My daughter is a tomboy and she enjoys boys' company. She wears boys' clothes (including a natty selection of red superhero underpants) and her favourite toys are Power Rangers figures, cars and trains. She reads Spiderman and Batman comics and is counting down the days until she's 7, because that's when I've said she can watch Star Wars.
At pre-school, Flea loved playing Power Rangers and Star Wars and Superheroes with her best friends, Thomas and Charlie. They ran races and rolled down hills and generally had a great time.
But when Flea started 'big school' that all changed.
This term, Flea is sitting at a table with three other little girls. Her class teacher tells me that the school is actively encouraging Flea to develop friendships with other girls, and so it seems that Flea is regularly partnered with little girls for PE or other school activities, and is placed next to little girls at lunchtime.
She's pragmatic about this turn of events, but Flea admits it's made life a bit more complicated. "Anya says she doesn't want to come for a play date at my house," she sighed last night. "She says she doesn't like any of my toys because she only likes pink."
Another of Flea's new friends was a little more open-minded and did come for a play date recently. The two little girls played dressing up – Flea dressed up as a ghost skeleton pirate with a sword while Amber searched our dressing up box in vain for anything resembling a princess or fairy outfit, before settling on a wizard's robes. And then they played in separate rooms, with a closed door between them, because Amber is scared of ghosts and pirates. I can think of more successful play dates.
It's not as though Flea's tomboy status is a sudden, or passing phase. When she was two, Flea decided she was going to be a boy. Every morning she would wake up, look inside her Thomas the Tank engine pyjamas and cry tears of bitter disappointment that she didn't yet have physical proof of her 'boy' status.
At the age of three, she decided on a new name: Aiden. She would only answer to Aiden when called, she would cry if I forgot, or called a 'good girl' without thinking. She wouldn't wear any colour she deemed to be 'for girls'. And this wasn't for a day or two – it went on for nine months. Even now, 18 months later, Flea's cousins still call her Aiden and parents from toddler groups we went to will regularly ask after my little boy.
I don't think that Flea's preferences have any deep psychological meaning. It's just that all of her heroes, from Peter Pan to Batman and Horrid Henry, are male. She has always preferred to play with small imaginary figures like Power Rangers or Marvel figures rather than dolls. She prefers cars to craft activities. And that means, in general, she has more fun playing with boys than girls.
Does it matter? At five years of age, children are children. Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt certainly don't see any harm in letting their daughter Shiloh look like a boy.
I spend so much time and energy trying to teach Flea that there's no such thing as a 'boys' toy' or a 'girls toy'. That girls and boys can both do anything they want to do, and people who think there are rules about those things are stupid.
So it infuriates me that teachers are sending the message to children that, actually, boys and girls are different. That it's best for girls to play with girls and be best friends with other girls. And boys should play with boys.
After a few months of school, one of Flea's best friends told her she couldn't join in with a game at playtime because she is a girl. She was heartbroken when she told me about it that evening.
I explained to Flea that it was a silly thing for her friend to say. We invited the little boy over for a play date and the friendship was mended over a game of soldiers and tanks.
But if teachers are demonstrating to children that gender does make you different, is it any wonder that children are learning not to play with whoever they choose? Or am I doing the wrong thing in not helping Flea be more like the other little girls in her class?
What do you think?
Do your children prefer the company of same sex or opposite?
Do they grow apart as they get older?
Do you think the teachers should interfere in friendships?
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