16/01/2015 11:38 GMT | Updated 20/05/2015 10:12 BST

​Is The Anti-Pink Movement Missing The Point?

Little boy on a plastic pink bike

Apparently girls who wear pink and play with dollies are in danger of derailing the future of the Women's Liberation Movement. Man, that's a lot of pressure to put on a five-year-old.

We've reached the point where little ladies who love sparkles and sequins are accused of letting down both themselves and their sisters in the struggle.

Professor Alice Roberts, anthropologist and TV presenter has admitted she's banned her daughter from having princess parties so she doesn't become obsessed with 'girlie' stereotypes. Mothers across the nation are in agreement, turning their homes into Elsa and Belle free zones. But for fear of what exactly?

Childhood should be about choice, discovery and freedom and playing with all manner of toys is a part of that learning curve. By focusing on driving girls away from the girlie we're missing the point. Toys are there to entertain our littles, but also to teach them all, boys and girls, a multitude of skills, from hand-eye co-ordination to socialisation.

And, with all the focus on steering little girls away from all things pink, we forget there's also a lack of equality when it comes to little boys.

My rambunctious son loves his tea set and train set in equal measure but, when I bought him a doll, the reaction, by people I'd formerly considered 'reasonable' human beings, came as a surprise. It was as if I'd dressed him in a tutu and played him Scissor Sisters CDs on repeat.

Then 18-months-old, he would cuddle baby Eric, pretend to feed him and put him to bed. Without siblings, it was heart-warming to see this caring, nurturing side of my bull-in-a-china shop boy.
As his childminder said, "Don't we want little boys to grow up to be good Daddies?" Playing with dolls is a means of teaching all children social skills of benefit to anyone wishing to raise a compassionate, caring human being.

Noah also went through a stage of hosting tea parties for a menagerie of furry friends, and yet, finding cups and saucers in primary colours was tougher than expected. Surely the ability to boil a kettle is a useful life skill for either gender.

Quite rightly, manufacturers have been a principal target in the call for an end to stereotyping. Let Toys Be Toys has campaigned against gender-specific marketing of children's toys with success. In the last year Marks & Spencer and the godfather of toy shops, Hamleys, have ditched signage directing boys towards traditional male toys and girls towards aisles of pink.

Megan Perryman, one of the campaign founders, says, "When you look at the way that toys and books are marketed today compared to the 1950s or even the 1980s it wasn't nearly so gendered as it is now. The aggressive pink or blue marketing is a new thing. It's a cynical approach that restricts children."

Earlier this year Jenny Willott, then acting Minister for Employment Relations and Consumer Affairs, went so far to suggest manufacturers driving of girls towards 'girls toys' results in a lack of women in science and engineering, damaging the future of Britain's economy.

Girls should be encouraged to aim high and pursue the career of their choice and it's a parent's job to support, cajole, even nudge their children but never to force them in directions they simply do not wish to go.

My local hairdresser, a burly, tattooed 20-something announced, aged 16, he wanted to style hair for a living but was pressured, by family and friends, to enrol on a plumbing course. Thankfully he quit to pursue his dream. As he says, "I just love cutting hair, I'd come in on my day off if they'd let me."

The key to equality must be choice, whether that is teenage boys choosing hairdressing over plumbing or little girls choosing Barbie over building blocks. Recently a seven-year-old girl prompted Tesco to remove a sign suggesting superheroes were 'boys toys'. Maggie Cole, a fan of Batman, Superman, Spiderman and Wonder Woman branded the retail giant 'stupid'. That's anti-gender stereotype campaigning at its very best, a little girl's own choice and voice calling for change.

Dr Amanda Gummer, a play and child development psychologist, founded the Good Toy Guide, a website offering advice and guidance on healthy play for youngsters. She says, "In some ways this anti-gender stereotype movement has gone too far, you get parents refusing to allow their daughter to play with dolls, offering building bricks instead. Children learn through play, it's about them expressing themselves. No child should be teased or stigmatised because they choose a particular toy."

At a recent birthday party a face painter asked my son what he wanted to be? "A pirate," he replied. Duly eye-patched and bearded he then donned the birthday girl's frothy pink tutu. At just two, for him, gender stereotyping is not an issue. It may well be when he's older.

For now, I will continue to encourage him to play with all kinds of toys in the hope that it helps him develop into a fully rounded, happy, confident human being. And because if he leaves home unable to make a cup of tea, I will feel as if I've failed as a mother.

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