This morning Sally asked me if I would paint her toe nails, I had no particular reason to refuse and it seemed a suitable carrot to hold over her head to help encourage her consumption of breakfast. Husband is away for the night for the first time since baby three rocked up and left at silly o'clock in the morning. As I was going to be in solo charge of getting all three meals into the both of the big ones, any opportunity to make it easier was one I was going to take.
Sally choose a delightful hue of purple and after she ate all of her breakfast it was time to paint some nails. Of course as soon as this happened Pip wanted his done too. And why not? As you can see, playing in the sunny park this afternoon - they both have purple toes. It's not easy to paint wiggly toddler toes and there was very little co-operation with the idea of allowing them to dry before trotting off to clamber over the sofa, but he definitely wanted his toes painted if his sister was getting hers done, and I wasn't going to refuse based on gender stereotyping I really don't agree with.
There are loads of cultural norms I don't agree with, but I don't have simple answers as to what they should be replaced with. I know that at the age my children are, scientifically basically the only physiological difference between them in terms of body and brain architecture is that Pip has a willy and Sally has lady bits, (I could be a grown up and say penis and vagina, but as vagina only refers to part of the lady assembly and anyway comes from the Latin word for a sword sheath, I'm just not going to go there right now.) but society does treat them differently - and it appears in myriad forms right from their first outfit.
Clothes are the most obvious means of self-expression and identification. Sally likes to be quite girly in her attire, she likes sparkly dresses and unicorns and princesses and pink - it's not something we've especially encouraged, but nonetheless its becoming increasingly tricky to persuade her to wear trousers or anything dark. Pip is still too young to get much of a say, although he does have a few favourites, and consequently at the moment he just gets dressed in dull multipack trousers and a t-shirt - when she was younger, Sally had the packs of leggings in pink and girly patterns and now Pip gets greys and blues and occasionally a green or red. There is very little in the middle and haven't had time to make him fun trousers recently. So as, at the moment, he sometimes goes through three outfits a day as he romps from the kitchen where he's splattered himself with weetabix to the garden or anywhere that has a puddle, I am reliant on the supermarket packs of three pairs of soft joggers that dry quickly and fit over his big nappies. And thus I stand back to see Sally in a pink dress patterned with dancing unicorns and silver boots with Pip next to her in navy jogging bottoms, a red dinosaur t-shirt and a jumper with trucks. This was not what was supposed to happen! (I managed to get Sally out of her dress to go to the park so everyone didn't see her pants when she was clambering over the rocks - but note - it is still all pink.)
In the absence of trying really hard at neutrality in clothing, which I expect both would rail quite strongly against, Sally dresses herself to look girl and Pip wants his tractor jumper which reads 'boy' and yet neither of them could tell you what boy or girl means. Somewhat amusingly Pip at the moment only likes to be called by his name, ask him if he's my big boy and he'll say, 'no, I'm not big boy, I'm Pip', but then you can also ask him if he's Pip K-G and he'll say, 'no, I'm not K-G' like he's Madonna or Beyonce or something, he's just 'I'm Pip'. Little boy dressed Pip, you can have purple toes if you want them and we'll worry about attaching meaning to it another year.
Having already lost the battle over clothing - what else in their upbringing can I make equal? They pretty much share everything else, toys, books, tv choices. And when you look at the books, the problems aren't quite what I expected they might be with the girls all being princesses in peril and the heroes all boys in armour. It's rather the opposite.
There has been a big push recently to show that girls can be and do anything. Books are being published all over the place to spell out the important things women have achieved and try and undo some of the social stereotyping that we know hold girls back, especially from progressing in areas like the STEM subjects. Recently one of my best friends from Uni sent this for Cleo. She's a little young for stories at the moment, but Sally likes it. It is full of positive affirmations about the diversity of things girls can achieve and how they can do it no matter what they look like or whether they have any physical limitations. But it also reminded me that I need to get some different books for Pip to add a bit of diversity to the mainly female characters populating the books we've got or have been given for Sally. As far as I can find there isn't an equivalent 'Boy's Can be Anything'. If you look up this one there are a raft of other Great Women of History and Girls who changed the World as suggested additional purchases. I am absolutely all for this. But where are the boys ones?
I am absolutely a feminist. But I'm also pretty sure that feminism is about equality, not just pushing women up. And, as I understand it, it's not just women who are damaged by the expectations that have historically been put upon gender norms. Even if you don't go into the crud of toxic masculinity, there are plenty of problematic expectations about what it is to be a boy or a man, what you should wear and look like, your ability to fix the car or be interested in sport. If we really want equality then there need to be books for pre-schoolers that say just as loudly, you can be anything, little boy, that you want to be. You can be soft, you can be hard, you can be funny, you can be loud, you can be quiet, love books, join a band, nurse bunnies, bandage zebras, calculate electrical loads, lumber trees, teach reading, change nappies or change the world (actually, edit to that last bit - change nappies AND change the world). You can be anyone you want little Pip, anyone, anything - well, so long as you're kind, remember to say thank you to your mother and aren't a total arse.