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Feminism: Sex and gender discussions

Trying to be more gender-neutral with baby

37 replies

Aykarralyu · 08/06/2013 09:13

We're expecting a baby in Nov and I've been thinking about the differences between a son and a daughter.

Differences start immediately - people talk about blue or pink wallpaper etc - and I'm really cautious about this. I've read that babies are born with only small psychological differences and that their male or female character is then developed as they're raised.

Something that occurs to me though, is that I have a desire for my child to be successful in life. This means happiness - for which I want empathy, compassion and appreciation of simple pleasures (imo), but it also means ambition and drive.

We talk about glass-ceilings, and in my opinion, the people who get to the top in life are the ones that are willing to make sacrifices; they are more competitive, aggressively pushing themselves and limiting their time with friends and family. Personally, I'm not like that and am not prepared to put in the hours to achieve that next promotion or whatever. I think a lot of women are like this. However, I think this is changing - and I think that's a good thing in terms of female representation. However, when women are successful, we often don't like them as people - they don't have many of the characteristics we value in women. "A woman? Not on my terms", said Glenda Jackson about Margaret Thatcher... Rebekah Brooks always seems a nasty piece of work too... (limited examples, I know). But, it does seem to me that women are becoming more aggressive than they used to be - you often read about violence perpetrated by teenage girls that is quite shocking, but wouldn't have been so shocking if it had been boys.

Maybe, I'm getting confused, but it seems to me that in challenging all the female stereotypes - people complaining on here about adverts of women doing housework etc - we are raising girls that have more traditionally male characteristics... and yet feminism is often centred around complaining about male characteristics. Shouldn't feminism be more about teaching boys to be more like girls than teaching girls to be more like boys? And if that's correct, then why does a lot of feminism exclude men from the discussion?

I think I've wandered a bit off track, but I want to be a bit clearer on this - grandparents are already talking about what toys they're buying and what hobbies little-un should be into. If we have a girl, in all honesty, what was so bad about the traditional female character? confused!!!!

OP posts:
princessnumber2 · 08/06/2013 09:35

I would question your definition of traditional male and female characteristics. I'm not sure they're as defined as you think.

However you are right to think about the issue of gender stereotyping early on. Girls wearing clothes saying 'I love baking', and playing with pink plastic hair dryers might possibly be a reason why so many of them don't go on to do physics at Alevel. A lot of what you refer to is about personality and temperament and varies massively between individuals.

I dressed my two girls in whatever. Dungers, leggings, hoodies, or anything practical that didn't physically restrict them. When the girls go to school, I make sure they aren't afraid to play physical games in the playground because they might show their pants. (Again more leggings and trousers mostly). I am very anti pink until it becomes just another colour but that took about 8 years.

I generally bought toys in gender neutral colours and had a range of science stuff, footballs, cars, dolls, prams, cooking stuff, all sorts of dressing up outfits that didn't just involve a nurse's outfit designed like a strippergram (thank you sainsburys) and princess stuff.

People always asked me 'how old is he?' because my daughters weren't wearing pink ribbons. Which if you think about means people assume male as the default unless women are identified with frilly stuff.

Children as young as 3 came up to my kids and said 'why have you got a blue scooter, you should have a pink one'. You're fighting against a tide of crap influences from society but it's hugely important work (whether you have boys or girls)

Treat them as individuals, encourage them to explore what they love and ignore anyone who tells you 'it's because she's a girl/he's a boy' in the first few years at least.

Good luck.

WidowWadman · 08/06/2013 09:44

"Shouldn't feminism be more about teaching boys to be more like girls than teaching girls to be more like boys?"

That's bollocks in my books. Personally I try to teach my children that they can be whoever they want to be and like whatever they want to like (including cringey pink crap) and it doesn't matter what their sex is.

By ascribing certain characteristics to be feminine or masculine, you're just being sexist. Margaret Thatcher was a woman, to declare otherwise is sexist tosh, no matter what you think of her politics. Rebekkah Brooks is a woman, no matter what you think of her.

rootypig · 08/06/2013 09:50

I think it's great that you're thinking about this. But tbh you are getting off track and tying yourself in knots a bit Hmm

It sounds as though you're not sure about what you think. You say you want to be conscious of gender, but your evaluation of Margaret Thatcher and Rebekkah Brooks sound fairly typically anti woman, you seem to think criminal behaviour is more shocking in young women than young men, and you conclude with 'what was so bad about the traditional female character'?

