Saturday, 5 August 2017

Sugar and spice and all things nice

My daughter is big on weaponry. She was given her first skipping rope this week - she used it to tie me up. It made me think about gender differences and how my offspring negotiates them. 

My case study of one, whom I cannot regard objectively, is three-and-a-half years old and very vocal.

She's not the princessy type. While some girls rush to dress up as fairies, she's more likely to go down the pirate, Batman or crocodile route. She likes climbing, riding her bike and weapons - particularly guns and swords. But sometimes she plays mothering games and watches My Little Pony.

Long Walk for a Fairy by Charamelody via Flickr Creative Commons
My bundle of joy's favourite colour is blue. She dislikes tights, but loves pretty dresses. Let her loose in a shoe shop and she'll choose something sparkly, or a (blue) boys trainer. Or both (she hedges her bets). Apparently at nursery she plays with boys and girls equally, but she's never mentioned another girl by name. I find that slightly strange.


I don't like to describe my daughter as a 'tomboy'. I don't like the term (and who's Tom anyway?). It suggests a girl who behaves like a boy, which in turn suggests predefined different ways that girls and boys 'should' behave. When I say she's not very 'princessy' but likes dinosaurs people suggest she is a tomboy, but she isn't - her interests aren't restricted to stereotypical male pursuits.

My daughter isn't a tomboy, she's just herself. She's interested in the things that interest her. Currently principle topics include death, weapons, dinosaurs and poo, and particularly combining these. Her theory of dinosaur extinction has the dinosaurs being killed off by a giant poo falling from space.

I think that the things she does and the choices my littlun makes are largely unrelated to any social conditioning about what girls should and shouldn't do. She's not interested in something because she thinks she should be, or because liking fairies will make her more of a girl - at three-and-a-half she's not sophisticated enough for that. She simply likes what she likes, and what a remarkably pure thing that is. How often do we try to convince ourselves and others that we enjoyed something, because we think we should have enjoyed it, that it was in some way improving, or that saying we liked it makes us look cleverer?

The three-year-old sees stuff in the world around her, and some things spark her interest and curiosity. But the things she says are very different. Toddlers have the luxury of guilt-free hypocrisy. They can speak at length about the philosophy of sharing, completely fail to act on their own advice, but see no problem with the disjunct between their actions and words. My daughter acts on instinct, but her words are much more carefully considered (though often nonsensical).

Girls can't do that

We play a game of Octonauts and swap around who plays which character. I've been told repeatedly that I can't be Captain Barnacles because "girls can't be captains". It's in vain that I explain that my grandmother was a captain in the army. It's just met with denial, because "girls can't be captains
It seems that, somehow, after just three years on the planet, my beloved child already has clear ideas of what girls and boys can and cannot do. I think I've finally succeeded in persuading her that boys can be ballet dancers, but she took some convincing. Still no joy on the captain front.

I patiently explain that girls are as good as boys and boys are as good as girls and they can do whatever they choose to do. She patiently listens and seems to agree with me. But girls still can't be captains.

No matter how hard I try to suggest women and girls can do whatever they want to in life, that we're equal to boys and men, somehow my daughter's experience is telling her differently. You can be whatever you want to be - you just can't be in charge.