I feel I haven't had a proper rant for a while. What with the holidays and all, I've been positively calm and cheerful, and, frankly, that's not healthy. So here's something that really gets me going.
Back when Charlotte was at Kindergarten, they used to play this game. The children would be sitting in two groups - boys on one side, girls on the other. The teacher would shout out: 'Who likes pink?' and all the girls would have to yell 'I do!'. Then the teacher would ask 'Who likes Blue?' and the boys would have to answer. That's not really what pisses me off. I'd long decided that this particular school could not teach my daughter very much, and at home, we worked hard to counteract every single one of their efforts towards gender discrimination.
No, what really gets to me, is normal, non-sexist people. The ones who tell you that yes, this is all very wrong, and schools shouldn't be allowed to put such ideas in children's minds. But then they start nodding and smiling wisely, and using their confiding, yet down to earth voice, they tell you that once you have a boy, or a girl, you can't help but notice certain things. Boys just like to play with guns - there's nothing you can do. If you won't buy them toy ones, they'll just use a random stick and shoot the hell out of you. And girls, well, they're different. They're quieter, aren't they? And they do like pretty things.
All this has nothing to do with the way you bring them up, they say. You never bought guns, or hair ribbons. They just naturally turn to them. They really weren't expecting their boys or girls to be like that - after all, they've always thought of themselves as feminists, and wouldn't have dreamt of pushing gender prejudices in their own home - but, somehow, they are. That's nature for you. Shame, isn't it. Those theories about equality were so nice and pleasant. Well, you can still be a feminist, but you just have to moderate certain points of views as you get older and wiser, don't you?
Bollocks to that.
Nothing to do with what the parents model, or encourage, so it has to be natural, right? Right. Because children couldn't possibly be influenced by what other children do, by what they see on tv, or the fact that in a lot of toy shops, you have boys' toys in green and brown and girls' toys in pink. Well separated. With the jigsaw puzzles in the middle. But no: parents are so very powerful that only their influence could possibly count - anything that doesn't come from their teaching is in the genes. And if it's in the genes, it's about sexual difference.
At first I used to hold my own kids up as counterexamples. I have a daughter who's never played with dolls. Was never into tea parties, wears her hair mostly down, and whose favourite outfit is leggings and a t-shirt. She's not particularly sporty - maybe because she's short for her age, but she loves to climb. Her favourite pastime has always been crafts (just as it was mine).
My son, by contrast, loves dolls - little ones, he can put in his doll house. He prefers it if they can take their clothes on and off, so they can be put to bed. He has a tiny china tea set to serve them dinner, and fimo food that Charlotte and I made for him. He's also very keen on hair clips. Last time I was in an accessory shop (filling up on hair bands to tie my hair back - nothing fancy...) he asked me to buy him a few things. He selected some tiny hair bands and a few miniature clips, just right for the amount of hair he has on his head. All black. Very tasteful. He put them on as soon as we got to the restaurant. For a long time his favourite piece of clothing was a big white tutu that he would wear with a manly t-shirt and rubber boots. It did actually look quite cool. When he does wear stuff like that, no one mistakes him for a girl. He looks no more 'effeminate' (whatever that means) than Charlotte looks like a boy. They just look like themselves.
So you see, I did feel like I could point to my children for these parents who would tell me that gender differences would come up, no matter what we did. And to be honest, our kids never watched that much tv, apart from Cbeebies - and whatever you think of the Teletubbies you can't very well accuse them of encouraging gender prejudice... - and we never spent that much time in toy shops either (there's only one where we live and we usually give books and craft things for birthday gifts). So, yeah, maybe I could have cited them as an example. But then there was always the fear that people would turn around and say Max was 'different' and may be not a 'typical' child - for at the time we didn't yet know he was autistic.
Now we know. And of course you know what people say about autism: that it's an exaggerated form of 'boyness'. Well, you know what I think of this theory. If not, go have a look here. But still, if that's what people think, they can't very well use Max's autism to refute my claim that being a boy doesn't necessarily mean wanting to play killing people and kicking balls all the time. If only people were that rational...
What I do think, seriously, is that it is Max's autism that enables him not to pick up on all the cue that tell boys what they ought to be like: autistic people aren't great at picking up social cues.
What about Charlotte? Well, she's just strong minded. She doesn't need a tv advert or a snotty friend telling her what she should and shouldn't like. (and you know what? My kids aren't the only ones: I know a bunch of other boys and girls who don't fall into stereotypes!) Let's hope that lasts!