By Cecilie Cohrt
My daughter is two years old. Her favorite color is blue. She also likes cars. The first piece of clothing she picked herself was a blue shirt with cars on it. It really shouldn’t be an issue. It also really shouldn’t be anyone’s business. But last month a man on the street stopped us and asked us why she was wearing boy’s clothing. And last week a member of the Danish Parliament, Pia Adelsteen, called this year’s Christmas catalogue from BR, “Ridiculous and perverted.” The reason was the catalogue portrays boys and girls playing together with all sorts of toys. And yes that means boys playing with dolls and girls playing with cars.
My daughter is two years old. She doesn’t know yet. But soon she will understand that her choices, her preferences are wrong in the eyes of some people. She will have to pick between going pink and being a ‘wrong’ sort of girl. And while her own choices will be undermined slowly by society’s pressure, what she doesn’t know is that the pressure would have been much worse if she had been a boy. Girls playing with cars and climbing trees are, you see, cool to some people. But boys playing with dolls… Oh, man it’s hard to find support there.
My daughter will soon (and sooner than I would like it) be three years old. And she will go to kindergarten. So these days we are kindergarten shopping. And I always ask if they have a gender policy. Because I’d like to find a kindergarten where being a child comes before being a boy or a girl. So I ask and usually I am told that, “It’s not a problem here. Girls play with boy toys too.” But you know, that’s not good enough. Because when the pedagogues refer to toys as ‘girl toys’ or ‘boy toys’ they also tell kids what they should do. So if you are a girl playing with a ‘boy toy’ you probably feel like it’s not really yours to play with. So if a boy comes over, you hand the toy over. It is a ‘boy toy’ after all, right?
You might think: But children are different. After all boys will be boys, right? And I will say yes. Boys will be boys. And just like girls, boys like to explore all sorts of different toys. And if we just let them be I’m pretty sure they’ll have a good time.
I met a friend last week. Her daughter just started kindergarten. And on day two the girl who hates dresses will wear nothing else. If my friend hadn’t spent time in the kindergarten with her child she would have been baffled. But she did. And she knows why her daughter is into dresses all of the sudden. You see on day one an older girl took her daughter aside and told her that girls wear dresses. Pants are for boys. And my friend’s socially intelligent little girl looked around and saw that it was true. So now she wears dresses too.
If this wasn’t about my daughter I’d probably feel sorry for Pia Adelsteen or anybody else who can feel threatened by children having fun and playing together (no matter what they play with). But this is about my daughter and your daughter or your son. It’s about society making them feel wrong for having preferences and for exploring the world. And it’s not only crippling on the personal level. We know that a society that doesn’t innovate, dies. So we actually need more options, more creativity and more fun – not less.
My daughter is two and this year she’ll really understand Christmas. And I can’t wait to show her the BR Christmas catalogue. Because in there she’ll see that playing with all sorts of things can be fun. Feeling that the world was a little bit better because of this I dug into another catalogue, the Føtex toy catalogue, and in there girls are only playing with dolls. So I wrote Føtex an e-mail. I asked them on what they based this choice. And the response was that they hadn’t segregated the toys. Because on page 20 there is a girl driving a car.
My daughter is two and I throw myself into this battle head first, full strength. Because I don’t want her to grow up in a society where we on one hand criticize Saudi Arabia heavily for not allowing women to drive and on the other hand think that girls driving is an anomaly. My daughter is two and I hope that I can make her strong enough for her to say: My favorite color – it’s BLUE!
Cecilie Cohrt holds a Master in Social Sciences from the University of Roskilde and has worked with educational policy and innovation for a decade. She is currently employed by the University of Copenhagen empowering students to seek career paths in small, innovative companies.