Why not do some reading about gender, and try to work out what you think? There's so much wonderful feminist fiction and non fiction out there. Margaret Atwood and Marilyn French are both brilliant, Siri Hustvedt, Virginia Woolf, the list is long. Doris Lessing, Betty Friedan, Germaine Greer. If you have a good local library they'll help. And the baby might absorb some of the marvellous ideas Grin.

But then - assuming that you decide that you want to limit gendered ideas on your DC - I think this is and isn't complicated. It isn't complicated in the sense that babies just want love, endless love, and milk, and clean nappies. And a lot of it is obvious. Don't paint everything blue or pink. Dont cover a girl baby in sparkles. Teach girl and boy children to run and swim and build stuff. Give girl and boy children hugs and kisses and let them cry.

That said, it is difficult, because we have been raised in this gendered world, and attitudes are insidious. The more subtle things are - what do we praise our children for? they respond so strongly to that. Girls - being helpful and kind. Boys - being strong and tough. How and what do we teach them about their bodies? I want DD to appreciate all the things he body can do for her, rather than how it looks, and have made DH promise to teach her how to throw and catch and surf. What possibilities do we articulate for their future? I am determined that DD will hear the words engineer and scientist as often as she hears teacher or nurse. I'm also talking to DH about the behaviours we model at home. We are planning our lives so we can share DD's and subsequent DCs' care, and will split the domestic labour as fairly as we can.

The last bit of your post is ILs. I have a MIL who says really stupid things like: 'if DD wants to dress as a princess, who am I to stop her?' DD is 7mo Hmm. MIL has only one child, my DH, and wants to indulge all her girly fantasies. Alas, as you may gather, I am a disappointment on this score! Grin I have decided just to ignore her / let her get on with it. DD might love tutus and ballet, she might not. I hope that with healthy attitudes at home it will all come out in the wash and she will find something in life that she loves, and that she will love herself, however it ends up..... I think that sounds like what you call success too.

Januarymadness · 08/06/2013 09:54

Female character/ male character? Whats wrong with just seeing and accepting whatever kids grow into? It doesnt mean you have to deny their gender. Dd knows she is a girl but also knows it is just as ok to like football and spiderman as it is ok to play with dolls houses etc

rootypig · 08/06/2013 09:59

"People always asked me 'how old is he?' because my daughters weren't wearing pink ribbons. Which if you think about means people assume male as the default unless women are identified with frilly stuff. "

Great post princess

Aykarralyu · 08/06/2013 10:01

Thank you for the helpful responses.

The case for not dressing a child in clothes/shoes that instantly restricts choices makes a lot of sense to me, especially.

OP posts:
tethersend · 08/06/2013 10:22

I think you're right to think about this, and to question the cack-handed rejection of things traditionally ascribed as 'female'.

Part of the problem IMO is that some parents, in a misguided attempt to bring their DDs up as feminists, encourage them to eschew toys, clothes and games traditionally associated with girls in favour of those traditionally associated with boys. This compounds the problem, as it communicates the message that 'boys' stuff' is better than 'girls' stuff'.

Far, far better to encourage boys to choose 'girls' stuff'- this is the only way the genderisation of childhood will be effectively challenged.

Oh, and make sure that some of the teddy bears/rabbits/soft toys etc. are female. It has surprised me how difficult I find it to say anything other than 'he' when playing with a toy.

GoldieMumbles · 08/06/2013 10:24

With DS1, we started out with everything pretty much gender-neutral. We bought clothing in as neutral-a-colour as possible. We got some non-gender specific toys. Then, at about 6 months old, his head started to be turned by lorries, buses, tractors, trains and so on. He made a bee-line for them in toyshops when he started toddling. I was really surprised but it really does seem to be something that he decided for himself. I didn't want to fight it - if that's what he wanted to play with, with no real external influence at all, then it's not for me to discourage him. So now we have a house full of what are traditionally seen as toys for boys.

The arrival of DS2 means that the house is already full of those things when he arrived, so there's no way that he can't be influenced by them and by his older brother...

It's funny how DS1's interest was piqued by all things transport from as soon as he was old enough to notice, though.

tallulah · 08/06/2013 10:34

I have 2 DDs, 21 years apart. Yes, years, not months.

