A summary of this month's discussions about gender.
This month we had a fascinating, impassioned discussion about gender and sexism, both during pregnancy, for our children, and on our returns to work.
The majority of our discussion focussed on thinking about how marketing of products, clothes and toys for children impacts on their development from a very young age.
We watched a both hilarious and terrifying video about gender marketing that details the length to which companies will go to create a demand for a gendered version of an identical product. (You can see the video below)
Dove soap was a good example, the same soap in a different box with square corners is for men. Round corners for women. We all know the hilarious failure of Bic pens for ladies. (read the reviews for the lady pen here!)
How does it impact on us and our children? Well, there was no shortage of anecdotes about children being bought a particular colour toy, being told that a certain item wasn't for them, or being dissuaded from certain activity because of their sex.
But the majority of our experiences were of a more insidious kind of genderisation. Children being bought certain types of toys from birth, let's say cars for example, leading parents and family to belive that that they prefer that, when in reality it may be more to do with them simply having less experience of dolls, or the child not being ready developmentally for the type of play associated with dolls. One member talked about being asked not to take her refusal to conform to gender steretypes 'too far' but none of us were really sure what too far looked like, or what would happen if you went there.
Of course, babies are fairly oblivious to all this. Or are they?
There is evidence that the toys we choose for our children to play with shape the way their brains develop. Caroline Paul talks here about how differently we respond to boys and girls when it comes to physical risk taking. We encourage girls to be cautious and boys to be brave, without even realising it. (see the TED talk here)
I shared some research from my work with thousands of children aged 5-18. I shared summaries of their responses to an activity about job choices. When offered six photos of children and eight job roles, their choices of who would have which job were extremely gendered and got worse as they got older. They didn't talk about their being statistically fewer women in the building trade, they said it's not a job for girls, it's not an option, girls don't like getting dirty and they're scared of heights!
We also talked about attitudes to women, pregnant and postnatal, from the work place to the wider family and what those gendered expectations meant for us and how we tackled them.
We decided to sign an open letter to manufacturers calling for change, which will appear here shortly, and we agreed to take small actions ourselves.
My aim is to stop gendering other children and toys. Mr Fox is now just fox. the character in the Duplo set is no longer Mrs Yellow-Head. And I will no longer say 'wait for the little girl to go down the slide first' instead, I will simply refer to them as a little person. It's not much, but it's also not hard, and if I am consistent I hope to show my child that gender and sex (let's not forget they are very different things) are really not very important.
What small actions can you take?