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I feel a bit sad today

(77 Posts)
drspouse Thu 21-Sep-17 09:54:34

Dropped off my DD at nursery. She chose some really funky new trousers today - they have a really bright, cute cartoon print, an unusual one, harem style, really bright cuffs. Really striking and she loves them, she's only just grown into them. Nobody else has anything even vaguely similar (OK I am a little proud of that part!).

As she was being dropped off another girl came in wearing full princess outfit. Tiara, dress, wand that she couldn't get through her coat sleeve. Two other girls had put on frilly skirts from the dressing up box and the staff were all making a fuss of their outfits, oh how pretty, oh you're a princess, oh are you a ballerina?

I am torn between "you shouldn't make a fuss of girls' appearance" and "why are you only making a fuss of girls wearing princess outfits?".

In the past, they have made a fuss of her appearance (and of course of other things she's done) but generally she only gets called "pretty" if she's wearing a dress, or has her hair done. Boys of course don't get called pretty or even, frankly, handsome. My son wore similar trousers (not these ones) and people have commented on them, mainly slightly surprised that they were so bright! I don't think anyone has ever called him "handsome" or even "good-looking" though they may have said his trousers were "nice" or "cool".

One of the other little girls was wearing a grey tracksuit but she'd also come over to show what she was playing with (toy phone) and nobody praised her for her pretend play.

(They are all 3 - last year before school - if that's relevant).

I am considering talking to the director about this (it's a big workplace nursery, not part of a chain, Outstanding etc etc).

Allthelightsgoout Thu 21-Sep-17 10:04:15

What would you say to the director?

drspouse Thu 21-Sep-17 10:07:29

I think I'd ask first if she's watched the BBC documentary.
And then say that I've noticed that girls' appearance is commented on a lot more than boys'.
And it's only commented on if they are wearing a dress or have their hair done, and that they are only ever told they look "pretty" (not funky or cool or strong or "dressed for playing") nor are they asked if they can do XYZ with their superpowers, or if they are going to rule over their subjects wisely (I asked a girl dressed up as a fairy if she could change pumpkins into coaches and she was well aware that was what the fairy godmother can do - that seems a pretty cool set of superpowers to me).
And maybe ask if she's considered doing a training on it.

AudacityJones Thu 21-Sep-17 10:12:32

I know how you feel OP. But I'd gently suggest that you're probably not going to be very effective challenging all of people's gendered stereotypes whenever they interact with your daughter. You may be more successful if you build your daughter's internal resilience by talking about these issues at home.

That's not to say you shouldn't call out blatant sexism when you see it. If the lead in the school play can only be a boy, and girls are always secondary characters for example you should go and challenge that. In my high school there was a long standing rule that the school pupil leader was a boy and the assistant school pupil leader was a girl. Always.

But you'll risk alienating your daughter's friends and teachers if you go in complaining about the kind of compliments they dished out prior to school one morning. They may see it as complimenting two girls who'd put in effort on their effort iyswim?

Obviously sexism was quite rampant when I was growing up, and I grew up in South Asia where it is much more entrenched and less challenged than it is here. But the messages my parents gave me - about how I was always expected to work hard at school, do well in math and science, aim for an ambitious career, encouraged to play with toys that did things rather than were just pretty, etc etc - stayed with me for life!

drspouse Thu 21-Sep-17 10:16:19

Well, she's only 3, so she doesn't really have complicated friendships as such and I am not sure her teachers would be taking it out on her if I asked that they not make such a fuss of girls' appearance? At least I would hope not? Unless that's not what you mean - I'm not actually really sure I understand what you mean.

And also, being only 3, I cannot sit down with her and say "you know how everyone calls your friends pretty when they wear a princess dress, well that's not right and it's actually sexist and instead they should be talking about your positive personal qualities". As somehow I don't think she'd understand.

What she (and the little girl with the phone) DO understand is that everyone was making a fuss of the princesses and the ballerina, and nobody was making a fuss of them.

drspouse Thu 21-Sep-17 10:17:10

(And aged 3 they don't put in effort on their appearance - they throw on a dress - the other two girls had dragged on princess skirts from the dressing up box - not exactly sitting down with makeup for an hour is it?)

