Have you seen the #thisgirlcan campaign? Showing women and girls everywhere that it's totally cool to get sweaty, wobble about and have fun playing sport. I adore it! I feel like little girls are growing up in a world where a lot of us are making big efforts to make the world a better place for women. I'm so into it that I NEARLY asked someone to take a picture of me trampolining the other day. Nearly.
Now I'm dreaming of a #thisBOYcan campaign, full of pictures of boys dancing and doing gymnastics, to take the internet by storm. Which it won't.
My son (a three year old) attended a dance class this week. He was excited, because dancing is his favourite thing to do. Within 5 minutes of the class starting he was in tears. He couldn't verbalise what was wrong at the time, but looking back it was probably the combination of a few things:
He was the only boy (not a problem)
The girls were all wearing pink dresses and he was wearing a red t shirt and black leggings (also not a problem)
One of the mums before the class said "now I hope you'll all be kind princesses and listen nicely" (slightly nauseating but not really a problem).
When the class started, the teacher referred to the children (6 girls and my son) as "girls" or (BLEURGH) "girlies" throughout (hmm slight problem. Idiot dance teacher!)
The message my son got loud and clear from the sum of those trivial little things: This is not for you.
The thing you love most in life, to throw shapes and perform: That's not for boys.
My son, my expressive, theatrical, show-stopper of a son. A boy who dances down the road, whose awesome dance moves stop people in the street... Never wants to go to dance class again.
He is THREE. He wants to dance, and sing and do cartwheels and he's already learning that that makes him 'different'.
I'm heartbroken. I'm livid. I feel helpless. I want to scream from the rooftops that the world is a crazy place. (I won't. Because being on a roof, screaming about crazy is kind of a pot and kettle situation.)
I think all children go through this, the increased awareness of the expectation to conform, to align themselves firmly to their gender group. Girls go mad for all things pink around this age and boys go basically a bit feral and 'boyish'. It's natural. Or is it? Maybe it's unnatural for the gender divide to be SO strong at such a young age.
I just think that this transition, from "toddler child" to "BOY" is going to be harder for me and my son than most. Because we have raised him to believe strongly that girls and boys are equal in every way and that anyone can do anything. Sadly, the real world is contradicting us already, at the tender age of 3. Not everyone can be or do anything, because it's really, really hard to be an outsider, to go against the grain and to put yourself in a position of being 'different'.
So yes. I do go on a lot about gender neutral toys.
I do correct people when they say that something is for boys or for girls.
I do point out female bus drivers and male nurses to my kids on a regular basis.
I do get cross when people offer my son a car before a doll, or ask him what football team he supports when he'd rather show them his handstand.
And yes, I'm sure it's annoying, and probably futile, but I won't stop. I don't care how many people it annoys, I will make sure my boy knows that I believe it is wrong to say that certain things are for boys and certain things are for girls.
I know this won't change anything though. I know he'll probably have to learn to play football in order to make friends at school despite having no interest in it. I know he'll probably stop going to his beloved gymnastics class when he realises that's a "girls" thing too. When we ask him what he wants to be when he grows up, he will soon stop saying "my gymnastics coach" and say "army space fighter". But I wish I could change the world for him overnight, and watch him grow up being truly accepted for who he is, whoever he is: strong or weak, masculine or feminine, tough or gentle.
This is why boys need feminism as much as (if not more than) girls. If we lived in a truly feminist society, where 'feminine' characteristics were respected and valued, boys and men would feel able to show the world that they have those characteristics too, rather than spend their lives from the age of 3 onwards desperately trying not to appear 'girly'. Wouldn't a world where kind, caring and nurturing were held in as high esteem as strong, powerful and tough be a good place to live?
So if you need me, I'll be up here on this soap box, banging on about pink and blue until the cows come home and occassionally sobbing about my own little Billy Elliot.
Dude don't need no lessons anyhow. #selftaught