were all intelligent women.

That’s why it makes me sad to see little girls now using words like “pretty, lipstick, dresses, love hearts” when asked to describe girls. And if they end up using words like “unique” and “happy” instead, how can that be bad?

No comments:

Post a Comment