NC4now Thu 21-Sep-17 10:21:49

What would the reaction be if a boy put on a princess dress and wand?

drspouse Thu 21-Sep-17 10:24:02

Some of the boys dress up in the fairy bits of the classroom dressing up kit and I don't think anyone's ever called them pretty, though I seem to remember someone saying "oh are you a fairy too?" in a neutral tone.

My DS has a tutu which he puts on to bop to music at home (because it's a dancing skirt, obvs) but he never wore it to nursery when he was there, I don't think.

drspouse Thu 21-Sep-17 10:24:53

(Note: I don't think the staff even have an idea about the 1960s use of the word "fairy" as they are all quite young. So neutral use of the term. There are boy fairies in Ben and Holly I think?).

JassyRadlett Thu 21-Sep-17 10:27:08

TBH, I think it's reasonable to raise it constructively.

One of the things I love about my boys' nursery (DS1 was there for 4 years, DS2 nearly a year) is that they make a real effort in this area. Kids are told 'you look amazing!' and 'I really like your t-shirt, what's that picture on it?' - the boys as much as the girls, from my observation. DS1 and his mate used to charge around wearing tutus and tiaras when they were 3 and 4, and it was totally fine. (Actually, at 4 the girls started policing the princess dresses and tutus but the gender stereotypes came from the parents of the kids, not the staff. Equal numbers of boys and girls did extra-curricular dance lessons. One of the room leaders in the preschool (a giant bear of a man) made a point of wearing pink or sparkly clothes quite regularly so that he could say 'of course pink isn't only for girls. Look at what I'm wearing!'

And equally girls are expected to get equally muddy and dirty, get stuck into the activities at forest school, etc.

It's entirely possible and it's worth challenging because this stuff is so insidious I bet the staff don't even know they're doing it.

School has been quite a shock! But DS1 is (so far, aged six) still pretty vigilant about correcting his mates (and his parents!) with 'he or she'.

AudacityJones Thu 21-Sep-17 10:30:12

What I was saying was that perhaps the nursery staff may be receptive. Or they may roll their eyes and say "oh Tia's mum is THAT kind of parent", and you'd be surprised at how quickly kids pick up on that's sort of thing too. It takes one nursery worker to make one eye roll + comment to a mum friend before it becomes "oh we're having a princess party for our little girl, we didn't think Tia would want to come which is why she's the only one excluded".

I've seen this with friends who are the only WOHM in a neighbourhood filled with SAHMs, or friends who are vegan and so on.

If you think they'll be receptive and you will be able to maintain a non patronising tone when you suggest they do some training (that's going to be hard I say!) then go for it.

My overarching point was that you might quickly become frustrated if you're trying to control all the external messages your DD (or DS) receive. It might be much more fruitful to give her the right messages at home, and in an age appropriate manner introduce her to the idea that not everyone thinks like you do but she doesn't have to follow their silly notions in order to be happy etc.

Like "oh did you see Kate was wearing a princess dress today mum?", "yes honey, they look pretty don't they, but yknow your pants look super cool too, and you can run around and climb on the seesaw with them, isn't that fun?".

PeaceAndLove1 Thu 21-Sep-17 10:31:19

I think trying to get an ego boost from clothes is going to lead to a let down, it's an empty pursuit, practical, serviceable clothes and trying to concentrate on the more important issues is the way to go.

drspouse Thu 21-Sep-17 10:33:49

They are good on not expecting boys and girls to do different things - they would never tell a boy he couldn't dress up as a fairy or princess - it's just their reaction to a girl who does is very appearance-based. Superhero play, messy play etc are for everyone. A few children don't like getting dirty and they are all encouraged - boys or girls - to give it a go.

(And the staff tops are pink, and they have male members of staff. But I don't think they've ever pointed that out!)

I'll have a think about how to put this positively.

I would love to be able to recommend some training materials/easy reading but I supposed the BBC series is a start.

JassyRadlett Thu 21-Sep-17 10:35:13

I think trying to get an ego boost from clothes is going to lead to a let down, it's an empty pursuit, practical, serviceable clothes and trying to concentrate on the more important issues is the way to go.

