As the countdown to my daughters 3rd birthday begins several weeks before the big day, there’s been an undeniable upsurge in her “requests” for gifts…but not just any presents. Everything she wants – and she has a pretty long list…is pink.
My daughter is out and proud – she loves, loves, loves, pink. She would live in a rose tinted world of pink if she could. It doesn’t matter which shade, bubblegum, baby, shocking, hot – she’s not fussy – as long as it’s pink! Oh and dolls – dolls are pretty high up on the list as well, Baby Born, Barbie, My Baby Annabelle, Tiny tears, Dolls World – you get the idea.
So with a list as long as my arm, off I went to the local toy superstore. As I made my way past all of the “boy’s” toys and into the “girl’s” area I was of course assaulted by a wall of pink. Dolls in pink clothes, hair accessories galore glittery and oh so pink, horses, unicorns, musical instruments – all of them in one shade of pink or another– truly this would be my daughter’s nirvana. And yet as I stood there surrounded by so much choice – I became paralysed – incapable of choosing anything. All I could think was, should I really pander to her love of all things girly?
As a strong independent career woman myself -would indulging my 2 – soon to be 3 year old daughter – potentially be damaging to her future life choices?
Ringing in my ears were the headlines, I myself had read out in recent years. Experts warning of the dangers of how selecting toys based on the sex of a child could seriously restrict life and career choices, confining my daughter to a life of gender stereotypes. With this one shopping trip could I really be contributing to creating a passive Princess? I tried telling myself I was being ridiculous – she’s not even 3! Nevertheless that little voice wouldn’t go away, and I left the shop empty handed!
Let’s rewind 8 years. Before I became a parent I was a fully paid up member of the right on- politically correct brigade. If asked, I would have said I was determined to bring up my children free to embrace whatever interested them, be it maths and science experiments for a girl or fashion and cookery for boys.
But it hasn’t quite turned out that way. My boys and my girl totally fulfill their own gender stereotypes – with little input from me! My 2 boys always go for the “boys’ toys”, cars, robots, gadgets and building sets galore. When they were little I did buy them dolls and a buggy (ok in blue I admit) and a kitchen, but they just didn’t want to know. My daughter, surrounded by her brothers’ gadgets galore, is simply not interested in them. As soon as she could exercise free will, which was shockingly early, she wanted to play with dolls. She is a typical “girl” through and through. She is caring, nurturing, wants to look after everyone especially her brothers; bringing them their shoes and coats when it’s time to go out – and constantly asking everyone if they are ok? Meanwhile she wants to look pretty, wear dresses, put on my jewellery and my make up! She has even had a full blown rolling around banging her fists on the floor tantrum, when I refused to allow her free reign of my cosmetics bag – screaming that she “needs” lipstick!
I do get the arguments that children don’t pop out of the womb with expectations about their future careers, but is the stereotyping we see in toy marketing really to blame for the inequalities we see in adult life? Studies show that nature does have a profound effect on the things we enjoy playing with. I can see it with my own eyes in my own home! Surely we as parents are as responsible for setting an example as much as anything?
Now I don’t want to put any of my children into a box because of their gender. But they are who they are – and on the whole they’ve put themselves into those boxes. Nevertheless, I’ll be the first to jump in if I do hear one of them say – that’s for girls, or that’s for boys, or girls can’t do something that boys can do. In fact just this week it was me not my husband who had to handcraft a Kub Kar for my son from a block of wood – because my husband hadn’t got round to it (and neither had my son). So it was down to me to take up the hand saw and chisel. I can’t say I enjoyed the experience, or that it was the finest Kub Kar specimen on the track -but I showed them girls can do anything they want to.
As a child I was also very much a “traditional girl” and totally fulfilled my gender stereotype! I loved and adored anything pink – I had a pink room, pink toys and I had a long-standing love affair with my dolls. Indeed according to photographic evidence I was still playing with them aged 12! I don’t believe playing with Girl’s World and Cindys, (I never did get a Barbie), set me back. I still turned into the fiercely independent, strong willed, determined career woman you see today.
My parents never did buy me a chemistry set, but I still did all the sciences at GCSE and achieved very good grades. I don’t believe my life choices would have been different had I had a bow and arrow or garage to play with as a child. I don’t think I was ever destined to be a scientist or a soldier, but neither did I ever think I couldn’t “do” any of those jobs because I was a woman.
So when I see my little girl take such pleasure in her girl’s toys – I find it hard to recoil in horror. My daughter and my sons will grow up knowing they can do whatever they want to do in their lives. I will encourage them to pursue whatever their interests and passions are – not restricted by their gender. But in the meantime I won’t deny my daughter the things she loves to play with. So obviously I succumbed and on her birthday she squeeled with delight when she unwrapped her shocking pink dressing table and fairy jewellery box. Bring on the pink!