Here are the seven ways I fail at gender-neutral parenting:
1) I painted my daughter’s new bedroom peach and bright yellow and my 6 yr old boy’s bedroom grey and black.
2) I bought some “boy” and “girl” toys for the party bags for my son’s birthday. Including pretty stickers & hair clips vs robot stickers & cars.
3) My son loves football and my daughter loves dancing. I actively encourage both.
4) Gus had Thomas the Tank crockery when he was little. I bought Joni Peppa Pig stuff when she came along.
5) Gus’s wardrobe was lots of reds, yellows, greens as well as blue when he was little but now his wardrobe is made up of black, brown and grey. Joni has those colours too but also ALL the colours and a big dollop of yellow, pink and purple.
6) Gus had fairly neutral toys until about one but then he was drawn towards cars, trains and balls. So that’s what we bought. Joni was obsessed with dolls by the age of one. Admittedly introduced by the child-minder but obssessed nontheless. She now has quite the collection.
7) Gus had a blue scooter to get to school. It’s a bit old and shabby now but perfectly serviceable. However, Joni is getting a pink one for her birthday.
I don’t necessarily think these are brilliant parenting decisions but they are informed decisions of a parent who very much thinks of herself as a feminist. The thing is, these decisions in the most part are led by my kids. They, rightly or wrongly, are drawn to certain toys, colours, activities and I am not going to stop them just because they’re not the most “progressive” decisions. They are led by their own tastes, societies tastes and the tastes of their peers. While I am aware that forcing girls to wear pink and be obsessed with princesses vs boys wanting to be superheros and sportstars is just plain silly I think there has to be a compromise. Kids, for the most part, don’t want to feel apart from the “pack”. They like doing things their friends do and as parents, although we can try and influence their tastes and decisions I think it would be cruel to force them to do / be / wear things they don’t feel comfortable with.
Saying that, there are loads of ways I DO do gender neutral parenting well. My kids are growing up in a household where both parents have jobs, we both share all household tasks and childcare equally, we never tolerate “girls do/like this and boys like/do this”, we will bring them both up to treat everyone as an equal, Joni will be encouraged to do or be whatever she wants and I pray that the glass ceiling will at least be cracked when she gets there, Gus is taught that he can cry and be as emotional as he likes and never told to “man up” or “stop acting like a girl”.
And in lots of ways they reject stereotypes too….. they both completely love Lego and construction but they both love playing with the kitchen and food toys too. Gus wants to grow his hair long like his rocker Dad, loves drawing spends hours sitting quietly to do it and doesn’t give a monkeys that his male classmates all have short hair and love charging around playing sports. Joni, when recently faced with hand-me-down dress up clothes completely eschewed the fairy tutus and princess gowns and went straight for the lion outfit, and we’ve been hard pressed to get it off her since.
I think approaching parenting with a slightly different view to the “norm” is usually best done with common sense. Yes you could be brave / staunch in your approach … shave your kids head, refuse reveal their gender and expect the world to treat them neutrally but the reality is, the world can be cruel. It’s better to ease them into it than throw them in at the deep end, surely?
I asked a couple of bloggy friends for their examples of bad feminist parenting. For the most part, they put me to shame! They are actively giving two fingers up to stereotypes! Here are some of their contributions:
Sally from Bear andCardigan said: “I bought Bear a baby doll in pink for his Christmas present. He chose blue wellies and a blue football from all those available.”
Ceri from ContentMum said: “I bought Fred a dustpan and brush.. Picked the bloody blue one didn't I?!!! (Yes, I like my 14 month old to do chores!)”
Vicky from EarthBased Fun said: “I often used to put Dylan in tights when baby wearing and I’d always get comments from folk horrified a boy was wearing tights, but hey it keeps them warm!”
Ojo from Ojo’sWorld said: “My middle son, a few years ago, was browsing the Argos catalogue. He looked at toys for himself, then power tools for daddy. Then he says 'ooh mam, I found stuff for you?' I enquire what it was, his answer: 'I dunno, kitchen stuff' Gender neutral does not exist in this house, I'm afraid 😂”
But I absolutely love this, Jo from First Time Valley Mum: “ I let Z pick My Little Pony toys after he had his teeth out 😂 he also walked around for weeks with a doll. My husband hated it!”
What are your feminist parenting fails and wins? I need to know I am not alone in the struggle! Please comment / Tweet or FB me yours!