Alex, mother of two, possessor of a doctorate in literature and an extensive music collection, and my main source of mix-tapes, is also a regular reader and commenter here. She posted last week on the cool band They Might Be Giants and is back by popular demand (and my nagging) to vent about something before she explodes. Welcome back, Alex!
What is the difference between these two lists of words?
boots, glue, moon, dogs, treasure, grass, caterpillar, climbing, swinging, swimming.
music, stars, birds, friends, sky, ladybird, skipping, dancing, cooking
To me, both look pretty innocuous lists of words that might be of interest to young children. However, the wise people at Fridge Magic say that list one are ‘Boys words’ (sic – the lack of apostrophe is their mistake, not mine) while those in list two are for girls, apparently.
The lists get worse, in sadly predictable ways. Girls are encouraged to learn the words:
While boys get:
I don’t really know where to start. With the ludicrous distinction between moon and stars, caterpillar and ladybird, or with the crushing predictability of the adventurous boys vs beautiful girls message being promoted, or with the sheer outrageousness of having lipstick, make-up and perfume as essential words for girls just starting out on their reading adventure.
And fluff?! As a friend of mine said, why don’t they just go the whole hog and put clever on the boys’ list and pretty on the girls’?
I get angry about a lot of things to do with the excessive gender splitting imposed on our children. I get cross when I see the choice of sludge-coloured clothes for our boys against the rainbow of colours for our girls. I get enraged when I see the impractical and flimsy footwear offered to my daughter against the robust and weather-appropriate offerings for my son. I get seriously annoyed when I see pink versions of what should be gender-neutral items pushed at little girls and their parents (an all-pink globe for girls, anyone?)
But what makes me really mad is when our children’s vocabulary is divided in this way and then promoted as an aid to literacy. I’m sorry. No. I will not buy into that.
And, let me be clear, that as the mother of a boy and a girl, I am equally outraged on both their behalves. Why should our boys not be expected to have friends, listen to music, experience love, enjoy sunshine and rainbows and flowers? This is not just about the damaging messages we are sending to our daughters about the world and their place in it, it is about the limitations we are placing on our sons and their expectations.
Perhaps I should lighten up. Perhaps these are just innocent toys and cause no harm. Anything that helps our kids learn how to read has to be a good thing, right?
No. I don’t think so. I think words matter – they are how we describe and interact with our world and express our experiences of it. And I don’t think we can be too careful about the messages we send to our children, consciously or otherwise.
Our children are, first and foremost, children. There may be differences between them, but I firmly believe there are as many differences between girls or between boys as there are between girls and boys. I know plenty of girls who love mud and running and dinosaurs, just as much as they enjoy stories about princesses, making necklaces and things that sparkle. Likewise, I know plenty of boys who love cooking and dancing and playing with fairy wands, just as much as they enjoy hunting for worms, playing football and wearing blue. We do both sets of children a massive disservice when we ask them to deny part of themselves.
On a positive note, I notice that Amazon at least don’t seem to be selling these things at the moment, (do read the wonderful reviews of the product, though!) and they don’t appear on Fridge Magic’s own website, so perhaps the makers have thought better of selling them.
Now to persuade the local shop to follow their lead – pass me my stationery set someone, I feel a strongly-worded letter coming on.
For more on how we ‘over-gender’ our kids and their books, toys, adjectives and clothes, you might like to read:
If you have other examples or stories of gendered toys to share, please leave a comment below. Ranting encouraged but all opinions welcome.