Pink ponies? Blue blasters? Now I'm seeing red

11th January 2008 at 00:00
Good job I didn't want the Power Ranger pyjamas for Christmas as I would have been disappointed. Because, according to Harvey, aged 5, I am a girl. Authoritatively he announced that I was only allowed a Barbie doll "or anything glittery".

I was shocked that someone so young had such fixed views. Where do these notions come from? Before the festive season, the media ran endless lists of suggested gifts for children: Star Wars Transformers Deluxe Death Star or house-shaped sewing kit? My Little Pony Ponyville Teapot Palace or Spider-Man Ultimate Web Blaster? In case anyone was confused, they were colour coded in, you've guessed it ... pink and blue.

Such stereotyping was also apparent in advertisements. The gadgets that might have broken down such outmoded ideas sadly failed to do so. The girls' Nintendo was pink; its games about helping lost kittens and choosing wallpaper.

Surely our schools are not contributing to this effect? Wrong. I find myself in a part of the building I don't normally venture into. Desperate for the toilet, I nip into the sixth-form girls' loos only to gag - not because there's a baguette down the U-bend again, but the colour. Everywhere is awash with lilac and pink. I ask the boys what colour their toilets are. Answer: neutral white. It could have been worse: I was all braced to be told baby blue.

Despite such colour-conditioning, one of the girls announces that she wants to join the combined cadet force. Slight problem: there are no female instructors. Undeterred, a female teacher steps into her camouflage combats to train and enable the pupil to participate. Such sisterly solidarity - and a world away from pink ponies and lilac loos.

Surely when girls leave school and enter the world of work, they won't encounter such issues. There's the equal pay and sex discrimination laws, after all. How naive. A "shocking gender pay gap" and "endemic prejudice" awaits them as soon as they start their careers, according to a report from the Higher Education Statistics Agency. Far from improving at executive level, the pay gap widens, with female directors earning 22 per cent less than their male counterparts, according to an investigation by the Institute of Directors. Why aren't women in comparable positions rewarded the same as their male counterparts? I feel my inner feminist being unleashed.

The sixth form invite me to participate in the debating society and speak against the motion "This house believes that men are better than women". I accept while wondering if I should don glitter-pink or emancipatory purple to bolster my argument.

Among my Christmas cards are some from former pupils. Zenna adds a note: "Thanks for making me realise that feminism isn't a dirty word, Mrs G." Men better than women? No. Different? Thankfully, yes. Equal in society? Sadly not.

Julie Greenhough, Teacher at a London boys' secondary school.

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