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