I knew I was a feminist when I dressed my boy in his sister’s old tights and some members of my family had a problem with it. Not a big problem. But they jeered (most politely of course since we are English) and said in an honestly bemused fashion
Why are you dressing him in girls’ tights?
When you’re a parent, you think twice about throwing away clothes that are hardly worn. You become a demon for recycling them around family and friends. It’s not even that you believe in less waste – but you simply don’t have the space to store them. But my 9 month old baby boy is growing at such an alarming rate that he is not far off his sister’s size in clothes. She has two years on him, but she wears them petite. These tights are stripey. Pink, red, green. Undeniably ‘girlish’ but still no frills, no butterflies and no fairies.
I laughed uneasily and said as a justification (wondering if it were true)
‘Oh since moving to Sweden I’ve become a complete feminist.’
My brother chimed in
‘You should have heard your daughter this morning. She said “We have to wipe my vulva.”‘
A hush fell over my family. Then my very, very outspoken sister said surprisingly
‘Couldn’t you call it something nicer? Like lady garden.’
‘There’s not much garden there.’ said my boyfriend easing the tension I felt mounting.
I recently oversaw the production of a wonderful article called ‘Terms of Endearment; naming our vagina, loving ourselves’ ; it’s a sex positive article helping woman love their anatomy by creating a set of euphemisms which are loving instead of derogatory. And until that morning, I lauded it. Until it occurred to me; the more euphemisms we have for it, the more we avoid the elephant in the room. It’s a step in the right direction of course, but let’s not call it what it is, because that word VAGINA …is too ugly.
Later on in the chemist in the aeroport, I was browsing the plasters for my daughter (it might seem an odd thing to browse, but she likes to stick them on even when the wound is infinitesimally small, or even non-existent, so we get through a lot). I was deliberating between Peppa Pig (which she loves) and Disney Cars (which she also loves). The choice was a tough one. Go against my values and give my 99p to Disney, a company responsible for perpetuating some of the worst myths about relationships and continuing to portray sexist values? or give my 99p to Peppa Pig (crime = being pink).
In the grand scheme of things, a set of plasters makes no difference. But my collective decisions about my son’s and my daughter’s environments shoehorns them into an identity. My sons clothes are brown. Dark blue. Green. Black. Mini combat trousers. Mini puffer jackets. Mini sweatshirts. My boy is only allowed to be a soldier, a rapper, or a sportsman. According to the powers that be in the children’s fashion world, these are acceptable role models. My daughter’s clothes are a panoply of colours. But few are brown or army green and her only black clothes are slimfit jeans. Why should my boy be destined for dullness? Does his clothing world not deserve a little colour?
Some things are changing in the industry. This year, the London department store Harrods redesigned its toy department to organize it by theme rather than by gender. Swedish toy firm Top-Toy published a gender-neutral catalog in which boys were shown playing with a kitchen set and hair dryer and a girl was shown shooting a toy gun.
Hasbro this week announced it has spent the past 18 months developing an Easy-Bake Oven in the gender-neutral colors of black and silver. It made the announcement after meeting with McKenna Pope, the Garfield, N.J., 13-year-old whose online petition asking the company to make one attractive to all kids gathered tens of thousands of signatures. Hasbro says it knows both boys and girls have fun playing with the Easy-Bake.
I am of course proud that Top Toy – a Swedish firm – should lead the way in gender neutrality (albeit appalled that we should think that playing ‘murder’ is still an appropriate game, especially in light of recent tragic school shootings). And yet as much as I deplore the outside world for it’s influences, it is only a reflection of what happens in the home. My home. We have ‘blue’ jobs and ‘pink’ jobs (we actually call them like this). I shop for food. I cook the food. I do all the washing. And although we struggle to divide the cleaning equally, I see dirt… and my boyfriend does not.
As always, the outrage I feel when looking out is simply a manifestation of the dislike I feel about my own habits. Thus for the sake of my children, and our world I must continue to be very conscious of my choices. I want things to change. But I must also change.