Responsibility to let girls be tom boys...

(245 Posts)
Judy1234 Fri 29-May-09 10:27:59

Do you dress your girls in pink? Expect them to be housewives? Given then a role model at home of mother home 24/7 doing dull domestic stuff, father hardly there? or do you encourage them in their adventurousness, let them ride, ski, fight, climb trees? Would you steer them away from a stereotyped party dress and read them stories where girls can be brave rather than simper?

........
From The Times
May 29, 2009
The pernicious pinkification of little girls
Find the link between (a) princess costumes (b) short hair and (c) the number of women graduates in maths and science
Antonia Senior

Where have all the pirate queens gone? Where are the cowgirls and the Supergirls? Today's fancy dress parties divide strictly on gender lines. The boys' side holds a handful of Batmans, a sprinkling of Spider-Mans, some soldiers and the odd cowboy. And on the girls' side, ten identikit princesses, swathed in pink, encrusted with fake crystals.

Is this, then, the summit of their ambition, the ultimate fantasy wish of modern girlhood - to be a princess? A role that can be inherited along with genetic mutations from generations of inbreeding. You can work for the role, it is true. Be pretty enough, my darling girl child, and mute enough, and bland enough, and you too could marry a prince. Because every girl's dream should be to lead a life of buffed and pedicured leisure, courtesy of a balding, chinless aristocrat, Whisper it, but the frog, as long as he's funny and kind, would have been the better bet.

There is an alternative to being a princess, a second costume beloved of today's girls. They shun the Ice Queens and the Elven warriors, ignore Artemis, the huntress, and Athena, the wise. Instead they celebrate the Fairy; three inches of cute, winged blondeness, dressed, inevitably, in pink.

This creeping pinkification of girlhood is ubiquitous. Toys and clothes have split down gender lines. It is impossible to buy a gender- neutral bike any more. Bikes come in blue, or in pink; as do baby walkers, and mini-keyboards, and any other toy that might once have been - imagine it! - purple or green.
Background

* Staff baffled by fuss over bed called Lolita

* Hollywood goes girly

* Katie Price: a feminist icon of our times?

* Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen and his daughter Cecile

Girls' jeans come with butterflies and hearts stitched on every spare centimetre of fabric. T-shirts carry cute slogans - “Cherry cute! Hello Kitty”. Swimming costumes are girdled with frills. Next time you are in the park, try to spot a prepubescent girl with short hair, or one wearing trousers. Long hair, dresses and pink; it's Amish meets Disney out there.

The triumph of this pink and cutesy ideal of girlhood is grim for more than aesthetic reasons. A report published this week by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) highlighted the differences between 15-year-old girls and boys' attitudes to learning. Even though girls graduate from senior school in greater numbers than boys across the OECD countries, girls lag behind in key areas. Boys outperform girls in maths in all but eight countries. In most OECD countries, girls and boys perform equally well in science. But in six countries, boys achieve significantly better results. Top of this list is the United Kingdom.

There is a correlation between attitudes to academic subjects and performance. In the UK, girls don't do numbers. And girls definitely don't do science. Angel Gurría, the OECD's secretary-general, argues that we are complacent about gender stereotyping and that the idea that boys don't do reading and girls don't do maths persists.

These girls will one day grow up. Even though the number of women at university is increasing rapidly, they are not narrowing the gap in science, maths and computer science. As graduates then, they leave the lucrative jobs in the City, in laboratories and in computers to the boys. Armed with liberal arts degrees - a useful accoutrement in the marriage market, like a little French and dancing once were - they may marry their prince after a few years pretending to have a career at an auction house. But happy ever after is a lie. Divorce statistics suggest he is likely to leave for a pinker, younger version.

The modern, Western world has emancipated women and made breadwinners out of them. Yet we are imprisoning our little girls in pink straitjackets, and then acting surprised later when their academic ambitions fail to outshine their accessories. Our girls' view of the world is pink-tinted partly because of the supply of cheap goods. When hand-me-downs ruled, parents would be more cautious. Now that clothes and toys are imported and cheap, it matters less if you buy all pink for your first-born, and replace it all with blue when a boy arrives. A T-shirt is expendable when it cost £5 in the shop, and pennies to make in a sweatshop employing the quick, cheap fingers of foreign children.

