When I found out I was pregnant I never for one moment thought I would have a girl. I don’t know why but for some reason me and Mr H (and pretty much everyone else we know) were sure it was going to be a boy. So you can imagine our amazement when the sonographer announced he was a she!! Fast forward 9 months and the thought of another boy seems just a distant memory.
But the prospect of raising our precious little girl has really made me stop and think about both my own behaviour and ideologies and also those of the world around us. I think of myself as a fairly strong willed and independent woman yet I have learnt that it can be pretty tough for women out there. I would love Millie to grow up knowing she can do or be anything she wants to be in this world and be able to expose her to as many opportunities and experiences as I possibly can. I am by no means any kind of staunch feminist promoting equality for women but I have been asking myself if it is possible to raise my little girl without being bogged down by gender stereotyping – quite frankly I can’t answer that question!
Last week I got invited to a networking event promoting women in business. Super idea I thought, I may even take the time out to attend. But something really got under my skin about the event – it had been called “Bubbles and Beauty”!! Now to me this seemed like a huge contradiction. Surely offering a free manicure and champagne was simply playing to the stereotype and even possibly saying “come on successful women out there let’s make ourselves a bit more glamorous so we can achieve even more”!! Don’t get me wrong the thought of a free manicure was tempting but I really had to resist the urge to reply to the invite with something along the lines of “thanks but no thanks, I’d rather network over a pie and a pint”.
This got me thinking, we really are surrounded by so many direct and indirect gender stereotypes and I have already fallen into the trap with my daughter! So here are my top four observations I’ve already stumbled across in the short 9 months I’ve spent raising my girl:
1. Clothes – Millie is a little adventurer and loves nothing more than climbing around and getting herself into mischief. She has been crawling since 5 months old and there’s been no stopping her since then. On a regular basis I am asked when will she start wearing pretty dresses. Well here’s the thing, if she wears a dress she can’t crawl, it gets trapped under her knees and she topples forward. I have no objection to beautiful clothes of any kind and do like lovely dresses but quite frankly they aren’t at all practical for an active baby and can in fact be a little bit dangerous. I’m not too concerned that people think she is a boy sometimes as long as she can get around and explore as she loves to do. I personally don’t think it’s necessary to dress her as perhaps some people out there think she should be as a girl, I dress her for comfort! I have noticed that quite a few of the big department stores are starting to stock unisex baby brands and I think this is great. It means active little girls can also wear comfy and durable clothes too!!
2. Toys – a few weeks ago I was chatting to a friend about our child’s development and the toys they enjoy playing with most. During the conversation she made the comment “I don’t mind my son playing with girls toys, it’s important not to stereotype at this young age”. Now is this comment not stereotyping in itself by classifying toys by gender?? I am already massively guilty (for want of a better word) of this. Millie has a dolly’s pram baby walker, pink cars and books titled “that’s not my princess” and “that’s not my dolly” but none about trains, tractors or cars!! On reflection I was probably drawn to these toys in the girls section of the toy shop! It has made me think I really should look at widening her toy collection beyond all things pink and dollies because a variety of toys helps broaden her development and will help promote a variety of interests. The campaign Let toys be toys makes a very interesting read around this idea.
3. The things we say – when I was pregnant I read a really interesting article about things to be mindful of as a white mother raising a mixed race child. The key point of the article was a reminder to choose your words carefully! Although as parents we should be doing this anyway I do think the things we say to our girls can be a lot different to how we speak to boys. I regularly tell Millie how pretty she looks or how beautiful she is, but I don’t think I would do the same to a baby son. However I also ensure that I constantly remind her she is clever, she is funny, she is strong because I don’t want her from such a young age to become used to only hearing references to her looks and believe that is what defines her. I’m sure some people reading this will think I’m being a little OTT but I hope to raise a well rounded little person who has confidence in all of her abilities yet still knows she is the most beautiful girl in the world to her mummy.
4. Roles in the home – Mr H is a wonderful cook and equally he cleans the house with just as much (OK, probably more) precision than me. We have also taught Nic from a young age how to keep his room clean and given him his own chores to do, pack the dishwasher and match up the socks into pairs (this one he truly hates). He is also learning to iron in preparation for ironing his uniform for secondary school. Equality is a given in our home and this definitely applies to cooking and cleaning. No doubt before too long Millie will have her very own toy Hoover and dustpan and brush (she already is fascinated by the sweeping brush). But I’m proud that she will grow up seeing the first men in her life taking an active and equal part in taking care of our house and if one day Millie decides to move in with a man I hope that she can instil the same equality in her own home.
When I started doing some reading around gender stereotyping the classic nature versus nurture argument came up a lot. It did make me wonder that no matter how conscious we are to avoid categorising our children by gender is there actually a natural tendency for girls to be attracted to pretty pink dollies and for boys to climb trees and roll in mud??!! It is widely understood that boys and girls brains are wired differently and does that in turn make them more inclined towards certain aspects of play? Are girls naturally more empathetic and boys prefer systems and structures? I guess that’s beyond my own knowledge and understanding and Im sure someone somewhere has done some indepth study into it. But in the meantime I am going to continue finding what interests my little girl, encourage her to explore and be adventurous and not force her to confirm to what is expected!