I’m a mum, a godparent and an aunt to a brilliant set of girls and boys.
And if it’s taught me anything, it’s that every child is unique. My godson loves playing with fire engines and My Little Ponies. My niece wears princess dresses and is awesome at climbing. Our daughter loves building towers and eating crayons. None of their choices are based on their gender. It is, and should be, meaningless.
But as parents (and aunts and godparents), we’re becoming more aware of how gender does affect the way children are treated. In a much-shared clip from a BBC documentary earlier this year, toddlers were dressed in “boy” clothes and “girl” clothes to see if people gave them different toys to play with. And they did! Girls were sat down with dolls and pink teddies while the boys were given active toys and puzzles.
We might think we’d behave differently, but so did the men and women in the programme – they were surprised that they’d unconsciously made these choices. A lot of how we treat boys and girls is drummed into us from a young age – we’re more likely to tell a girl to be careful or not to do something because it’s dangerous, says The Gutsy Girl author Caroline Paul. And we’re more likely to tell a boy to be brave or not to cry, says Robert Webb, who published How Not to be a Boy.
And if we think our kids are immune to the effects of this kind of stereotyping, we only have to listen to the 7-year-old kids in the same BBC documentary to see that they’re probably not. All but one girl said boys were “better” than them, with one girl saying she thought they were “better at being in charge”, and another saying “girls are better at being pretty”.
So how do we prepare our kids to challenge these stereotypes by themselves? I’m going to start by stuffing their stockings with these toys and books. I hope you’ll find something useful here for the unique boys and girls in your life…
1 The Declaration of the Rights of Boys and Girls by Elisabeth Brami
This is a book of two halves – they can read the girls’ side or the boys’ side (although of course they will and should read both). It sets out how girls have as much right as boys to be scruffy, untidy, hyper and to do any job they like and boys have as much right as girls to cry, play with dolls, wear pink and to like reading.
2 Crazy Forts by Everest Toys
These sets encourage adventurous girls and boys to build the den structures that they can cover with blankets or bedsheets. There’s a cool glow-in-the dark version, too. With girls and boys on the packaging, it gets a big thumbs up!
3 A Book of Feelings by Amanda McCardie and Salvatore Rubbino
I searched high and low for a book about feelings that a boy could relate to as well as a girl. This one’s about the many emotions experienced by a brother and sister. I love how real the emotions feel as Rubbino’s expressive illustrations bring the characters alive.
After wading through a sea of pink craft sets showing girls sewing, making jewellery and adding sparkle to princess dresses, it was a relief to find something cuddly and gender-neutral that will appeal to arty girls and boys.
5 Little People Big Dreams by Isabel Sanchez Vegara
These picture book profiles of real women are beautifully illustrated and simply told. From Amelia Earhart to Ella Fitzgerald, they are tales to inspire both girls and boys.