Wednesday 20 February 2013

What am I worried about?

This post was written as a contribution to the Boys vs. Girls Blog Carnival.  The participating bloggers are sharing their experiences, ideas, and opinions on why gender roles should be avoided in parenting and teaching practices.
(Goblin is 40 months)

Here is a picture of two three year old children. Unless you are a regular reader of the blog you'd probably assume both kids were girls. In fact, as many of you will know, the one in the orange t-shirt is a boy, my son the Goblin. 

The other day Goblin came home from nursery and told me he didn't want to be a boy anymore, he wanted to be a girl. I took my time to consider this. Was this my fault? Had my occasional failure to correct a stranger who called him a "pretty girl" led him to believe he ought to be one? Maybe my colleagues, who joked that not cutting my son's hair would send him to therapy as an adult, were right after all. 
I asked him: 

"What do you think the difference is between a boy and a girl?"

My son replied that girls have trolleys - obviously some random association from nursery. 
Hublet and I looked at each other, stifled a smile and assured Goblin that if he wanted a trolley we'd find one for him. So his gender dilema was solved and Goblin went to bed satisfied with being a boy.

But why had I been worried?

I bought my son some gloves at the weekend. They had two pairs for £1.50 but the only colours they had were pink. I felt guilty buying them. I looked around the rest of the shop to see if there were other colours hiding out but the pink ones were the only ones left.
Why did I feel the need to do that? My son is three. He thinks the difference between a girl and boy is that a girl gets to play with trolleys. He quite likes the colour pink and certainly wouldn't object to putting pink gloves on if his hands were cold. So why did I feel the need to double check before settling on the only gloves in the shop. And why, would I have paid more money to get some gloves in a different colour if they'd had them?

In the Fifteenth Century all infants were dressed the same, in little woollen kirtles (dresses). They were gender neutral. My child is gender neural. Yes he exhibits some traits commonly associated with boys - like his love of cars and inability to sit still. But right now he doesn't need to be forced into a gender stereotype, either by me or anyone else. What he needs is a world of possibilities where he can choose  his own likes and dislikes, and pick his own paths. 

He showed me today how ridiculous my dilema over the gloves had been. I got home to find he'd been shopping with Hublet. And sitting on the table in the living room was a new toy he'd chosen. It was a bright pink My Little Pony. My son is picking his own path through the world. I need to stop worrying about it, and let him grow and develop in his own way. 

Look here to read submissions by the other carnival bloggers

Gender Cliches Debunked
Andie Jaye of Crayon Freckles is a momma to a preschool boy and teen girl, looks at cliches held about genders and offers an alternate view to them. 

Parenting and Gender Biases
Maggy, mum of a boy (5) and girl (3) discusses on Life At The Zoo her observations about how each of her children do have many characteristics associated with their gender. However stresses that children should be given equal opportunities to explore, play and discover and is frequently surprised by each child really enjoys non gender specific activities – this is particularly noticeable during the arts and crafts activities they do over on Red Ted Art.

The Monko at Taming the Goblin asks "What is the difference between girls and boys at the age of three? And why do we care?"

Brittany from Love, Play, Learn shares how to help your child grow up happy and emotionally well adjusted by cutting through gender stereotypes and bias in children’s toys, media, and society. She shares easy and practical tips and ideas for raising happy and confident girls and boys.

Boys, Barbies, and Broken Necks
Erin from Royal Baloo writes on why ignoring gender stereotypes will give your child a leg up.

Gender Stereotypes in Society
Gender stereotypes are everywhere, among friends, colleagues, at stores and pretty much anywhere else in life. Alex, from Glittering Muffins and father to Nico {an energetic three and a half year old} looks at how difficult it can be to keep an open mind. 


  1. Thanks for writing this post. I have a young 17 month old son... and today saw him playing with another little girl's pink baby stroller. And then I debated whether I should get him a baby stroller too... and then I wondered if it was too "girly..." and then I chided myself to labeling things as "girlish" and "boyish"...

    Anyway.. .I'm still thinking about the stroller issue .... but it's nice knowing that other mommies are tackling these issues too.

  2. Really enjoyed your post, I have three boys who frequently fit their gender stereotypes, but at the sametime the eldest loved to dress as Princesses at preschool, the middle boys favourite colour has only just changed from pink to green and our youngest at 16mths loves both playing with cars and baby dolls in equal measure! We too have baby buggies, dolls, tea sets and my little ponies. I do think its important to acknowledge boys and girls are different, but I'm proud that the boys believe both boys and girls are equal and both genders love cool colours and fun toys. I have to say that it does seem to change at school, as girls are apparently now yucky for our eldest and pink is never to be seen in his wardrobe!

  3. I always thought I would raise my child gender neutral, but I've had a hard time. All her clothes are pink and purple. I didn't mean to buy her "girlie" clothes but I also didn't want to buy her "boys" clothes. I feel fine about her toys but clothes are hard for me.

  4. Very honest post Monko but don't be so hard on yourself, you're doing a great job raising a very happy child. We have an 'anti-bias curriculum' in my school, so we go out of our way to ensure that the children don't see pink & blue as colours just for boys or girls(among other things. I love observing how some, even at 3 will come into nursery with a set idea about those colours. Kierna

  5. Love your post and there is no getting away from the stereotyping around. Don't lety it bother you and it won't bother Goblin.

  6. Emjoyed your post. I do think it is easier for society to cope with a girl wearing and playing with "boys" clothes and toys. I do wish companies didn't make things in either blue or pink - there is a whole rainbow to choose from and so often the choice is just pink or blue!
    Has Goblin had any comments from kids at nursery on his pink? I know someone whose son got teased by other boys for having a pink water bottle. His parents talked things through with him and he still happily uses it.