With DD1 I was really concerned about the whole 'girls are pink' attitude. I refused pink and frilly clothes. I bought gender-neutral toys. I taught her feminist nursery rhymes. It didn't help that she was MILs only GDD and the first girl in 2 generations for their family. Nobody (except PIL) ever told her she was pretty/ beautiful, but she was often told how clever she was.

We had huge problems with her all the way through primary school because she wanted to be a boy (she told me that), which increased as she started developing. Although she was undoubtedly clever she was really easily led and gravitated towards the lowest level in the class. Things didn't start turning around for her until secondary school.

DD2 has been head to toe pink since she was born. She gets given pink toys and we don't bat an eyelid. People tell her she is pretty (yet looking at photos she and DD1 are strikingly similar). I am now hugely aware of a small child's need to 'fit in' at school so when her grandma bought her a scooter we got a pink one- because I know her friends at school would say she'd got a boys one otherwise Sad

Time will tell whether this approach is any better than the one we took with DD1, but TBH I don't think we could have done worse Sad.

I really don't know what the moral of this rambling tale is Blush except to say that it is difficult to buck the trend of the society you live in, and I suppose really I should have HE her.

We also had 3 boys between the 2 girls. They had long hair when it wasn't fashionable, and 2 of them did ballet for many years. They haven't found life quite so hard and none of them wanted/ wants to be a girl. Hmm

UniqueAndAmazing · 08/06/2013 10:49

we deliberately didn't find out the sex because of this problem.
and told people that

we were given loads of clothes by someone who was clearing out - mostly boys' old clothes, but quite a bit of girls' newborn stuff
which meant the baby would just wear whatever.

when she was born and everyone found out she was a girl, it all started.

it's not even just pink, that's okay, pink is fine. it's the fact that girl's clothes are cut differently - all narrow cut on the arms and legs (which is annoying because babies are the same friffing shape!!) - also means that her cloth bum doesn't fit properly inside girls' trousers while the legs are really long. Hmm

DH and I have always made a point of shopping for more neutral stuff. it helps that i'm obsessed with space and dinosaurs, so most of her stuff is like that. and we go for bright colours.
then friends and relatives buy her girl stuff and it balances out - a mix of both.

toys can bw a nightmare though.
her aunty bought her a set of cars from ELC - she thought she was being all neutral, ut the cars she bought were all pastel pink and purple, so clearly aimed at freak parents like us who don't want to stereotype children. silly us!

following from what tallulah above says - actually, i think it is okay and desirable to buck the trend of society.
it's the only way a chance can be effected.
(but it might take longer than it took for the trend to take hold in the first place)

grimbletart · 08/06/2013 12:10

This idea that things have to be pink or blue is really bizarre and not what I remember at all when I had my DCs late 60s/early 70s. I was (finally) getting round to sorting all my old kiddy pix a while ago and I was struck how colourful their babygros and clothes were - oranges, yellows, greens, navy, red, some pink and blue but only in the same proportions as other colours. No one thought my DDs were boys because their babygros were (for example) orange and white stripes or navy and red square patterns. The colours and designs were so more creative then. The pink/blue crap seems to have become an obsession since the 90s as has, I'm pretty sure, this obsession with what is suitable boys and girls' behaviours/activities.

My DDs toy cupboards were a mixture of dinky toys, trains, cuddlies, dolls, guns (yes, I know....) puppets, meccano.

IMO we have gone backwards over the last 20 years - thus the confusion evident in the OP's mind.

What with the too early sexualisation of children, the celeb 'culture', the body image problems many youngsters have and, with girls, the baffling idea among some girls that you have to please boys (again something that was alienation to my adolescence and to my daughters' adolescence as well) I am so relieved I am not a kid today or have a kid today.

But then I suppose every generation says that.......Grin

LeBFG · 08/06/2013 13:41

Goldie, my DS was exactly the same. Dh and I HATE vehicles and have lots of animals so we both went out of our way to encourage an interest in the animals but his overwhelming interest was/is motors of all kinds. Really weird. I have a DD so I shall be watching with great interest what she decides to like. I hope she inherits my father's engineering brain. All anecdote of course. I just couldn't imagine a less girlie place for her to grow up in. We shall see.

