Celia Walden

Let’s let go of lit­tle-girl stereo­types. Il­lus­tra­tion by Laura Laine

The Daily Telegraph - Telegraph Magazine - - CONTENT -

wants her daugh­ter to wear dun­ga­rees, not girly pinks; The new new thing Your next health and ft­ness fx: al­ti­tude masks

Are you a girl or a boy?’ In all the years I was asked this ques­tion, I never once found it ofen­sive. It wasn’t in­tended to be – and be­sides, in my fve- to 12-yearold mind, one thing was as good as the other. I hadn’t de­cided to be a tom­boy or any­thing other than what I felt, which was gen­der­less.

How many chil­dren could say the same to­day, I won­der as I watch my daugh­ter’s class­mates – wear­ing their gen­ders like colour-coded badges – stream through the school gates? Where are the Jo Marches, the Pippi Long­stock­ings and the Scout Finches? You might oc­ca­sion­ally chance upon a tiara-wear­ing ‘gen­der­non-con­form­ing’ lit­tle boy, in life or fc­tion ( Ja­cob’s New Dress, a pop­u­lar chil­dren’s book, gets a thumbs up from ev­ery PC par­ent state­side), but what hap­pened to the tom­boy? The word may have been out­lawed (for be­ing a shud­der­some ‘dou­ble mas­cu­line’), but you would ex­pect a few ‘gen­der-variant’ lit­tle girls in OshKosh B’gosh dun­ga­rees to slip through the net and scuf their pretty lit­tle knees on the foot­ball pitch. Yet, in one of our pro­gres­sive para­doxes, we seem to have be­come cham­pi­ons of non­con­formism in adult­hood while im­pos­ing in­creas­ingly rigid gen­der stereo­types on our chil­dren.

The not-so-sub­tle gen­der en­force­ment now starts pre-birth, at the baby shower. If my dis­like of pink pre­dated that day, it be­came vis­ceral loathing by teatime, when, af­ter my guests had de­parted, I bagged up ev­ery last dia­manté daddy ’s lit­tle princess onesie and Sparkle Baby Pal­ette (‘a high-glitz eyeshadow col­lec­tion for liv­ing dolls’), and dumped the whole lot at my lo­cal char­ity shop. I won­der now whether fes­toon­ing my daugh­ter’s bed­room with bub­blegum glit­ter gar­lands and turn­ing the whole house into a Bar­bie Dream­house ex­pe­ri­ence would have been more suc­cess­ful. Four years on, a pile of minia­ture brown and blue cords re­main un­worn de­spite my eforts, while a pink tutu in a shop win­dow will pro­voke a feral howl of long­ing.

‘It’s a phase,’ I tell my­self. And if I have any­thing to do with it, it will be. But with most toyshops, chil­dren’s cloth­ing lines, and even some chil­dren’s book­shops in LA now di­vided into girl and boy sec­tions, and ev­ery chil­dren’s TV show scrupu­lously aimed at one sex or the other, fght­ing this stereo­typ­ing – which pan­ders to the most self­ab­sorbed and friv­o­lous side of girls and then tweens – is in­creas­ingly hard. And if we’re not care­ful, by the time they hit pu­berty girls will be so defned by their sex that any­thing life throws at them will be seen through a re­duc­tive fe­male lens.

It is not enough for Tar­get, as it did last sum­mer, to re­lease a state­ment say­ing it will ‘re­move ref­er­ence to gen­der’ in its toy aisles; or for Gap to pro­duce, in part­ner­ship with Ellen DeGeneres, a line of em­pow­er­ing T-shirts for girls (and though she be but lit­tle she is fierce) – al­though it is a start. If Peppa, Sarah and Sofa are to be por­trayed as in­trepid young women, get them out of skirts. ‘But then how would au­di­ences know they are girls?’ said one chil­dren’s-TV com­mis­sion­ing editor when I made the com­plaint at a din­ner party. ‘Why do they have to know?’ I fung back. And why – in child­hood or adult­hood – do we have to care?

I bagged up ev­ery last dia­manté Daddy’s

Lit­tle Princess onesie and dumped the whole lot at my lo­cal char­ity shop

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