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Why is it so hard to call my daughter's soft toy monkey 'she'?

(58 Posts)
wem Thu 04-Aug-11 16:57:25

I've become aware of the general tendency to call all non-gendered toys 'he' (i.e. anything other than dolls or babies dressed in pink), so when dd1 decided her monkey was a girl I've been trying my hardest to call it she, but 'he' slips out quite often. And I've really noticed that every single person who interacts with dd1 about her monkey (she takes it everywhere) says he. So it's fighting a losing battle as dd1 will then call it he anyway, even though she says it's a girl. Very confusing for her I would have thought.

It's a perfect example of the default being male, and female being 'other'. When I corrected one of my friends (only because dd1 was there) and said, 'it's a she', she said 'why?', as if there has to be a reason for the monkey to be female.

It's mostly pissing me of that even I can't stick to it. This stuff is really ingrained.

StopRainingPlease Thu 04-Aug-11 17:22:38

Oh yes, tricky one this! When my DD's were small we had various picture books, and when reading out the stories it was very hard to say, "Blue Donkey is having her lunch," rather than "Blue Donkey is having his lunch."

And I say that as a feminist confused.

SardineQueen Thu 04-Aug-11 18:15:00

I have this problem too! It really annoys me that I do it. But the reason for doing it is a good one - it has how English has worked - the "rules" say that if no sex is specified then default is male. Things do move on - very few books or leaflets use "he" as default any more when they mean a man or a woman - but for people the way they speak and the language they use is so hard to break. And so important I think. But still, when I say pass x toy it's always "him". BAH!

silverfrog Thu 04-Aug-11 18:21:35


we do this a lot too. everything is "he". dd2 actually insists most things are girls (goign through a "girls only" stage - sadly along with a princess stage, which I try to counteract at all times - she insists she is beautiful when wearing a dress, I insist she is beautiful at all times even when she has been playing football in the mud etc etc)

I must try harder actually. if dd2's default setting is "she", then this is a huge positive, and I really need to stop unwittingly correcting her. she will currently say things like "Bear is a girl. He has pretty shoes" all because dh and I default ot "he" confused

KRIKRI Thu 04-Aug-11 18:30:33

I do understand that historical, people or gendered "things" (e.g. toys, pets, cartoon characters, etc.) were by default referred to as "he" to mean both genders or until it is shown that they are female. However, I do think this convention DOES impact on how we come to see "male" as "normal" and "female" as somehow "other," so not equal at all.

I don't think it's just being fussy about pronouns, particularly when talking about toys, books and other products for children. A little boy experiencing lots of interesting characters that share his gender pronoun will feel reassured that he's part of the concept of "normal." A little girl, struggling to find characters that aren't 100% obviously female (e.g. princess or mother), and even then have a pretty marginal role quite possibly will see themselves as "other," as "outsiders" as "not so good." It saddens me.

Cleverything Thu 04-Aug-11 19:30:54

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

ThePosieParker Thu 04-Aug-11 19:33:33

I don't do it. Ds's blue glow worm is 'she' as last night we had a story about her losing her music, loads of things are she here.

Funny though, DH assumed a medic going to help a trapeze act (who fell) was a nurse because she was a woman......I assumed she was a doctor.

TeiTetua Thu 04-Aug-11 19:38:34

I can remember watching my brother's little girl, aged 4 or so, building something out of Lego. "I'm making a house for Mr Brown", she said. "How about doing it for Mrs Brown", I asked (not wanting to confuse the issue with Ms when she's so young) but she wouldn't hear it for a moment. "No, Mister Brown", she said, without looking up. She already knew who owns the property in this world.

But I have a friend who told me about her much-loved bath toy (which ended up getting lost) which was a model fish named Fanny Flounder. So there are a few female toys around. (No, I don't think the name was a joke by the parents.)

WoTmania Thu 04-Aug-11 19:46:50

Oh, I lived in France as a child and even then I felt it massively unjust that a large group of people if containing a man was automatically referred to as 'ils' (i.e the mascullin version of 'they')rather than 'elles'. Even if there were 100 women and 1 solitary man technically they were 'ils'.

wem Thu 04-Aug-11 21:02:17

I was trying to remember which language it was that did that. I remember being outraged by it in French lessons grin

ThePosieParker Thu 04-Aug-11 21:21:19

My children think this is my house though....and Nanna's house and Aunty Sister's house.

