Monday, August 31, 2009

The gender gap

Louis modelling Great-Granny B's bangles

Time was, when any mention of the gender gap would automatically start me off worrying about how much less I was sure I was earning than my colleagues or how few female editors there are around. But that was B.L. Since Louis arrived on the scene, the gender gap means something entirely different.

Like just how different are boys and girls anyhow? I mean, from the offset? Do baby girls like wearing pink shoes because they've thought about it and they just prefer the colour? Or do they just get pink shoes forced upon them because there aren't any other choices? And do baby boys want to play with a fire engine? Or read a book about trucks? Or wear blue?

It's hardly an original thought, but I still can't help wondering what baby boys and girls would actually prefer, given the choice. Watching Louis these past few weeks I'm not much clearer. I mean, he made a beeline for the glitziest pink shoes he could find in John Lewis the other week when I let him loose on the shoe department. (Naturally, I bought him the dullest blue pair I could find, although I did later wonder whether it would really have been such a bad thing to let him have had the pink pair.)

And he just loves those baby strollers little kids have. In fact, I got so bored of him stealing all the little girls' ones in the playground that I eventually got round to buying him one of his own. He adores it. Even if it is blue.

Then there's the jewellery. A box of bracelets is just about the best toy ever (thank you Great- Granny Barbara). Well, along with the hairdryer.

But, on the flip side, he's obsessed with cars. He's just started saying, 'kar, kar, kar' whenever he hears or sees one. Which is kind of his first proper word. (Well, if you ignore the dadas (Daddy), nanas (initially banana, but now a generic term for food and/or drink), or 'ack, 'ack (started out as quack but now gets applied to any two or four-legged animal).)

Being able to say car is one thing, but I don't plan to encourage the love of all four-wheeled vehicles that most little boys seem to have. Don't get me wrong, I'm not going to paint his room pink or only let him play with dolls, or anything like that. But I'm all for a bit of gender balance. I will, however, stop FAR short of the Swedish couple whose child is known only as 'Pop' and who gets dressed one day in a boy's outfit and the next in a girl's.......


sara said...

I am also still trying to figure out this gender gap thing myself! So far short of wearing my shoes, Alex appears to be all boy ... Is it me or is it him? Is it my bleary eyed state or is my effort trying to get him to snuggle with a cushy stuffed animal or cozy up to a doll all for naught!? Really he just likes boxes and pirate booty!

PS your blog is outstanding and I love the links to your articles.. apparently I am totally a member of the Susie Mesure Fan club! We miss you both tons! xoxoxo

kim said...

When we were children, my sister wanted nothing more than to grow up and be a mechanic, now at age 29 she lives in a Barbie pink room, on purpose. I don't think kid stuff is a huge indicator! Haha.
P.S. Pain aside, those shoes are awesome.

Iota said...

My duaghter's favourite colour has been pink for 5 years. Having just started school, she decided yesterday it's now yellow (her big brother's favourite colour). I am intrigued. I wonder if she perceives pink as ok for little girls, but not school girls. My son's favourite colour was pink till he started preschool, and then realised it was for girls.

These things are very complicated, I'm sure. Who knows how innate the gender gap indicators are, or how learnt? We think we're not influencing our children, but even if we're not, lots of other people and things will be. Even if you did buy the pink shoes, at some point your son would notice that he was the only boy with them.

Happy to find another UK/US blog, by the way. I've enjoyed browsing backwards.

Coding Mamma (Tasha) said...

We are trying to bring Rosemary up with a balance and avoid stereotypes to an extent, though not completely. After early attempts to avoid pink, I have gradually bowed down to it and she does have an awful lot of pink or purple clothes, but she also has lots of blue clothes and green clothes, trousers as well as dresses, etc. I always try to go for the non-pink shoes, but still stick with the girls ones, though her favourite at the moment are blue and red unisex ones that match those of a (male) friend from nursery school.

In terms of what she plays with or is interested in, I think she has a good variety. She loves dinosaurs and cars, but also loves playing with her babies and buggy and so on. She enjoys Cinderella and Snow White, but also loves Monsters Inc, Willy Wonka and is just getting into Finding Nemo. She loves active play at the playground and soft-play centre, but is also happy to sit down for a while with some dough or to do some baking.

I think it's probably easier to provide this balance to girls than to boys, though. It's much more acceptable (in the eyes of the masses) for girls to wear trousers and blue clothes and play with cars, than boys to wear skirts and pink clothes and play with dolls and ironing boards.

But I think it's definitely important to try for the balance whether you have a boy or a girl. It's just as important for boys to be able to hoover and cook and wash up and accept that traditionally female jobs are perfectly OK for them to aim for, as it is for girls to be shown how to build and play football and aim for (if they want to) the more traditionally male jobs. Otherwise we won't ever come close to gender equality.

Good luck!