But the pinking process would not be happening without demand from the girls themselves and their parents. Put a gaggle of girls in a nursery and they will copy each other. Throw into the mix the culturally overbearing world of Disney, add a sprinkle of fashion fairy dust, and a roomful of princesses is born. For a vision of what this looks like, visit http://disney.go.com/princess/#/home. All the Disney princesses are there in a terrifying tableau of simpering, gurning girlishness. Why are all these princesses, the apotheoses of modern girlhood, clasping their hands together in front of them, in an expression of coy submissiveness?

If peer pressure is one driver of demand, the other must come from the parents. Perhaps this is a backlash against the Seventies, when boys called Orlando were forced to play with dolls, and girls wore trousers. Feminist theory has developed since then, recognising that there are differences between the sexes. But this seems to have mutated into an insistence that we emphasise the differences. If a girl old enough to choose begs to dress as a princess, it would be dogmatic to refuse. But why encourage this inanity in babies and toddlers too young to care?

The mothers of these girls, the careless inheritors of the equality hard won by their own mothers and grandmothers, are complicit in this pinking up of girlhood. Why? These women have themselves bestridden the world of work like colossi. Yet they are raising a generation of girls who, when confronted by a periodic table or a quadratic equation, are fit only to curl hair coyly round fingers, and say, in an affected lisp: “Why are we bothering our pretty little heads about any of this?”

MrsTittleMouse Fri 29-May-09 10:35:27

Just because I'm a SAHM at the moment (with a baby and a toddler) doesn't mean that I've given them a bad female role model! For what it's worth, DD1 (2) had already told me that she's going to be a doctor and a teacher and a chef and drive a car and play the violin when she grows up. I was a scientist before I had children, I have a PhD and I won't be a SAHM forever.

But I completely agree with the pinkification of girlhood, the whole Disney princess thing drives me to distraction. It all looks so boring.

VinegarTits Fri 29-May-09 10:52:37

I dont have a dd, but i cant stand this obssesion with pink and all things girly for little girls <puke>

nickytwotimes Fri 29-May-09 10:54:07

GOd, I loathe pink.

I dread having a girl tbh.

nickytwotimes Fri 29-May-09 10:54:38

Oh and I mean that I will not do the pukey pink thing, but no doubt her peers will.

cory Fri 29-May-09 10:56:38

I do agree that there is far too much pink simpering about

not convinced it's a SAHM/WOHM thing though- and hope we don't end up in one of those arguments again (I have known enough pink-simpering working mums)

certainly think there is more emphasis on girliness than when I was young

of course it's a commercial thing

if you persuade parents that a red baby blanket cannot possibly be re-used for their baby boy (we had this one on MN recently), because red is a girly colour, then you are going to make more sales

but it is getting more ingrained in society again

I often stagger backwards from MN and have to go and make myself another cup of coffee because of the sheer volume of sexist assumptions

titchy Fri 29-May-09 10:57:13

Although I wholeheartedly agree girls should have the choice of being pink princesses or gun-toting cowboys a couple of comments spring to mind.

Girls often choose to be pink princesses, and that's fine, why not? Part of empowering both my dcs (one of each) is allowing them to choose. There also seems to be some evidence that gender-stereotypical role-playing in very young children is a developmental stage determined by nature rather than nurture.

I found when they were younger my dcs chose to conform to social stereotypes to fit in at nursery or school, and I had no problem - fitting in enabled their social confidence to develop, which in turn over the years has given them the confidence to be themselves within the security of close friendship groups.

I hate the idea that women's lib is all about women climbing to the top of the career ladder and earning as much money as possible. Women's lib, equality or whatever you want to call it is about choice, and if women choose to work part time or become SAHM what's wrong with that as long as they have made an informed choice. Anything else is damaging the 'cause' because it demeans anything other that FT paid work.

The economics of the situation may not support that, but that doesn't negate the fact that the principle of FT paid work should be equal in status to a SAHM child-rearing. It's the economics that need changing not the principle.

babybillandsplodge Fri 29-May-09 10:57:30

<applauds loudly>

I am pg at the moment (already have a son) and part of me is really hoping I don't have a girl for precisely this reason blush.

The obsession with pink and everything gender stereotyped is hideous. I was trying to find a tent/tunnel combo for the garden yesterday and I had a choice between racing cars or bloody princesses angry. What's wrong with something green with garden patterns on it?

And as for pink and blue buggies - don't even get me started . . .

