Is it any wonder there is no equality?

22nd February 2008 at 00:00
Research has shown that we hold baby girls differently from wee boys. The lads get to bounce about, while little girls get cradled.

We also dress them differently - girls are firmly in the pink and frills, while boys are in blues and browns. Worse still, the clothes are miniatures of adult clothing - bad enough for the boys, but it means we are dressing small girls in clothes better suited to discos.

Then, to my horror, looking through a children's toy catalogue, I find we are doing the same thing to their toys. Almost everything is made in two colours, pink or blue - bikes, tents, snorkels, CD players. Little girls are brainwashed into being frou-frou fairies while the boys get to be macho men.

Worse than that, it would seem to inhibit boys from playing with girls, if it means going into a pink tent - and girls from playing with boys, if the bike is blue.

And, as ever, there's a strong gender bias: girls have miniature cleaning implements and cookers (also in pink, to make sure everyone knows who they are for), while the boys get all the forts and diggers.

This is not good for our children. Boys are given a consistently clear message about their playthings and role in society from the earliest point. But girls are caught in a tension between pink and pretty, and educational expectation and opportunity which expects them to aim to be vets, doctors and scientists.

So, although girls are doing better in exams than boys, this has led to a flurry of anxiety about the boys not doing so well. But to create such gender division in their toys strikes me as a step backwards, a way of establishing and enforcing differences, when we should be looking to encourage boys to work harder and girls to dress less pinkly.

Young people need to see themselves as equals, and they can only do that if we treat them as such - bouncing the girls more, cradling the boys and dressing them all in functional clothes. And they should all have access to all toys, by making them in yellow, orange, green and purple.

Penny Ward is a secondary teacher.

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