Wednesday, 21 December 2011

The struggle against gender stereotyping

Boy – get back in your box!

One sultry autumn afternoon as I sat amongst my fellow mothers singing and clapping with my infant son, enjoying the usual mother and baby experience that so many mothers cherish the world over, a passing comment made by the class instructor pretty much changed the way I dressed, played with and educated my son - forever. With a simple smile the words rolled off her tongue, in my head the children in the room parted like a mythical sea from a bible tale with myself and Noah plonked in the middle looking slightly like a rainbow threw up on us…

                “Kathleen, I look around the room and I see a sea of pink, a sea of 
blue and then Noah…”

She gave Noah a reassuring pat on the head and carried on with her chat to the class. For me it was a momentous occasion, I had (quite obviously), been more than aware of the clothes marketed towards children and their parents alike. Putrid pinks with a few flowers or some sparkle for the girls, jeans and jeans and a bit of khaki thrown in there for the boys. What I hadn’t noticed until that very second is just how much our beautiful little treasures were becoming clones of each other forced into gender specifics before they even knew what gender was. I looked at my bright, smiley little dude, awash with colour and vibrancy and vowed to make sure he stayed as unique as he was that very second. Who was I kidding? That tender moment I shared with Noah that day was no match for the commercial world he is being raised in. As much as I try to avoid the enemy that has become society’s expectations of him as a boy, this is a battle I cannot fight alone and cannot fight if it means forcing him to become an individual so much so that he becomes isolated from his growing peer group.

As Noah developed from a rug rat to a little boy he has subconsciously and consciously been exposed, more and more, to society’s expectations of him as a male. The global empire that is Disney, to me, seems the most glaringly obvious dictator of the sexes. As much as I try to limit his exposure to overtly gender specific adverts, clothes and representations I have to admit (even though it pains me) that he has been exposed and has begun to turn his back on certain activities and even colours because “they are for girls.” I often wonder how and why so many parents follow these trends - then Christmas or a birthday comes around and I watch Noah unwrap another Bob the Builder t-shirt or another Thomas the Tank Engine locomotive and I realise people just don’t feel comfortable giving a little boy a tea set, no matter how much he loves to pretend to make a brew!

I understand so many people probably think our kids have it all and where am I going with my hippy, gender-bending ideals, I don’t want to raise a generation of boys who wear dresses and girls who pee standing up. I would just like to see the children’s market as a whole make just a little room for unisex learning, dressing and educating. For the time being I suppose, I will have to continue in my fight to expose my son to as much diversity as is possible and let him lead us towards new experiences based on his raw and innocent enthusiasm rather than based simply on the fact that he is a boy and thus he is expected to follow a certain path.

Someone said to me when my son was born, “he is a blank canvas, it’s your job to pain a beautiful picture”. Little did I know at that point that our pallet would be limited and our audience – so often – blinkered to his natural beauty and expressionism. I just hope I equip him with the tools to be his own artist and his imagination as free as it was that morning we parted the waves. 

This post was gifted by Kathleen, an Ireland-based, London-born mum of one little boy. She owns a company that sells tights for boys. You can visit her at Slugs and Snails


  1. Brilliant post. The whole colour thing is so weird - not that many years ago it was pink for boys and blue for girls. It does get annoying when your child is wearing gender neutral colours and people assume it's a boy - then again people say mine are boys when they are in pink so you can't win. You just have to go for what you like and what suits them.

  2. Totally agree. I just set up a boys boutique, as am so sick of trying to find something interesting for my son to wear and hate having to force myelf to like something in a shop just because that's all they have!


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