It’s hard not to let gender stereotypes creep into parenting. But it’s also important to catch them and squash them …
At my 20-week scan, we opted to find out if we were having a boy or a girl. Some people have asked why. Didn’t we want a surprise? Did it matter?
I counter that having a baby is already surprising enough. It’s not like the day of birth was lacking in excitement. Secondly, knowing the gender helped me start a more human relationship with the growing baby in my belly. I started talking to ‘her’ instead of ‘it’. I imagined life with a girl.
And here’s where it began.
I imagined life with a girl.
Re-calibrating the future
I remember in perfect detail the moment the ultrasound technician said to me and my husband: “And here you can clearly see what it is.” Our blank faces, staring at the jelly blob on the screen, let her know we still had no idea. She pointed to something indistinguishable: “It’s a girl.”
Our silence was deafening.
After the appointment, we walked to the park together down a busy road. Still in silence. We were both frantically busy recalibrating the picture of our future – now with a daughter – in our heads.
At some point later that day, my husband queried with uncharacteristic uncertainty: “But can I still throw her about?” I frowned at him. This happens often. My main concern: “How far do you want to throw her?!”
This was one of the first gender-based conversations we had about our daughter, and I know it won’t be the last. We’ve since talked about what was going on in our heads after that appointment. To be clear – we would have been stunned into silence whether we’d been told girl or boy. The shock was because our baby had become more human. For the first time, we were thinking of life after pregnancy. Picturing how we’d be as parents. Unfortunately, some of our thoughts were hopelessly gender-stereotypical. My husband mentally cancelled his idea of raising the next England rugby player, and replaced it with an olympic medal-winning swimmer (his ambitions for her are still sky-high, he just doesn’t want a girl playing rugby). He thought about the shotgun he would need to purchase to ward off unwelcome suitors (i.e. everyone male). I thought about the brilliant clothes we could buy, and taking her to dance lessons.
We were already mentally inflicting our ideas of what being a girl entails.
De-stereotyping our house
In some ways I think having a girl has made more of a difference to me than it has to my husband. That’s purely because, as the oldest female in the house, I feel a sense of responsibility to be a guardian of the gender. Don’t get me wrong, I would hope to be a good role model for a daughter or a son. But, I want her to grow up seeing two parents with an equal relationship – both working hard, both taking caring of her. I don’t want us through our actions or words to influence her to think there’s anything she can’t do because she’s female. Apart from the obvious. You know – like – wee using a penis. There is the odd indisputable biological gender difference.
I often think our daughter is lucky to be born into a liberal society where there’s – for the most part – equal gender opportunities. I’m currently reading ‘I am Malala’ – the fantastic, eye-opening account of the Nobel Peace Prize winner’s childhood experiences in Pakistan. She opens by stating: “When I was born, people commiserated with my mother and nobody congratulated my father.” All because she was a she. That world she describes is alien to me. But, it doesn’t mean the one I know is perfect either.
Have you seen the Always advert #LikeAGirl? It’s brilliant. Watch it. It’s a reminder that there are still some niggling ways that girls in particular are belittled. It happens in our house occasionally. I’m sure in yours too. Sometimes my husband makes jokes to irritate that relate to me being female. For example, I’ll mention something to do with poor driving and he’ll say “you can’t help it, it’s because you’re a woman.” It’s the sort of light-hearted playground comment I hadn’t given much thought to before. But, maybe these remarks can have an impact. Maybe it’s time to rephrase them.
I can’t throw a ball particularly far. But let’s not say ‘I throw like a girl’. I simply throw like a person who’s not very good at throwing. I wonder what people said to Fatima Whitbread after they saw her javelin arcing powerfully through the air? You throw like a girl? Pffft I doubt it. She throws like a person who’s insanely excellent at throwing. #LikeAPerson.
So now, if my husband makes any of these little jokes, I ask him to just toddle over and share it with our daughter. He is absolutely mortified at the idea. He’s been brought up surrounded by strong women. He’d never seriously suggest girls are less competent at anything.
For my part, I’m trying to be conscious of not restricting her activities to classically feminine ones. Yes, I’m looking forward to taking her to ballet one day. But I accept she might hate it. And, I’ll be happy to take her to football practice too. If, when she starts talking, she tells me she never wants to wear another dress and prefers to be in trousers, that will be ok too.
And so, our house is – to the best of our ability – stereotype free. It’s not always easy. Have you been to a modern toy shop? The division of boys and girls toys is still pretty depressing. But we’ll just keep trying to keep gender out of the equation. I’ll leave you with the example from a friend. Her daughter, wistfully admiring her Barbie doll’s lifestyle of sports cars and servants, asked her Mum: “What would you do if you were Barbie?” She replied: “I’d finish my education, get a really good degree, and put my heart into a career that I loved.”
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