I talk to my sons about gender a lot, questioning stereotypes wherever we see them (which is, you know, pretty much everywhere). I let them choose their own clothes and don’t steer them away from anything pink or particularly girly: 8-year-old Harry recently picked out a pink jumper from the girls’ section of a shop because it looks a bit like his favourite Nintendo character, Kirby; 3-year-old Joe has had a series of Peppa Pig tops from the girls’ section in Asda (and whenever he wears them, people think he’s a girl).
Harry recently asked for The VTech Secret Safe Diary, which he’s seen advertised on TV. Fine. But then I looked at it in the shop and on the side of the box found that one of its features is: ‘Girly activities teach words maths, logic and creativity.’
Seriously? What exactly is ‘girly maths’? If a man and a woman do the same job, why is the woman paid 23% less? There is no way on earth I want that nonsense in my house.
But when I told Harry I really didn’t want to buy it for him, he got very annoyed, not even giving me a chance to explain. “Just because it’s pink doesn’t mean it’s just for girls!” he said, adding, “You should know that!” for good measure. “I know,” I said. “That’s not my problem. It says it’s got ‘girly activities for maths’ and that’s just annoying and wrong.” He rolled his eyes at me and said, “Girls can do maths too!” And so I wonder if I’m just confusing him. God knows, I confuse myself. If I buy him this am I challenging gender stereotypes and teaching him to do the same? Or am I just perpetuating this kind of offensive marketing. Apart from anything else, VTech would neither know nor care that I’d bought it for a boy, to them it would just be another sale and more proof that gendered toys sell well.
I recently read a couple of brilliant posts on Pinkstinks about why pinkification is as bad for boys as it is for girls: What About Boys: Part 1 and Part 2 . I’m sure they’re right and that ‘Swapping the pink toys around is not only counter-productive – it’s just as, if not more harmful.’ What I can’t yet work out is how I explain that to an 8-year-old. If anyone has any advice, I’d be delighted to hear it.