ByTheSea Fri 29-May-09 10:57:40

Both my lovely DDs despise pink and overly 'girly' things. They must take after their mother.

cory Fri 29-May-09 11:00:20

I want to see more men in the home! I want them to have a genuine choice to spend more time with their children without feeling that they are letting the firm down (more than any woman who does the same), or not being real men or whatever. We can't have freedom of choice until both sexes are free to choose!

babybillandsplodge Fri 29-May-09 11:01:23

I would love to have more men in my home - preferably gorgeous ones who will clean for me grin!

I always chose unisex equipment in the hope of passing it down through the family.

My dds wear clothes in colours to suit their colouring (plus hand me downs). They are frequently Princess Leia/pirates/fairies/burglars all sorts.

I think the pinkification of girlhood is an economic issue rather than a social one.

muffle Fri 29-May-09 11:02:16

I'm a raving feminist, but actually, I don't have a problem with pink per se and I think it confuses the issue.

I do find it tiresome that the vast majority of girls' clothing and toys are pink/lilac - however, it's an exaggeration to say they all are - I frequently swoon over girls' clothes I love in lots of colours (I only have a boy).

BUT what really matters is not restricting girls' learning, imaginations and interests, and I agree, letting them be tomboys if they want to and encouraging them to take an interest in everything not just "girly" things. The same is true for boys of course - so eg I encourage my DS's interest in flowers, sewing and pink along with his other/more "typical boy" passions like dinosaurs and rockets - I don't want gender to restrict him in whatever he enjoys.

So for me far, far worse than pinkness is the "princess" stuff and the way girls are encouraged to focus on just looks and passive role models like princesses. I hate the way girl's clothes can only manage images and slogans to do with prettiness, gorgeous, princess, fairy etc. I would love to see pink tops with rockets and dinosaurs and "little bug hunter" and "exploring space" type slogans that would appeal to girls, if pink helps to do that. I like pink myself, I am attracted to beautiful flowery things and I don't see a problem with that - it's the content that's the issue.

LeninGrad Fri 29-May-09 11:06:52

Choices aren't made independently of other influences though. All the doll play is fine of course, just why does everything have to pink? I really try not to buy anything pink or blue for any kids. It's only by us choosing not to buy the stuff and presenting kids with more options that variety will win.

Conformity is overrated. I know we all have a desperate desire to fit in but at what price? We need free-thinking, independent kids, I accept they need confidence in order to become like this but hopefully we can instill that without succumbing to some of the more awful social mores.

GreenMonkies Fri 29-May-09 11:09:55

I hate pink.

Both my girls love it.

I am completely non-girly, I wear trousers all the time, I own about 3 dresses and I hardly ever wear heels or make-up (but I do have long hair). I read books about quantum theory, watch the motor racing and am a WOHM.

Why are my girls obsessed with pink, frilly, sparkley clothes, strappy shoes and barbie/disney princesses???

Marketing, commercialisation and social conditioning. Or perhaps it's early rebellion? DD1 has said she wants to drive a digger, work in a hospital (like me), be a teacher and be a mummy.

I am hoping they will grow out of it and gentley nudging them towards wanting to be clever and funny rather than beautiful, even though they are both spectacularly pretty, and I'm not biased at all, honest!! wink

I wish there were more blue, green, purple (not just lilac) and red girls clothes. The flood of pink that washes over you when you walk into the girls clothes departments nauseates me.

My favourite "Disney Princess" is Mulan, closely followed by Pocahontas, because both of them are not driven to just get married, and don't rely on the prince to save them, but get up and do it themselves. I hate the classic "white wedding and they both lived happily ever after" shit.

cory Fri 29-May-09 11:12:05

babybillandsplodge on Fri 29-May-09 11:01:23
"I would love to have more men in my home - preferably gorgeous ones who will clean for me"

I've got one. But I'm not lending him out. grin

titchy Fri 29-May-09 11:12:12

I'm not sure conformity is over-rated. We all need to conform to society's 'rules', like saying please and thank-you, not walking around Sainsbury's butt-naked etc.

If you are lucky enough to have one of those rare totally self-confident children who has the strength of personality to be themselves no matter what the consequences then maybe you can say the price of fitting in is too high. But for most of us I suspect the price of not fitting-in is a lonely child whose insecutities grow rather than decrease. (And I speak as one who has such child and who has desperately tried to get said child to fit in - now I'm glad to say with a good deal of success smile).

muffle Fri 29-May-09 11:13:22

Yes, conformity is oppressive and girls shouldn't have to wear pink. But the pinkness itself is arbitrary. There is nothing about pink that says you can't be a rocket scientist, car mechanic, roboticist or anything else where women are under-represented. Pink need not hold anyone back - it is the message of what qualities are appropriate for girls (focus on looks, be sweet and giggly, don't be forward or investigative - while boys get the opposite message) that bothers me. Of course individually many parents do fight these forces but they are there in society, clothes, images in books, subtle messages from TV, teachers etc.

