Having completed the obligatory pre-Christmas trip to the toy store, I had a little rant on twitter. My rant was focused on the affects of standing in the store and feeling like I must venture the pink aisle for my daughter and the blue aisle for my sons. There is nothing implicit about the way in which toys are presented to us; it is gobsmackingly unashamedly explicit in fact. Why do I find this so offensive? Because it is wrong on so many levels. We are identified at birth by or anatomy, the same baby dressed in pink or blue will receive very different comments ‘oh she is so pretty’, ‘what a handsome boy he is, so strong’,
Ah yes! the great nature versus nurture debate prevails. However, let us be perfectly clear on what we all know, sex is biological and gender is a social construct. Gender encompasses our need for conformity more than anything else. We use gender as a frame of reference; we feel we need gender to operate, which is evident in the toy store. Gender is something we ‘do’. An enactment between individuals and society and in a lot of social interactions gender defines how we treat each other.
Twitter dads were annoyed and bemused that Nerf guns had to be available in pink for it to be considered acceptable for girls to play with weapons. It seemed the world and its mother (or father – oops!) were shaking their heads at Kinder’s production of gendered chocolate eggs. The important question on twitter was why would companies driven by profit isolate half the population? The answer has to be because marketing research proves it works. Gendering goes beyond profit, when we accept gender biases everyone loses out. The male versus female and femininity versus masculinity debates have one commonality – women and men are seen as opposed to each other. Boys don’t cry and girls aren’t great at science and maths – both preposterous but often socially accepted myths. It serves no interest for the male of the species to by emotionally inept and unable to expression themselves with tears if that is how to feel, except maybe the drugs companies that produce medication for depression and anxiety – no society wants that. Equally, girls doing needlework and avoiding maths or science would manifest in negative connotations both socially and psychologically.
When my daughter was four, with a furrowed brow she worriedly asked to whom she would get married, I explained that she didn’t have to get married, the look of relief flooded her little cheeky face. Her brother then blurted ‘ and why do I have to get married if she doesn’t?’ he was equally relieved that he didn’t have to either. My teenage son gets antsy when ‘gay’ is mentioned, regardless of the amount of work I have done to reinforce equality of all individuals but he’ll grow out of it – I will make sure of it. My daughter was once given a pink ironing board as a birthday present and I couldn’t consign it to recycling fast enough. My issue was not with a play ironing board but the gendering of it.
Part of what makes me a massive contradiction is the way I ‘do’ gender personally. I epitomize femininity; hair, nails, clothes, high heels, demeanor, and attitude. As a child I played contact sports, climbed walls, sported scabby knees as a badge of honor and could spit as far as my male cohorts when challenged. Gendering, is a result of our primary socialization, how our parents raised us and how we ‘fulfilled our roles as daughters or sons was often implicitly rewarded. Reared by my father I was taught that education was paramount and no boys were necessarily ‘better’ than me – I learned this whilst attending an all girl’s convent school – the irony isn’t lost on me either.
My twitter timeline and interactions are proof that neither men nor women are buying into gendered stereotyping. Fathers especially are disgruntled that society is attempting to dictate the toys their beautiful (oops) and intelligent (of course) daughters are supposed to play with and indeed women too are aghast that even good old-fashioned Lego is available in gendered ways.
The media is often blamed as the perpetrators of negative gendering. I think it is more than that I think the locus of control is within each of us. If my boys want to play with guns and their sister too, then I will encourage their creativity and inclusiveness. When my boys bake or sort laundry with me I avail of the opportunity to tell them that domesticity is something they must be able to do as part of life’s skills. The fact still remains though, I will not be buying gendered Kinder chocolate eggs but my favorite color is still pink and 12-year-old me would still wrestle any boy to the ground that wanted to make an issue of my choice. I’ll still ‘do’ gender my way but with respect because gendering doesn’t have to be derisory or derogatory. Trust me…I’m a girl…