Thistledew Thu 04-Aug-11 21:30:41

I must ask my mother how she raised me; when I was about 3 yes old I had a couple of dollies who were named 'Mrs Owl' and 'James', and despite what would appear obvious, they were both girls. When I was a little older I had three CareBears, an adult and a baby of the same colour and an adult of a different colour. The adults were both female and lived together to raise the baby, who was a boy.

Having said that, I agree that the default is to call an inanimate stuffed toy 'he'.

GrimmaTheNome Thu 04-Aug-11 21:33:22

Wem, I debated that with the teacher too!

I remember when DD was small, one of my NCT friends singing 'Miss Polly had a dolly '.... 'the doctor came with her bag and her hat' - and thinking, by gum, she's right - huge numbers of doctors, especially ones children are most likely to see, are women now! My DD had never seen a male doc at that point.

HandDivedScallopsrgreat Thu 04-Aug-11 21:52:58

It's the same in books too. The animals are generally male. "dear Zoo" or the "Gruffalo" as examples. I try and change the sex every so often but it does feel strange for some reason.

I think I might change the sex of DS's soft toys though who are currently, teddy, teddy and originally enough teddy (he's not 2 yet I hasten to add)!

chugsy Thu 04-Aug-11 21:56:02

Non doggy people often refer to all dogs as 'he' as well, I've noticed.

But, conversely, I've noticed baby mags/baby advice leaflets often refer to babies as she - "when bathing your baby make sure that the water isn't too hot for her" etc

chugsy Thu 04-Aug-11 21:56:46

Gruffalo's child is a she though handdived, and come to think of it I 'noticed' it because it was not the norm.

silverfrog Thu 04-Aug-11 22:00:16

yes re: babies/children are female. never (sweeping genralisation!) the grown ups - they are male, but the lowly ones, the sweet little powerless ones? yep they're female...

HandDivedScallopsrgreat Thu 04-Aug-11 22:00:25

Oh that's good to know chugsy. <zooms off to amazon to spend yet more money>

LRDTheFeministDragon Thu 04-Aug-11 22:11:37

Yes, I've noticed myself (and kicked myself) doing this.

I used to babysit children in the village where I grew up - farming country, they got taken to see baby calves by school in year 1, etc - and noticed that most children and a lot of mums would still refer to dairy cattle as 'he'!

SardineQueen Thu 04-Aug-11 22:32:11

scallops yes gruffalo's child is a girl. And it's not til the end you find out, which is nice, as it's not a female character in a self-conscious way, it's just how it is IYSWIM.

Julia Donaldson is good actually - there is a book of hers called "rosie's hat" which my DD has loved from 3, and the one about the dragon...

Maisy books are good for a 2yo smile

SardineQueen Thu 04-Aug-11 22:35:50

one about the dragon for 3+ I reckon.

The other nice thing about Gruffalo's child is it's her and her dad, and at the end they curl up to sleep together. The DDs are very close to their dad and it was nice to find a book reflecting that, rather than it all being about (default) boys and mums.

SardineQueen Thu 04-Aug-11 22:45:32

My just 2yo DD likes this maisy one smile

GrimmaTheNome Thu 04-Aug-11 23:09:18

I find people are more likely to refer to a cat of unknown gender as 'she' ... maybe labouring under the delusion they're sweet fwuffy darlings not bird-murdering, turd-depositing thugs grin

DontCallMePeanut Thu 04-Aug-11 23:56:19

DS loves Pirate Gran and the sequel

I'm also rather chuffed with him... Hiis favourite character from Toy Story is Jessie, to the point that he won't watch the first film anymore (unless I promise he can watch the second after) and defended his Jessie the other day, when a little girl asked why he had a Jessie doll if he's a boy... His answer? "She's the best"...

I'm not sure if it's being ina very matriachal family which has done it (Mum's always been head honcho and that seems to have rubbed off) but everyone is typically "her" or "she" with him. Same with animals. And to everyone's amusement, both DB and DBil get called AuntieDB and AuntieDBil. grin

alexpolismum Fri 05-Aug-11 09:28:56

Why don't you call non-obviously-gendered toys 'it'??

I call my children's elephants/ monkeys/ giraffes/ whatever 'it' until the children have decided for themselves what they are. Funnily enough, 3-year-old dd has a teddy called Parker who is a 'she'. I always used to refer to it as 'it', so that's definitely come from her!

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