GreenMonkies Fri 29-May-09 11:14:52

(DD1 loves Scooby doo, but I have yet to find any girls Scooby clothes apart from some knickers I got from ebay.....I am pleased that she wants to be like the Sarah Michelle Geller Daphne and learn Tae Kwon Do when she's old enough))

LilRedWG Fri 29-May-09 11:18:39

I have a three year old DD. He clothes are predominently pick, yellow or purple, because the colours suit her.

She loves playing with dolls and babies, but is also fanatical about cars. She loves drawing pretty flowers and loves making mud pies.

She is a Pirate Queen and has a pirate ship in the garden, which she will happily stand steering wearing her pirate's outfit and waving a cutlass.

So, in answer to the original questions:

- Do you dress your girls in pink? Yes, she look lovely in it, it suits her colouring.

Expect them to be housewives? She can do whatever she likes, housewife or astronaut.

Given then a role model at home of mother home 24/7 doing dull domestic stuff, father hardly there? Well, I am at home, but rarely do dull domestic stuff - playing pirates is much more fun.

Do you encourage them in their adventurousness, let them ride, ski, fight, climb trees? Loves playing on her blue bike and when she's older will be skiing with us. Fighting - wouldn't encourage any child to. Climbing trees - you try and stop her.

Would you steer them away from a stereotyped party dress and read them stories where girls can be brave rather than simper? Don't steer away, just give a balanced mix.

I don't see why children can't just be children - there is surely no parent who would force their DD to only wear pink and wear pretty dresses. hmm

LeninGrad Fri 29-May-09 11:18:48

Understand re: fitting in and understanding the rules (am quite conformist in that respect) but conformity can be oppressive though. I was a tomboy and it was a constant source of battles with my mum.

It hasn't been easy being outside the mainstream (am a lesbian) and yes you need strength of character, but it could have all been a lot easier with some support. We all have a responsibility to respect and promote tolerance of difference I think.

cory Fri 29-May-09 11:23:18

Another form of sexism is when anything that has traditionally been done by women- sewing, embroidering, knitting- is devalued and traditionally males crafts are valued. So equality becomes a matter of teaching women to enjoy male pursuits, while female pursuits are quietly ditched by everybody.

Personally, I don't particularly see why woodwork is intrinsically more valuable than sewing. Or, on a more serious level, why childrearing is less important than banking.

otoh there are some modern princess attitudes that seem of no value whatsoever. When a girl refuses to play out of doors for fear of dirtying her pretty dress (not uncommon these days!), I don't see this as a valuable skill to teach the next generation of boys.

LilRedWG Fri 29-May-09 11:24:49

Cory - you have said exactly what I was thinking but couldn't seem to get down on paper.

muffle Fri 29-May-09 11:26:29

Yes I think the ideal is to learn how to fit in when necessary, and to understand when it's important - but also not to be afraid to be yourself. The fact is, there are a great many people who make a huge success out of not really fitting in, and when you can be yourself and be proud of it, people actually tend to admire it and go with it. Sheep-like fear of being even slightly different is not a good thing and squashes a lot of people down I think, especially girls.

ahundredtimes Fri 29-May-09 11:26:52

See, I think it is a responsibility to resist what is really a consumerist drive to persuade girls they need certain things, want to wear certain shoes, that their interests should be xyz. I think it's rather insidious actually, and possibly does need mothers to take a stand about in some ways. Ideally you'd get a balance, and not dictate an agenda. But in the same way you might say 'no I'm not buying LK shoes, they're too expensive and the glitter all falls off' you can also say, 'here's your brother's t-shirt, do you want it?' My dd usually does - in fact she has one with Shaggy on, it's not a 'girls' Scooby Doo t-shirt, it's just a t-shirt.

My dd was a fierce tomboy, she's becoming slighly less so now. I expect it was because of me! I'm not sure whether that was right or wrong - she plays chess, she's as active as her brothers, she's rather assertive but she also has quite different interests to them too - she likes craft, which they don't particularly, she likes different programmes on the tv. I thought princesses were dull, I couldn't see the point of them. I expect there will be backlash and she will become super super pink at some crucial and alarming time like 14. grin

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