I've always worried about my girls growing up in an unequal world but up until recently have never had the same concerns for my son.
However, I realise this complacency is misguided. I am so lucky to have an amazingly sensitive, calm and caring little boy. I would say in touch with his feminine side should this not in itself be a hugely problematic statement. He is happiest role-playing, currently with his dolls and pram. His favourite colour has for a long time been pink. He wears his sister's flowery wellies and thinks that this is the best thing in the world. Unfortunately, I know that he lives in a world that doesn't think the same.
Every day I feel the blatant gender stereotyping and have to try and counteract it. From strangers, "Oh look at him with those dolls, I got rid of all mine once I knew my youngest was a boy"
Or even subconsciously from family, "What's your dolls name? Pam? Isn't it a boy?" The doll in question was wearing blue you see, which therefore means that of course it is a boy. Don't ask about the name, I have no idea. Jeez it is exhausting, trying to be on the ball when gendered stickers are given out, insisting to his sister (who has recently started school so now suddenly loves pink and princesses, curses) that he can be whatever he chooses to be when dressing up.
Even some of my friends, the ones most likely to be heard quoting Caitlin Moran, drew the line at the pink suit I had him wear when a toddler. Which does pretty much leave boys with about 3 colours to choose from as they grow up and begs the question as to where we start with making change happen. I myself felt slightly uncomfortable about it but I'm not sure why.
I sense sadly that there will be a time when he goes to school and these traits and preferences are knocked out of him. He will either conform to social norms (I imagine this will be the easiest option all round) or have to be pretty self-assured to go his own way. Am I setting him up to be teased by allowing and even encouraging these choices?
Perhaps it is less about toys and colours and more about how we can instill a strong belief in the importance of equality. In setting that example from the way we behave as role models, in talking about these issues as he gets old enough to understand. Because the thing is feminism is absolutely as much about protecting our boys as our girls. Everyone suffers when things aren't equal.
A blog by Lauren Laverne touches on this subject, she is right that boys are encouraged to be aggressive, strong and competitive right from day one.
This translates into the main breadwinners, the men of the house, the protectors.
How are we to have male partners that share the childcare equally and feel able to step back from their careers, if from day one they are told that dolls and caring roles are for girls? How are we to have male leaders that are balanced and empathetic if such traits are discouraged and seen as weak? My Father in Law is partial to using the term 'wuss' with my son if he displays any untypical masculine behaviour, you know like getting upset when someone else is hurt.
I'm unsure of the answers, it makes me uneasy to say the least. Campaigns such as Heforshe do wonders for raising the issue. There are also other great campaigns like Lettoysbetoys.
What I do know, more than ever, is that feminism is most definitely not a girls game and we do boys an absolute disservice if we don't start thinking about this a bit more from a very young age and challenging our own inbuilt preconceptions about what is normal. If I had my time again, the pink suit would be right back out!