Society’s expectations of children

I’ve just become an auntie for the first time. When my sister was pregnant, she and her husband didn’t want to know if they were expecting a boy or a girl, and they decorated the nursery and bought clothes in “neutral colours”. (Meanwhile, I was sitting in a corner muttering, “Boys can wear pink…why is this babygrow labelled ‘for boys’? Just because it’s got a picture of a cowboy on it? GIRLS CAN BE COWBOYS IF THEY WANT.”)

My sister had a little boy last weekend and I’ve become increasingly aware of how very traditional advertising is when portraying children. I know all of this in theory, of course, but I’m sure I’m looking out for it more. That paint advert has been infuriating me – you know, the one where the nursery is decorated in blue and packed full of football memorabilia, and the father’s voiceover reveals that he and his partner actually had a girl so they’ll have to redecorate, in pink, obviously, with lots of dolls instead.

Oh, and then there’s the ad for the washing powder that talks about how dirty kids get, with the boys running about getting mud all over themselves, and the little girl cooking in the kitchen and getting chocolate on her outfit.

I was reminded of this when I read this heartbreaking blog entry earlier this week, and once again we’re shown very clearly that kids have no inbuilt sense of these gender roles we expect them to fulfil, but we push our understanding of what’s gender-appropriate on to them right from the word go, and much of the time we might not even mean to.

I don’t have any answers, of course, apart from all of us being aware of how stupid it is to enforce these expectations on little human beings, all of whom are special and individual in their own ways and will make sense of the world and how they want to be in their own time. And in the meantime, I’m going to introduce my nephew to cricket and rugby and football, and intersperse it with the occasional showtune as well.

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