Happy Wednesday, dear blog readers!
Today, as part of my random, FF-is-eating-my-brain programme of entertainment, I present a short post on what is wrong with the way our society perceives and enforces gender roles. To read the article that inspired this blog post you can click on this link.
The first one is a Wordle made up of the terms used in advertising boy's toys. The second is made up of terms used in advertising girl's toys.
I find the disparity here very worrying. These toys were marketed at boys and girls between the ages of six and eight - very young. But not too young to already be assessing and questioning their place in the world and who they should be. In fact, this is exactly the period when children are assigning themselves the gender roles that they may carry for the rest of their lives. By this age I was already rejecting my mother's desire to dress me in sensible jeans and dungarees and begging for pink, flowery dresses. By this age the boys I knew were already wearing mostly blue and bright red and camoflage colours, and saying things like 'Ew, giiiirls!'
These behaviours all seem perfectly natural - until you realise they're not. There is no pink gene on the X-chromosone that automatically makes little girls crave flowery dresses and ribbons and baby dolls. There's no blue gene on the y-chromosone that automatically makes boys crave fast cars, swords and buzz cuts. There's definitely no 'Euw, giiirls!' gene that requires boys to treat girls with distain and contempt.
And yet these are all behaviours which are so common, so normal, so 'natural' to us that we not only don't QUESTION them? We get all het up and bothered if kids *don't* conform to them. Like, for instance, when this American blogger helped her little boy's wish come true by allowing him to dress as Daphne from Scooby Do at Halloween, and dozens of people descended on her to say that she was a bad mother.
It's not that either of these Wordles presents any bad words. There's nothing wrong with a child of either sex liking dresses and babies or dragons and heroes. The problem is that the companies creating these toys, and the people marketing them, are making an assumption that girls - and only girls - are vitally interested in fashion, perfect nails, babies, love and hair. And that boys - and only boys - are interested in battle, power, heroes, stealth and beating people. Which is only true if we make it so, by pushing a narrow, reductive take on what male and female mean onto children and telling them 'this is what you are'. What a terrible thing to do to a child, right? And yet...that's exactly what nearly every film, TV show, music video, book and toy catalogue is doing, right now, along with all of our unconscious assumptions on the way that children should develop and behave.
What are kids, especially kids who don't enjoy the roles arbitrarily assigned to them based on their reproductive organs, absorbing from this?
Looking at these Wordles makes me think of all kinds of other things that worry me. Like the commonly held idea that boys don't read because not enough 'boy books' are on the shelves, and that the dominance of women editors and writers in Young Adult and Children's publishing is somehow hurting boys and preventing them from becoming readers. The arguments about this are summed up beautifully in this article by YA author Maureen Johnson - and the comment trail is particularly interesting.
Why is it so impossible for us to expect a boy to read a book that has a girl main character? Why is the idea of reading about a girl so disgusting to boys that, apparently, they won't even go into the bookstore because they have to pass by books with girls in them? What are we teaching boys - and girls - about the value of their role in society by encouraging this, and by placing the blame on female authors and editors intead of a society that raises boys to look at girls (and anything that may be considered to be 'girly') with distain and contempt? Especially since we're also raising the girls to believe that they must conform to 'girly' behaviour and interests in order to be 'normal' and 'natural'?
It's not normal and natural. Babies, love, perfect nails and romance are awesome. So are battles, dragons, flames and heroes. What I want to know is, why can't both sexes be interested in both without being shunned by our society? Why, 500,000 years after modern man first emerged as a species on earth, are we still trying to play by the strict rules of a hunter-gatherer society that died out with flint axes and stone circles?
And will people like me still be asking this question in another hundred year's time - or a thousand?