  7. JDaniel is avoiding all things that look girly. I am not sure why. We haven't called toys girls or boys toys at our house.

  8. My son's 1st favorite color was pink, and to this day, he sometimes tells me in a more protected sort of way that it still is (he is 5 now). He still loves "Peter" the plastic toy doll that he has cuddled with since he was a babe. I am proud of him because just the other day his friend, in kind of a mocking way, said to him when he saw "Peter", "why do you have a doll?", he said "because I like him", and then he said the next day, I want to bring Peter to Kindergarten for show and tell!

  9. I love this post, I am trying to be the same way with my boys, my 3yo has a fringe and long hair and is constantly mistaken for a girl but does not yet understand the difference between boys and girls.

  10. Interesting post - I've worked as a childminder for the last three years and have two sons. The eldest picked a pink car when he was about two and his favourite colour is green. My youngest son is 2 and likes purple. I've tried my best to avoid them wearing blue as it's boring but I'm fed up with shops deciding what colours I can buy for my children - especially babies. I'm currently pregnant with number 3 and whether it's a boy or a girl it's going to have pink bedding because it was a tenner on eBay!
    The bit I found interesting about your post was your view that a "love of cars and an inability to sit still" are boy traits. Boys are definitely defined by behaviour like this but if you delve a bit deeper there are developmental reasons for these things. A love of cars and his wanting a trolley could be linked to having a rotational schema (google them!) Schema's are methods that children's brains use to make sense of the world around them. I've found them to be the most useful tool for understanding behaviour in children and once you understand what your child's schema is you'll be able to see that there are so many other behaviours that are linked. Other people just think their choices are down to gender. My eldest son has a transporting schema where he wants to move things from place to place. This ranges from scooters (moving himself), filling trailers with things (I taught him his numbers by having him deliver the right number of duplo bricks to wooden numbers using a tractor and a trailer. He wouldn't have been interested otherwise). Most people would gender stereotype him into being a boy because of the links to cars but if you know him, you also know that he carries a bag with him everywhere which is also transporting. It's just that it's OK for a boy to have a frog back pack and play with cars. If he did it using a glittery bag and a Barbie camper van it would raise eyebrows. We won't talk about my other one who has an enclosing schema which means he pokes things in holes (like nostrils) all the time and has already had a trip to A&E to prove it. Again...he's a boy, and people think that's what boys do!
    Unfortunately lots of people aren't knowledgeable when it comes to understanding why children choose what they do and how they play as it's not in any parenting manuals. It's quicker for them to assume all boy likes cars and gender stereotype them. In fact it could be one of several schemas e.g trajectory...they roll their cars in straight lines down the hall. A child like this would also like sweeping or using a hoover but they may not be observed doing that as often and it's a more "girly" role. They could have a rotation schema - where they are just interested in watching the wheels go round and round. They would also draw lots of circles and spin around a lot...etc etc.
    And not being able to sit still? It's another brain development thing that an underdeveloped brain causes the fidgets. Boys develop at different rates and don't do as many activities that involve their brains crossing over (e.g. moving something from left to right whereas girls will because they'll feed baby dolls, serve tea etc which pushes that kind of development on slightly faster).
    I think it's great that people don't want to dress their children in pink or blue and want to buy their children toys that feed their brain development in a way that they enjoy. Not buying it because it's girly or too boyish just slows that development down as they have to find an alternative to explore that facet about the world.
    If more people were to understand why children play with the toys they do rather than care about the colour or level of glitter on it there would be a lot more happy parents, happy children and more miserable retailers!

    1. Thank you so much for taking the time to write such a well thought out and useful comment. I'm really interested in play scheme, its only something I've become aware of recently and I haven't really looked into it enough. I think you are probably right that Goblin has some schema which lends itself to vehicles, and the running around could quite neatly fit - although that has remained over the last two years while his schema has definitely shifted focus. If you have any good references (books or posts) on schema I'd love to know more. Thanks again

    2. I have to admit to using a very concise resource which is on the Dorset Council website (link below) - this makes it so easy to see how schemas spread across all areas of a child's life. There's also an Australian resource which I can't find now that highlights what people would call bad behaviour but which are also elements of a schema. Children can use a variety of schema's and some don't have a dominant one at all. On the whole though I can spend a short period of time with a child and then start telling their parent how their child plays in other areas. They're often shocked you can tell them that their child probably steals things from nursery as they have an enclosing schema and like putting things in their pockets!

      These other two books would be good to have a look at too.
      Threads of Thinking: Schemas and Young Children's Learning
      by Cathy Nutbrown
      Understanding Schemas and Emotion in Early Childhood
      by Cath Arnold

      Sorry the post was anonymous - it wouldn't let me post my URL which had illegal characters in it apparently!

  11. This is a great post and something I think about often with my B/G twins (2yo). My daughter is very girly - but I am not - so I wonder where it came from. My son is very sensitive, very caring, very snuggly. Not my immediate associations with boys. It's all interesting to me, and I don't really ever feel like I'm doing wrong by them. UNTIL. It's time to get dressed and my dear boy picks out - every day - pink socks. I put them on him and chuckle.... but a part of me does hope he outgrows this phase before he goes off to school - simply so he won't be made fun of. I don't care one way or the other if he likes to wear pink socks - but darn society thinking awful things about him if he does!


  13. i am so comforted in rereading this today. i needed it. Bear just started preschool the other day... i was terrified that he was going to feel out of sorts with his long hair. i am dreading the day that he says he wants his long hair cut because of something someone says.

    but i digress.... my heart fell a bit the night before as he announced that he wasn't going to wear anything "pretty" because he didn't want people to think that he was a girl...


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