We have always made an effort with both of our daughters, not to stereotype, not to call things “girly”, or to use words like “tomboy”. We preach that all colours are for everybody, that looking beautiful is less important than being kind. That being kind is important, but so is being clever. It has mostly gone well. EldestGirl rejects any compliment based on her appearance and swears blind her favourite colour is yellow and she hates pink. (YoungestGirl insists her favourite colour is pink, but I am 90% sure this is just to piss off EldestGirl.)
We talk openly about how a lot of kids’ TV and books aren’t fair in that they have far more male characters than female. I admit to even going so far in my disgust for lack of representation of female characters in children’s literature, that I sneakily change half of the animals to female in Dear Zoo when reading to YoungestGirl, and when I’m reading to EldestGirl, I give some extra lines to Bess and Fanny (OK, Beth and Frannie in our versions) in the Faraway Tree series, as it seems to be Jo(e) who gets all the good ideas and orders the girls around.
I have explained to EldestGirl many times that she can wear whatever she wants – dresses, trousers, bows, ties – it doesn’t matter. And so can everybody else. Boys can wear dresses. Girls can wear football tops. I have told her that if she ever needs me to, and if she wishes it, I will fight for her right to choose trousers instead of a skirt. Just as, if I had a boy, I would fight for his right to wear skirts instead of trousers if he wanted to. She gets it.
She might have got it a bit too much.
We recently walked past the park near where we live, where two ten-year old girls were using a fallen branch to thrash the hell out of a sapling. With Jo-Jo Bows bobbing on their blonde heads, they whooped with joy every time they knocked down another bough. I had just come back from an event where I had been supervising many children, so I was a) totally over the very concept of children and b) still feeling bossy and a bit sanctimonious.
“Girls! Girls!” I said.
They spun around.
“What on earth do you think you’re doing to that poor tree? Leave it alone right now. Are your parents here? Right. Go over to them and tell them what you’ve done and don’t do it again.” They trotted away, tails between their legs.
I carried on walking with EldestGirl.
“Mummy,” EldestGirl hissed, clearly mortified.
“Yes sweetie,” I said. I prepared myself for a lecture on how I was embarrassing and shouldn’t tell off other people’s children.
“Mummy…. you called them girls,” EldestGirl whispered.
“Yes…” I said.
“Well, how did you know they were girls?” she asked.
I was nonplussed. “Well,” I said, “they were wearing dresses and had bows in their hair.”
“Oh Mummy,” said my politically-correct five year-old. “Boys can wear dresses too. And wear bows. You shouldn’t be so sexist.”