Are clothes different from other possesssions, though, to a small kid? (Or even to many adults?)

A kid has something new, or that they love, or that they're trying out for the first time - whether it's a new t-shirt, or a toy, or a postcard or the SEVENTEEN BLOODY ROCKS THEY FOUND ON THE BEACH.

They love to share them and they love to get attention for them. I don't think there's anything wrong with it. But then, I enjoy the visual appeal of clothing (on myself and others, on men and women and children) in the same way as I enjoy the visual appeal of an attractive house or a thoughtfully-kept garden.

drspouse Thu 21-Sep-17 10:35:36

Audacity well the nursery staff wouldn't know it was me, if the director took me up on the idea, would they?

PeaceAndLove but that's what girls do in our society, because they are taught from age 3 and before that's what gets them attention, isn't it?

drspouse Thu 21-Sep-17 10:36:29

Jassy I think that's why I would be OK with them using gender-neutral terms for praising all children's appearance.

SpaghettiAndMeatballs Thu 21-Sep-17 10:43:14

You need a different nursery - my youngest is in a pretty pink phase (has been for over a year) and gets described as beautiful and pretty when he dresses up in the princess stuff at kindergarten, or as strong and fierce when he's being iron man, or clever when he's doing school work, or brave when he went to the doctor - and it's the same for the girls too. ie. the compliments match the activity, not the child.

drspouse Thu 21-Sep-17 10:49:01

You need a different nursery

Very easy to say when we've committed to a year's fees and she loves the nursery and only has a year left before school!

Also hard to tell this kind of thing about a nursery before your child is actually there.

PeaceAndLove1 Thu 21-Sep-17 10:49:26

Are clothes different from other possesssions, though, to a small kid? (Or even to many adults?) No, they're all possessions.

but that's what girls do in our society, because they are taught from age 3 and before that's what gets them attention, isn't it? I honestly didn't want attention from wearing clothes when I was a child, I remember some shoes I got, I used to wear them in the house and admire them, in fact I was shy and was pleased when I blended in. Now I have little interest in clothes.

drspouse Thu 21-Sep-17 10:53:19

Some children don't like attention (sounds like you were one of them). Most do. The little girl with the toy phone was coming up to the nursery workers convinced that her pretend play would also get her attention, but it didn't. Hence teaching the girls that dressing up gets you good attention but other kinds of pretend play don't. So next time why not dress up.

JassyRadlett Thu 21-Sep-17 10:54:04

I honestly didn't want attention from wearing clothes when I was a child, I remember some shoes I got, I used to wear them in the house and admire them, in fact I was shy and was pleased when I blended in. Now I have little interest in clothes.

Ah. Both my DSes are totally different - love their clothes and finding interesting things to wear, particularly DS1. So it's more about catering to the kid and their interests/needs, I think, rather than being all/nothing.

JassyRadlett Thu 21-Sep-17 10:54:54

The little girl with the toy phone was coming up to the nursery workers convinced that her pretend play would also get her attention, but it didn't. Hence teaching the girls that dressing up gets you good attention but other kinds of pretend play don't. So next time why not dress up.

That's really the crux of it.

FlorenceLyons Thu 21-Sep-17 10:56:16

I don't think it would go any harm to have a constructive conversation with the director. The BBC programme is a useful prompt, I think, and very accessible.

I call my daughter's primary school out on examples of them treating girls and boys differently, and while I'm sure it leads to an occasional eye roll, it has also lead to some changes. I happen also to be a governor, but I think (hope) they'd have engaged constructively with any parent raising issues like this.

claraschu Thu 21-Sep-17 10:57:16

I agree with you OP, but don't know what we can do about it sad. These small everyday things build up a sexist culture, which is very unhealthy

drspouse Thu 21-Sep-17 10:57:29

Yes my two are like yours Jassy, they like to wear interesting clothes.

But boys get called "cool" and girls get called "pretty".

And princess dresses get you attention while other kinds of pretend play, and other kinds of clothes, don't make the grade.

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