Opin­ion

She in­sists on having her hair cut short and wore a Spi­der-Man cos­tume to her friend’s princess-themed birth­day party, much to the out­rage of many of the other mums. But writer Sally Wind­sor, 34, is happy to let her lit­tle girl play foot­ball and like Ninj

Friday - - Contents -

‘Let my daugh­ter be a tomboy!’

Get­ting ready for the first day of a new term, I know ex­actly what to ex­pect. My six-year-old daugh­ter Ruby will scuff her new shoes, for­get to eat all her lunch, and get picked on by the boys – be­cause she wants to play with them.

Ev­ery play­time last term she came home with a long face. “Play­time was ter­ri­ble, Mummy,” she told me. “The boys told me to go and play with girls but I didn’t want to; I wanted to play Ninja Turtles with them, not Hello Kitty games with the girls.”

The look of sheer dis­ap­point­ment on her face was hard to take, but this wasn’t the first time Ruby and I had found our­selves in this dilemma. She’s only in Grade 2 but this has al­ready been go­ing on for years.

She wore lit­tle dresses as a baby, I bought her dol­lies and en­rolled her in bal­let classes, but her first ob­ses­sion was Spi­der-Man and she in­sisted on swap­ping bal­let for karate.

From the age of two, Ruby has fer­vently as­serted that she doesn’t *do* pink and she would always toss Bar­bie aside if there was a Lego set in sight. Now she prefers Toy Story’s Buzz Lightyear and Light­ning McQueen from Cars to Dis­ney princesses.

She’s re­cently joined the Beavers – a fore­run­ner to the Cubs and Scouts – af­ter re­fus­ing to go to the lo­cal Brown­ies group near our home in Craw­ley, West Sus­sex, UK. She’s also in­sisted her hair stays cropped in a neat bob, as she can’t think of any­thing worse than stand­ing ev­ery morn­ing while I put it into a pony­tail.

I strive to ra­tio­nalise both sides of the ar­gu­ment, whether I agree with it or not. “Those boy are just show­ing off in front of other boys with silly ideas about boys and girls,” I’d tell Ruby. But she looked as con­vinced by this as I felt.

The truth is, I’m per­fectly happy with Ruby’s bois­ter­ous per­son­al­ity. So should I be en­cour­ag­ing my lit­tle tomboy to be more fem­i­nine? I think not.

But it’s of­ten dif­fi­cult. You only have to look to celebrity mums like An­gelina Jolie to know that I’m not the first mother to have en­coun­tereded this prob­lem.

Eight-year-old Shiloh Pitt re­port­edly ‘laughed in her mother’s face’ when of­fered the role of Princess Aurora in her mother’s re­cent movie hit Malef­i­cent, as it was too much of a ‘girly’ role. As­sert­ing her­self as a tomboy from an early age, An­gelina came un­der great crit­i­cism for

Ruby re­fused to ac­cept the girls’ party dress code. She wanted towear her Spi­der-Man out­fit

get­ting Shiloh’s hair cut so short that peo­ple thought she looked like a boy.

And she was vil­i­fied in the press for al­low­ing her daugh­ter to wear cords and slo­gan tees. Af­ter or­gan­is­ing a ‘sol­dier-themed party’ for their daugh­ter, a source close to An­gelina and Brad Pitt said: “Shiloh wants to be a boy. She wants boys’ toys, since she’s such a lit­tle tomboy.”

Ap­par­ently Brad also bought Shiloh a jeep that is safe for kids, and he’s think­ing of also get­ting her a toy quad bike that she can drive around their prop­erty.

But if, like me, they are stay­ing true to their daugh­ter’s re­quests and per­son­al­ity, the cou­ple have no doubt been do­ing the kind­est thing they could – al­low­ing her to shine and teach­ing her the im­por­tance of be­ing true to one­self.

When in­vited to the princess-themed birth­day party of a girl in her class at school, Ruby res­o­lutely re­fused to ac­cept the dress code. While all the other girls wore sparkling dresses with tiaras, Ruby wanted to wear her Spi­der-Man cos­tume.

“Not a big deal,” I thought. But I couldn’t help but no­tice a strained gri­mace on the face of the girl’s mother when she said, “Yes, of course she can wear a Spi­der-Man out­fit.”

I imag­ined a car­toon thought bub­ble above her head scream­ing,

“How are you let­ting this hap­pen? What are you think­ing? Your daugh­ter is go­ing to ruin the pho­tos!”

Ruby was com­pletely obliv­i­ous to any kind of judg­ments. But se­cretly, my heart broke for her as I saw eye­brows of both par­ents and chil­dren shoot to the roof when she made her grand en­trance in full Spi­der-Man re­galia.

Ruby is just one lit­tle girl among thou­sands obliv­i­ously fight­ing back gen­der bias from a ten­der age. She has no con­cept of gen­der­spe­cific toys, films or TV shows. She just likes what she likes.

On Ruby’s sixth birth­day in Jan­uary, most of her school friends brought girlie presents, like make-up sets or princess-themed puz­zles.

At least seven of th­ese gifts re­main sealed in cel­lo­phane, not even opened sev­eral months later. But when my lit­tle girl asks to play games with the boys at school, they refuse to let her join in. So she’s left in the mid­dle, not want­ing to play with the girls but shunned by the boys.

Is there some­thing I should be do­ing to help? Surely ev­ery par­ent, whether rais­ing a boy or a girl, wants them to be im­pas­sioned and driven by the things that in­ter­est them, rather than pre­tend­ing to be some­one they’re not?

“In­equal­ity is still deeply in­grained; it’s in our bones and our chil­dren know it,” says child psy­chol­o­gist Teresa Bliss. “The is­sue of ac­cep­tance in any so­cial group is to an ex­tent de­pen­dent on the val­ues and norms of the wider so­ci­ety. In schools that cre­ate an in­clu­sive ethos and have a strong an­tibul­ly­ing mes­sage, chil­dren rarely en­counter so­cial ex­clu­sion based on their unique­ness and if they do, it is stopped im­me­di­ately.”

I never went into par­ent­ing think­ing I needed to fol­low rules. The fact is that in the 21st cen­tury, gen­der stereo­types still wreak havoc with young minds, even down to heav­ily fe­male-mer­chan­dised pink Pritt sticks and pink Bic biros for back-tos­chool girlie must-haves.

“Most of us say we want our chil­dren to be unique and in­de­pen­dent in­di­vid­u­als,” Teresa says. “That is, un­til they are. Many peo­ple are limited by their own think­ing and have rigid frame­works that are bar­ri­ers to ac­cep­tance of in­di­vid­u­al­ity.”

Yet so many par­ents fall for it, forc­ing un­will­ing lit­tle boys into stereo­typ­i­cal Um­bro foot­ball shirts to play Sun­day league foot­ball in ut­ter mis­ery, and sparkly Lelli Kelly shoes on the feet of tomboys like Ruby who’d pre­fer to be wear­ing their high-tops to climb trees.

At least now Ruby seems to have been em­braced into a new group of friends, all boys. They’ll let her play with their com­puter games and Power Rangers with­out bat­ting an eye­lid – some­thing I think she is grate­ful for. It’s a lit­tle vic­tory for us.

And while the Spi­der-Man cos­tume fits and Ruby wants to wear it, we’ll use our su­per­hero senses to avoid the bad­dies. Es­pe­cially those wear­ing pink.

Ruby doesn’t want to be pretty in pink

Shiloh Pitt, left, shuns the girly stuff, too

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