Yesterday, my daughter was telling me one of her many stories from school, and she asked me if I had ever seen a boy who was interested in girlish activities. I asked her what do “girlish activities” mean, and she told me that they are things like playing with dolls, doing arts and crafts, making loom bands etc. Mind you, this is an almost 9-year-old who has never played with dolls, and whose elder brother was obsessed with making loom bands at one point in time. Naturally, I was very concerned.
I tried to explain to her that there is no such thing as girlish or boyish activities; everyone should be free to do what they like without fear of judgement, and that she needs to support her friends rather than judge them. After all, she has never been interested in dolls, and likes to play volleyball and tennis.
This conversation got me thinking about things that are influencing children’s minds these days, and how it is impossible to keep them away from these influences. I have tried to stay away from assigning gender specific roles to my children. Everyone is supposed to pitch in, and there are no girls’ chores or boys’ chores. Of course there are times when some things are for boys, and some for girls, but by and large, I have encouraged them to do what they like.
A few years back, when the kids were younger and didn’t have access to iPads and laptops, they were only allowed to watch one TV channel, and that too for only an hour. During that hour, there was one cartoon that always made me irritated and I hated that my kids seemed to love it. There was nothing wrong with the cartoon itself as it was about a six-year-old boy called Eliot Kid, who had wild imagination. What made me see red, was the fact that this boy had two best friends, and the girl best friend was in love with Eliot, while Eliot was in love with the most popular girl in his class, who was blonde and a stereotype if I ever saw one! Now, what in the world made the creators of this cartoon think that it is ok for six-year-olds to moon over the opposite sex, effectively telling children all over the world that it is not possible for a girl and a boy to be just friends even at such a young age?
Then, my daughter grew up a bit and started reading. She is not as prolific a reader as her brothers, but she does like to read. At first, I had trouble getting her interested in books since her brothers were more into mysteries and adventures, while she seemed to prefer something different. I was really happy when she found her type of books in The Naughtiest Girl and Malory Towers book series by Enid Blyton. Her reading preferences were different from the boys, but she was her own individual, and I loved that she was different.
Then came the popular books. Kids in her school were reading The Dork Diaries, and I was letting the boys read Diary of a Wimpy Kid, so why couldn’t she read what her friends were reading. Fair enough. Hence started the invasion of books like Dear Dumb Diary, Dork Diaries, and various Jacqueline Wilson books. I had little choice in the matter, not because my daughter is stubborn, but because there are so few options.
I understand that girls and boys have different tastes, and I don’t want to force any of my kids to read anything they don’t want to, but is it necessary to have such a stark contrast between a “boys” book and a “girls” book? While boys are always off on adventures, playing sports, or being naughty at school, girls are giggling away over makeup and boys. I’m sick and tired of reading about girls who don’t fit in because of what they wear, and who suddenly become acceptable because they start wearing makeup and nice clothes; or girls who like boys and spend a whole book trying to catch their attention; or mean girls who have nothing better to do than torment other girls, and who are always the best dressed with their makeup on point.
The books that are being written for upper elementary and middle school age girls are reminiscent of the books I used to read in my teens. I don’t want my daughter to be conscious of her looks or her dressing. She is too young to be worrying about that. She has to learn that she can be friends with everyone without there being an element of romance and talk of crushes. She needs to be comfortable in her own skin, and with all like-minded people, regardless of their gender.
Thankfully, my daughter is being raised with a brother who is just one year older to her, making him her best friend, and both of them comfortable with each other’s friends. However, as they spend more and more time in school, I cannot help but wonder if things will stay this way for long.
Recently, a friend has recommended a few books that seem to be different from the usual books displayed prominently in every bookstore. I’m trying to get these books and can’t wait for my daughter to read them. Until then, I will keep trying to get her to read the A Wrinkle in Time series, and if I’m very, very lucky, maybe Anne of Green Gables.