I’m not sure why some people are up in arms about
children’s clothes being labelled with just an age range. If you look at boys
and girls clothes, the differences are ridiculous, especially considering all children
like to do the same sort of things ie: be a child. Clothes need to be adequate
for the task in hand which means coats should keep them warm, shoes should be
tough enough to withstand kicking balls whilst keeping toes safe, and trousers thick enough to protect knees when they fall. A glance at the girls’
ranges in almost every shop will show you that the majority are totally
unsuitable for any of these activities … they are thin and skimpy in pale
pastel colours that get dirty the minute you put them on.
I have nothing against pink or sparkly - my 3 year old
granddaughter loves sparkly things and I’m rather fond of a bit of glitter
myself (though prefer it with black or red) but it’s the messages we are
sending with different styles of clothes that I object to – “just sit and look pretty little girl, you’re
not meant to get dirty or play and explore the world because your clothes
aren’t suitable for doing that”. And it’s not just the implied message via
the types of clothes; the actual messages on them are appalling. Go and look at
ANY range of clothes and you’ll see what I mean – girls just want to have fun,
girls are pretty and lovely whilst boys are clever and strong and adventurous
(and don’t get me started on “suggestive” messages on T-shirts for 5 year olds)!
The argument that you can buy from any section is fine
except that parents are taking on board this message about boys v girls and
will say “you can’t have that because
it’s in the boy’s section (believe me, I’ve heard them). They also seem to
be concerned about the social stigma of having somebody ask why their daughter
is wearing a boy’s top or is mistaken for a boy. Of more concern is a child
being bullied for the same reason (and yes, this happens too). I’ve also been
in a situation where a girl has turned up wearing a boy’s t-shirt that a boy in
the same group also happens to be wearing … and the boy has been teased over
this! If they were wearing “just” a
children’s t-shirt, this wouldn’t happen.
Let’s move on to toys and books.
The majority of shop displays have a definite split
between the type of activities considered suitable for girls and boys - you can
probably guess what it is but if you aren’t sure then take a look at the
fantastic “Let Toys Be Toys” campaign!
All children need a wide range of play to develop different skills. The reality
is that 51%
of the population is female and if we don’t encourage girls to
look at science and technology as being valid to them, to stop sending the
message that playing with construction toys or science kits is for boys and
that craft activities are for girls, then we are losing out on a huge source of
creativity and inspiration that is important for our future economy.
Not all of our future scientists, inventors,
entrepreneurs and business leaders are going to be men! There’s a saying “You
can’t be what you can’t see” and this applies to both boys and girls,
though particularly to the latter.
And what about books?
Fortunately, the majority of librarians I know are
pro-active in supporting diversity and inclusion within their stock (and this
is one of my most popular workshop topics) – they have books with strong female
characters, stories about boys who are emotional and cry, tales with both boys
and girls fighting evil and saving the world. Unfortunately though, many
publishers still seem to market books aimed at one or the other sex … either
via the cover design or using gender-labelling in the title or blurb.
The latter is, happily, becoming less common but any glimpse in a book shop
will show you a plethora of pink and glittery covers that are obviously aimed
at the “girlie” market.
I will be the first to admit that I’ve used these
covers to lure students into picking up (and then hopefully reading) a book. Anything
that gets them reading is my motto, and I will unashamedly be manipulative and
use any means to achieve this. But it is a sad fact that, whilst girls are frequently
happy to read a wide range of books with varying covers, boys will rarely pick
up a book that they think looks “girlie” which is a shame as the covers often
hide a fantastic story (the secret is to wrap it in brown paper and run a lucky
dip in the library!).You would imagine that my granddaughter, having a rather outspoken grandmother, a mother working in the emergency services and an aunt who is an adventurer, would be immune to any of this. But no … a few months ago she announced that “girls don’t play football”(much to our horror)! This was soon corrected with the use of a rather wonderful book (“What Are You Playing At?” by Marie-Sabine Roger) but goodness knows where she got this message from – at the age of three.
I do find the statement “boys are boys and girls are girls” rather odd because what’s the
definition of a boy or girl within the context we’re talking about … ie: the
colours they like, the games they play, the toys they enjoy or the books they
read? There isn't one. There’s nothing wrong with girls liking pink or boys playing with cars.
Nor is there anything wrong with girls liking rugby or boys being interested in
But pink shouldn’t be the only choice available to
girls (or cream if you’re lucky) and by sending the message via their clothes
that “girl’s stuff” is pink, they automatically veer towards pink toys, which
we’ve already ascertained are restricting their play and thus their
development. Also by constantly focusing on appearances we are creating generations who value what they look like above everything else. This applies to boys too - we expect them to be strong, brave and fit into a specific mould. Any child that doesn’t conform to these “norms” struggles and that’s where the problems start.
Girls and boys who are different, who do not imitate what
society expects of them - girls who don’t like pink and pretty or boys who don’t
like football and rough stuff - are often targets for bullying. Bullying
reduces self-esteem and self-confidence as does feeling that you are not accepted.
This results in an increase in mental health issues including self-harm,
depression and suicide.
One of the most important (yet often undervalued) roles
of the school librarian is the pastoral aspect and I’ve spoken about this
before in a previous
blog. I know from experience that this role has increased over the years and
reflect this yet there’s only so much we can do and so much support we can give; to truly
combat this issue we need a healthier approach to letting children develop
naturally and not trying to label them or put them into boxes.
You might think children’s genderisation isn’t important,
that it doesn’t really matter. If you get a chance try and see the BBC TV
More Boys And Girls: Can Our Kids Go Gender Free?” - in which a class of seven year olds state
that “boys are cleverer and have better jobs”
and that “girls are pretty and look after
children” - these perceptions were actually affecting the children's belief in their
capabilities within the classroom as well as their self-worth and
self-confidence. At seven years old!
Now imagine they are receiving the same signals time
and time again via their clothes, their toys, their books, not to mention media
and society for the rest of the time they are growing up? Do we really want to programme
our children’s brains – and thus their futures – in this way?
I was recently in a high street shop where the girls
t-shirts had the message “Fun All Day”
and “Funtastic” whilst the boys said
“I want to see the World” and “Create the Future”!!! Come on parents (and grandparents and aunts and uncles ...) …
don’t you want your daughters to see the world or your sons to have fun?
They’re not mutually exclusive …