Can you believe that my daughter is going to be 1 this week? I can't, and I've been a bit slow in the buying of birthday gifts in comparison to when her big brother turned one. Denial? Probably. But it was in buying her special first birthday gift that got me to thinking
I think we were all pretty pleased when the Let Toys Be Toys campaign started to make their mark, and the likes of Toys R Us and Marks and Spencers changed their toy marketing. No longer would there be 'girls' toys and 'boys' toys - just toys. It makes sense - why should children be steered to a style of toy based on solely on their gender? They shouldn't of course, and retailers were finally taking note that we wanted to allow our children free rein over what they did or didn't want to play with.
So toys are just toys (as they always were) and people are quickly realising that having a penis isn't a prerequisite for enjoying Lego, or Star Wars, or wanting to play outside with a ball, any more than having a vagina is essential for playing dress up, or shops, or looking after a dolly. When we have come so far in women being able to do pretty much every job a man can (bar perhaps a penis model or male stripper), it seems ridiculous that it has taken us so long to figure out the same thing about our childrens play.
But (and there always has to be a but, eh?)
Gender neutrality has become a buzzword, to the point it seems to be something parents aspire too. Gentle parenting groups are full of 'guess if my baby is a girl or a boy' competitions, which seems to be a bizarre way of displaying just how gender neutral and 'hip' their families are, when people inevitably get it wrong. Some parents even go as far as to attempt to raise their children entirely genderless - giving them a unisex name, and raising them neither as a boy or a girl. The media went wild when Adele recently went out with her son in an Anna costume, and she was hailed as some sort of forward thinking parenting hero...
More like just a normal parent letting their kid wear whatever ridiculous costume they want because the meltdown that would ensue to get them out of it would tip mum over the edge. Less parenting hero, smashing 'gender barriers', more lazy mum who doesn't give a f*ck (and that's worth celebrating too, I'm not hating here!).
Now, getting back to my daughters birthday. I was struggling to think of a gift (because her brother has everything) and I eventually decided I'd like to buy her a ragdoll. I still remember how much I loved my first doll (a baby James, if you are a child of the 80's, it's likely you had one too), and he's still at my parents (albeit languishing in the loft covered in biro pen) and I wanted her to have that same special feeling with a doll of her own.
And then I checked myself. Was I condemning my child to a life of fluff and pink tat by 'conditioning' her to like dolls from an early age? Should I be encouraging her love of her brothers tool kit and light sabers instead? Was I failing at parenting my daughter to become a strong, independent woman before I'd even started?
Thankfully, I realised how bloody ridiculous I was being. Then I was annoyed that I'd even had those thoughts. How have we got to the point where I felt like admitting to liking something 'girly' was wrong? I want my daughter to be proud to be a girl. I want her to know her own mind, and to know what she likes. Whether thats dolls, ponies and floaty dresses, or bikes, mud and climbing up trees. Or both. She doesn't have to choose. She can be a tutu wearing tree climber with bows in her hair for all I care. If her brother wants to don a tutu and do the same, great. If he'd rather not get leaves all over his bright white Stormtroopers outfit, then that's fine too.
Gender neutrality has it's place, I understand that. But we're in danger of taking it too far and confusing our children entirely. We should be embracing their genders, showing them how wonderful it is to be whoever and whatever they are. Giving them the space, time and opportunities to test their bodies and their minds, and seeing how far they can push them. Teaching them to be proud, teaching them how to look after and respect the body they have been given. How can we expect them to be strong and confident when we are neutralising part of their very being, encouraging them to deny what biology determined - in fact, what we ourselves as parents determined - at the point of conception?
So my daughter is getting her rag doll; a pretty little thing with pink shoes.. And she's having a massive, bright, pink number 1 birthday balloon. There may possibly be pink icing on her cake (if my cake making skills take me that far). Oh and she's going to wear a dress (because Granny bought it and it's been hung up in the wardrobe ever since).
She's a little girl, and we're going to celebrate that, for now and always. Yes she can play with anything she likes, but I want her to know that her gender is a blessing, not a curse.
Find more at www.anotherbun.co.uk
This post first appeared here