YoniBottsBumgina · 08/06/2013 14:08

I suppose it's that, in times gone by, children were just that - children. There wasn't a massive difference between girls and boys because all children were children. It was only once they got old enough to start thinking about a future career/adult life that girls were steered towards housework, childcare and typing and boys were steered towards woodwork and engineering.

Now we are so very consumer-based, everybody is a consumer and that applies even from the earliest age. Children would never have been seen as consumers in the 1960s as parents (probably mothers) did all of the decision making and buying (or making) of toys, clothes etc. Now there is so much over commercialisation it makes economic sense for retailers to create a divide and hence create a "need" or desire in children for this in pink or that in camoflage, not only so that the children themselves want and demand things that are advertised directly to them, but to create the feeling in parents that there are "boy things" and "girl things" and that the two are discretely separate.

SoftSheen · 08/06/2013 14:20

I understand where you are coming from but you are probably over-thinking this. Just buy clothes that are comfortable and practical, and when your child is old enough to have a view, let them have some choice.

I have a DD (2.3) and personally, I dislike both the pink/sparkly way of dressing girls and the self-consciously non-conformist style of dressing 'gender- neutral', which generally means mostly boys' clothes. There is nothing wrong in dressing a girl in girls' clothes, because there is nothing wrong in being identifiable as a girl.

As far as toys go, I think it is a good idea to have a wide variety of toys that encourage creative play. My DD's favourites are her duplo, her toy kitchen and her doll and buggy. All of these things seem to be popular with boys too.

UniqueAndAmazing · 08/06/2013 14:24

DH was born at the beginning of the 60s, and I've just seen a picture of him at 15 months.
he's wearing floral, baggy shorts with straps.
you can't tell if he's a boy or a girl.

MissTweed · 08/06/2013 14:39

I grew up a bit of a Tom boy (on a farm) and am now a biomedical scientist. In my line of work there is very few 'girly girls'. The only girly girls (or rather women) are the medical secretaries. The contrast is quite staggering. Not sure whether this is coincidental or the way people where brought up but it is noticable.

grimbletart · 08/06/2013 15:33

Sorry this is a Daily Fail link but pertinent to the thread.

It bears out what I said about much more colourful and gender neuter clothing being available in the 60s and 70s.

UniqueAndAmazing · 08/06/2013 16:42

"It's easy to spot the newborn girls from the newborn boys in any hospital nursery - the pink and blue blankets are a dead giveaway."

my dd's was mint green. Grin

YoniBottsBumgina · 08/06/2013 18:10

Haha, same here UniqueandAmazing. In fact I still have it somewhere because XP insisted on stealing it from the hospital Angry

All hospital blankets are usually the same colour under the NHS at least, because it would be silly to be constrained by gender. What would they do if they ran out of blue and some hormonal new mother got all offended? Easier to stick with white or that hospital green.

MortifiedAdams · 08/06/2013 18:23

Get thee to H&M, wjere they have a great selection of unisex stuff in nice bright block colours. DD has items from.both the boys and girls sections. A lot of her clothes are being kept for dc2, regardless of whether they are boys or girls.

I dont buy anything pink, but thats because she gets these from relatives so I dilute it with other coloured items.

Spiritedwolf · 08/06/2013 18:53

Ha.. Tea and Kittens @ Daily Fail Link :)

This is a really interesting discussion.

We also decided not to find out the sex of our child before birth, partially to avoid the blue/pink divisionary stuff and give ourselves and our unborn child a chance to be thought of in an ungendered way - rather than through the eyes of we're having a son/daughter and the assumptions that brings. I was rather preoccupied with feminist/gender issues whilst I was pregnant.

We had a boy. He's now 10 months old (and lovely). We still favour brightly coloured, practical clothes with as little gender overtones as possible - with the practical goal in mind of being able to pass them down to younger siblings of either sex. When we bought him balls (ball pit style) to go in his travel cot, we bought the traditional primary colour sort and we bought the colour selection that had pinks in it. Then we mixed them together. I intend to do the same with duplo and lego when he's older. As far as I'm concerned, both boys and girls should be free to play with all the colours. We will also try to have a range of toys - dolls, trains, animals, food, sporty, crafty things, dress up etc.

I had a real mix of things to play with as a girl and had a variety of interests that weren't either typical or totally untypical of my gender. I'd like my children to have the same choices. I also try to be openminded about what future interests/hobbies/career my child will have, and delibrately keep my mind (and those of people around me) by throwing out suggestions that aren't typically male to balance out the stuff society will expect of him.

