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DADult Life | December 2, 2022

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You can’t play with it, you’re a girl

Girls and boys toys

As I’ve touched on, my social life is on its deathbed – but Roma’s is on fire. We’ve been to three children’s birthday parties in as many weeks and clearly we’re just getting started.

Having gone to one such soiree recently, Roma stumbled upon a group of kids all three to four years’ older than her and, naturally, nosiness kicked in. Sitting untouched was a boxed remote control car that would’ve been too advanced for her to handle but understandably the bright colours and mystery within made her gravitate towards it like a moth to a flame – or like Megan to Wes.

Now, Roma goes to nursery one day a week, as well as crèche and the odd baby group for a couple of hours, so she’s no stranger to other children. Of course, It goes without saying that at each of these places she’s taught to share and interact with others and can freely play with toys if they’re not being used. But Jenna and I have been teaching her manners from early doors too and, as someone who sees the red mist when I encounter rudeness, I’m extremely pleased “ta” was one of her first words.

Seconds of this RC car within her grasp though and the room’s eyes were suddenly fixed on the previously abandoned plastic toy. It prompted one girl, who was maybe four or five, to quickly take it from Roma and say, albeit diplomatically in a fashion a teacher would explain something to a student: “That’s for boys – you can’t play with it, you’re a girl.”

Wow. Did that actually just happen? I was shocked. I’m aware that, yes, cars are generally marketed to boys and dolls to girls – but really? From such a young age, are they already of the belief that they can and can’t do certain things based on their gender and nothing more?

I’m not going to wade too deeply into the choppy waters of the genderless child debate although, to be clear, Roma is a little girl. Facts. I’d never try to categorise or raise her as anything else, though I know that’s a different story for some parents.

But should that mean, as a girl, my daughter must be dressed in pink or only use dollies to be perceived as such? Should toy cars be forbidden? Is football off limits? Course not.

I’d be buzzing if she wanted a Batmobile to play with in a few years, even though it would likely fall into the category of “for boys”. Plus we’d probably squabble over whose turn it is to play with it.

In my day job, I’ll commonly report on women in business, employees and employers alike, and the accomplishments they’ve made despite challenges met on the way – whether that’s things like the gender pay gap, discrimination or otherwise.

As adults we talk about gender equality all the time, it’s forever in the news – as well it should be – and this scenario with the kids has made me think about how our decisions and actions as parents can shape their outlook on life.

When Roma is old enough to understand, if I were to say this is for boys, that’s for girls – what’s that going to teach her? That she is bound by limitations and restrictions.

Jenna and I were watching a BBC documentary called No More Boys and Girls not too long ago and the exchange I saw at the party made it spring to mind. The show followed a doctor who observed a primary school class, watching how the ideas of what it means to be boys and girls were shaped subconsciously at various points. There were different coat racks for boys and girls, the teacher used terms like mate for the boys and darling for the girls. Then there were job choices with the lads going for typical roles like mechanic and girls going for dancer.

By no means would either of those career paths be an issue for either gender. But it’s the trail of thought that led them there, which is surely no coincidence.

Seeing the “you can’t” first-hand – for something other than safety measures like: “For the tenth time, you can’t climb up onto the windowsill, Roma” – has certainly reinforced the fact that I will need to be more mindful and considered as she gets older. So that she needn’t feel like she can or can’t do something just because “you’re a girl”.

Related posts:

A mixed race dad’s take: Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding

Oprah’s Golden Globes speech: A vision of the world I want for my daughter

National Poetry Day: A poem I wrote for my daughter before she was born

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