Saturday, 13 January 2018

His and hers

I saw these cards in a local post office just yesterday.

A card for a baby boy alongside a card for a baby girl, both clearly by the same manufacturer, a complementary pair in the same series of greetings cards. The card for the baby boy, as you can see, shows a cool, streetwise, adventurous-looking shoe in blue, red and white that looks as if it could take a bit of punishment. Any toddler putting that on is ready for action. The baby girl's is pink and dreamy, embellished with little hearts and flowers, and secured with a strap - a bit traditional and old-fashioned, and definitely not cool at all. 

Which would you rather wear, regardless of your gender and actual level of energy and naughtiness? Me, the so-called 'boy's shoes' every time. In reality, this is not even strictly a pair of boy's shoes. Any toddler taken out of the home might find themselves in such a shoe - because it's practical, and will obviously last longer than the pink shoe, which, if worn out of doors, will be ruined inside ten minutes. No mum would really want to throw money away like that.

So if you like, the pink girl's shoe is a fantasy shoe, and the designer and manufacturer of these cards thinks a picture of a shoe like this will press the right buttons in the mind of potential buyers. Presumably 'potential buyer' means Grandmother and various Aunties. It wouldn't include me. I'd try hard not to damn the baby girl with a false preconception of herself. She might turn out to be a dainty little rosy-cheeked creature with a mind naturally full of pink hearts and flowers, and pink ponies too - and if that's the case, well, who should try to change it? Let her be. But she might naturally incline to other things, and I don't think that she should be typecast at the outset, neither in her mind, nor anyone else's, as a decorative little angel in candy colours, who has no need whatever of snazzy action-shoes with grown-up laces.

I'm certainly flying in the face of general opinion. These cards wouldn't be on sale unless they did sell. Tradition tends to rule where important family events are concerned, and tradition clearly still demands - sadly - that baby boys must be associated with practical footwear, but not baby girls. 

Traditions do evolve, very gradually. So I was therefore quite surprised that - in this age of equal-treatment of the sexes, when something more than lip-service to this concept has become important - the prevailing attitude towards newly-arrived babies has not moved ahead. If I'd seen these two cards ten years ago - or certainly twenty years ago - I'd have thought little about it. Now, in 2018, making out that baby boys and girls are very different seems uncomfortably inappropriate. They start equal, but a lot of people want to subvert that, boosting the little boy's self-regard and diminishing or limiting the baby girl's self-image and self-confidence. It starts with this outmoded convention that it's still 'pink for girls' and 'blue for boys', plus all the associations that go with that. The result so far has been to make it easy for boys to grow dominant and controlling as they grow up, and the girls subservient and compliant. Plenty of people have broken this mould for themselves, but not society in general. 

When it's self-evident that false distinctions lead to bad outcomes, you start to speculate on which deep-rooted vested interests keep such fictions alive - and how to destroy them. It can't be done by force, nor by laws alone. You have to get hold of people's minds. I wonder what the best way is.


  1. This has been a sore point for me for some time Lucy. Interestingly, I was watching a video about the English composer Ralph Vaughn Williams. They showed a portrait of him at one or two years of age. He looked like a girl, and it reminded me that a hundred years ago, our society had a unisex way of dressing youngsters; they all were put in dresses. I'm not sure this means anything other than perhaps in time this pink and blue nonsense will also pass.

    As to what we might do to change such ingrained behaviours, I would suggest a powerful work of fiction; something that captures the imagination of thinking people and forces them to rethink the way things need to be.

  2. A powerful work of fiction! That seems like a great idea, Halle.



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