I saw a lot of that 'pinkstinks' type of thing when I was pregnant and I can understand where it comes from as I was never a girlygirl and I'm sure it is well intentioned. I agree that only trying to steer girls away from all that pink, glittery stuff is a problematic solution. For instance, I think you have to be very clear that the reason you think some of the pink stuff is bad (early sexualisation/objectification, lowering of female aspiration, limiting interests to a few, approved female ones etc) is different than why boys and some grown men think it is bad (eugh, girly stuff!). The last thing you want little girls to think is that being a little girl is a terrible thing that you want her to have nothing to do with being a girl and the only way to be worth something is to be a boy.

What I want to happen is for girls to have a huge variety of things that being a girl encompasses, in fact pretty much all the same things that boys have (except penises, I suppose). It should be about children all having access to the same opportunities/interests/hobbies, not just the few things that boys aren't into (or are socialised not to be into) and which are packaged in pink. The idea that girls aren't into sciencey stuff, unless they are told they can be with a pink box and a make-up theme is extremely insulting. The default shouldn't be that other stuff is for boys.

I know what you mean about socialising boys to be more nurturing, and some of the other things that girls are traditionally expected to be. I want my son to be caring, just as I want any daughters I have to be strong and clever.

You have to be careful about the whole Thatcher/Rebecca Brooks thing. They were women. They weren't particuarly nice. But a lot of men aren't particuarly nice either. I think a lot of the nastiness in the press directed at them, isn't particuarly because they aren't nice people. It's because they aren't nice women - which is sexist. Ruthless, unsympathetic men are often applauded for being single-minded, strong, and unemotional. Brooks wasn't really any 'worse' than the Murdochs or past male editors of the paper/or sister papers but a lot of hate was directed at her. David Cameron and his cabinet have some pretty Thatcherite policies, but again, the hate extended towards Thatcher is stronger.

It happens that I don't feel these traits (to the exclusion of empathy, compassion, etc) aren't appealing in men or women, though as a feminist, I don't think women should be punished for them more than men. But yes, I believe in encouraging boys to be kind, gentle, thoughtful, creative etc, just as much as girls. But I don't think that encouraing girls to be strong, atheletic, clever, ambitious etc is a problem. They won't all turn out like the women you dislike.

notcitrus · 08/06/2013 18:53

A couple I know are refusing to tell anyone whether their baby is a boy or girl, until the kid turns 2 or asks. Given the ridiculous amount of stereotyping that I swear has got worse in the last few years (or maybe I didn't notice so much with ds, but 4 years later with dd I notice the contrast in expectations and interactions?), I rather wish I'd done the same, but there weren't any gender-neutral names I liked.

I told my mum I wanted bright colours for ds and later dd, not blue/sludge nor pastel pink+sparkles. She's told me repeatedly she thought I was just being fussy at first, until she first went into the children's sections of various stores and was horrified. I understand she has written to John Lewis to express her disappointment. :)

It's the really subtle stuff that must have a huge influence over a decade or so - like ds goes to stay+play and workers will offer him animals or blocks or cars. He quite likes the last two but animals are his real obsession. Dd gets offered animals or dolls or kitchen play - nothing stopping her playing with the blocks and sand and cars, which she likes, but over time, she's going to wonder if she's really supposed to because she's always asked if she wants to play with a doll. And the staff all swear blind they encourage all kids to play with everything, but without keeping a tally of every word out of their mouths and confronting them with it, which would make me look like a terrifying stalker (I've blogged it instead), it's very hard.


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Spiritedwolf · 08/06/2013 19:02

My DS has some clothes from Next and ASDA George. Both do have the usual pink and blue things, but also have a lot of bright animal things which are unisex.

Spiritedwolf · 08/06/2013 19:07

What I don't really understand is why the lines between boy and girl stuff has got shaper and less flexible than it used to at a time when girls and women are meant to have the same opportunities as boys/men and homosexuality is more accepted (so you'd think sticking to gender norms would be less, not more, important). Mind you, things are still difficult for transgendered people.

intheshed · 08/06/2013 19:09

As the mother of two girls I honestly have never had any trouble buying them clothes that are not pink. There is a massive variety out there! I also have no problem buying them pink clothes- after all I sometimes wear pink myself, just as I sometimes wear blue, yellow, green etc. It's just another colour.

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