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Parental ponderings: The gender trap

By Diane Davies | Woman | Published:

Girls will be girls and boys will be boys, we should be letting children make their own choices without feeling bad, says Diane Davies. . .

In the pink? Or feeling blue?

Slugs and snails and puppy dogs tails, that’s what little boys are made of. Sugar and spice and all things nice. That’s what little girls are made of.

So goes the nursery rhyme harking back to a time when boys wore blue and girls wore pink and just boys played football while girls liked to crochet.

But does anyone think that the youth of today are being pigeon-holed into these sexist stereotypes?

Apparently there are folks who do. So much so that not only are there action groups to prevent our little ones being led by misguided parents into this gender trap but leading retailers have stepped in to ensure our sons can grow up into men unashamed to step out of the house adorning a pink shirt.

At the forefront of this ‘gender neutral’ drive is John Lewis. The family-friendly store is no longer restricting children by given them a label – a clothes label that is. Clothes will no longer be divided along gender lines in store and labels will read ‘girls and boys’ or ‘boys and girls’.

It is also introducing a new neutral collection to be worn by both boys and girls. A spokeswoman said they did not want to ‘reinforce gender stereotypes’ in the collections and to provide greater choice for customers.

Unless they want to choose pink or blue it seems.

Have they not noticed that a lot of our teenagers are already wearing gender neutral clothes – baggy T-shirts and sports wear with trainers a prerequisite.

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Meanwhile, a school in east Sussex has changed its uniform policy so that all new Year 7 students must wear trousers. The headmaster said pupils had been questioning why boys had different uniform to girls so they decided to have the same.

What message does that send to the young girls I wonder? Why should girls have to look like boys? I notice they didn’t decide that everyone should wear skirts.

Feminist Jeanette Kupfermann warned in a newspaper article recently: “I see the gender-neutral movement as almost cult-like in its determination to stand out so-called differences which could prove ultimately harmful.

“We need to recognise feminitiy and masculinity and not confuse them.

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“I’ve always considered myself a feminist. I’ve fought for equal opportunity and rights and to give women a voice and better education so they can make the fullest use of their potential. But believing in equality doesn’t mean that I believe men and women are the same. I’ve always rejoiced in my ‘femaleness’.”

Chris McGovern, of the Campaign for Real Education, has described removing ‘girl’ and ‘boy’ labels from clothing as a form of child cruelty, with adults forcing their own neurosis onto children.

He wrote recently: “They are jumping on a bandwagon that is sweeping through our society and promoting gender identity theft, where a person’s identity is taken away from them, and they are forced to question who they are.

“Boys and girls are being asked, encouraged and sometimes even required to question their gender identity, and it is creating a problem where it didn’t exist before.

“When a boy goes into a shop, and sees a dress in the gender neutral area where he is to choose his clothes from, it is effectively encouraging him to question his gender identity. For 99.9 per cent of children, this is creating an issue where none existed before.”

An action group, Let Clothes be Clothes, has been set up to persuade UK retailers to rethink how they market children’s clothing. The group states: “Taking some of the worst stereotypes about gender, and aiming them at children is only going to perpetuate problems in our society, from low self-esteem amongst girls to boys who are unable to express how they feel.”

The group is based on the campaign Let Toys be Toys that wants stores to stop dividing merchandise by gender. They believe the ‘rigid boundaries turn children away from their true preferences and provide a fertile ground for bullying’.

As a new, impressionable and nervous mother I absorbed such ‘good parenting’ rhetoric like a sponge.

My son’s toy box contained a pretend Hoover while my daughter was taken to football and dressed in cool denim.

Naturally she also wore some of my son’s hand-me downs, like generations before me no doubt. Maybe we have been gender neutral for a long time but just didn’t shout about it. Does my now teenage son ever pick up the Hoover? Not likely! He likes action films, enjoys physical sports and mostly wears black. While my daughter, despite my best efforts, threw herself into pink, fluffy and Disney for many years. She is coming out of it now but her fashions and tastes are largely dictated by her peers and nothing I do or say.

Proud

So do I feel like I have failed because my son isn’t in touch with his feminine side and my daughter does not possess a pair of Doc Martens?

I most certainly do not. I am proud of the individuals they have grown up to be.

If the people who sit in offices debating this PC claptrap were to step outside they would see that we don’t need a nanny state to help our children choose their own way. Children will be what they want to be.

So why can’t we just let toys just be toys, clothes be clothes and children be children – without telling parents and their little ones what that should be.

In the words of the Ordinary Boys ‘ Boys will be boys’. And girls will be girls and we should not make them – or their parents – feel bad about it.

Diane Davies

By Diane Davies
@@didavies_star

MNA Group head of weekly titles, and former deputy editor of the Express & Star. Specialist interest in music and theatre scene with regular reviews from our wealth of top venues.

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