When I was very small, probably around 2, I decided on my favourite colour. Looking back, I struggled with the idea of a favourite colour (how can you choose?) but realised that it was an important question that all children must know the answer to. My answer was pink. This decision wasn't based on aesthetics, it was based on expectation. I was a girl, therefore my favourite colour would be pink. Although my answer to the question changed as years when by, the influence remained in more subtle ways.
Children continue to be heavily influenced by society's expectation for different genders. Here's a little test for you. I'll give the descriptions of characters from the children's TV programme, Waybuloo taken from the CBeebies website and you decide if the characters are male or female.
1. Full of fun, mischievous and loves surprises.
2. Creative and thrives when dancing or painting.
3. Practical and inventive, happiest when making things.
4. Thoughtful, caring and loves gardening.
(answers at the bottom!).
My mother came across these wonderful items in a toyshop. Magnetic words, supposedly linked to the National Literacy Strategy separated into girls' words and boys' words. Boys get climbing, helicopter, snails and mud while girls are offered cooking, dancing, lipstick and (I can barely contain myself for this one,) fluff! Apparently even our language needs to be polarised between words suitable for the two sexes.
These stereotypes may well suit some children, but the problem is that they do not suit all, and the pressures of conforming to something you are not at such a young age must be damaging. Girls who climb trees or don't want to pretend to be Hannah Montana are deemed 'tomboys' as I remember calling myself as a child in the post-pink days. The judgements on a boy who prefers playing with dolls to football are even more damning.
I have always hoped that my children will be able to choose what they do, wear and say based on their own thoughts and feelings, not because it fits with the expectations of society. It seems that this might be a more challenging dream than I had realised.
In case you are burning with the need to know the gender of the Waybuloo characters, the answers are 1. male, 2. female, 3. male, 4. female. If you got them all right give your self a gender specific pat on the back.