Exploring the gender divide with Dora
I took my three year old son to a family gathering in a pub’s reception room recently. As the adults chatted in clusters here and there, the children ran around like lunatics, chasing each other and screaming with laughter. My lad is best buddies with a same age girl cousin who lives near us. Some of the older girls ran into the ladies loo, with my son and his bestest buddy right behind them. That’s what they were playing – chasing each other. My son was the only one who failed to notice that the other boys all crashed to halt at the entrance to the loo. He did not understand or care about their shrieks when he charged in. I watched this out of the corner of my eye and within seconds a cluster of children ran to me screaming that my son was in the ladies toilet with a degree of hysteria you’d expect if he fell off a cliff.
I sauntered over, taking my time. Don’t panic, I said as they leapt around my feet like little terriers. It is not an emergency. But he’s in the LADIES!! THE LADIES TOILETS!! Right, which of you has separate toilets at home for boys and girls? No one answered. I quietly removed my son, fumbling to find the balance between motivating him to exit without really indulging the sex segregation mania. C’mon pet, it’s nearly time for us to go, come here and let’s start saying goodbye to your uncles and aunts.
In a store some months ago, he spotted a pair of Dora the Explorer pyjamas, and no, they were not in the boys’ section. He yelled at full volume that he wanted those Dora pyjamas. I panicked. I don’t think those are your size, luv, those are for bigger kids. Do I care if he wears Dora pyjamas? Not a hoot. Dora rocks. But I care if some nasty little brat in the store makes fun of him. I care if someone introduces their crazy ass gender rules by publically humiliating him. I told him on the way home that I would indeed get him Dora pyjamas another day. I was caught off guard, and I regret not having the guts to walk right over and get them that day.
Child development experts tell us children start to classify people into groups at age three. My son can group together different things. He can say these are cars and these are lorries. But as the son of a single, feminist mother, he is sheltered from the big bad world of pink and blue. I don’t do that shite. He is familiar with his anatomy and knows it is not universal, but he really doesn’t get the concept of two categories of people based on that distinction. My son has seen me put on a dressy frock. He has recently learned that that saying ‘oooh pretty mommy’ is a sure fire way to make me smile. He loves to help me cook. He has also seen me mow the garden, assemble flat pack furniture and make an assortment of minor household repairs. He is cheerfully oblivious to the notion of a sex based division of labour because it does not exist in our family.
But the storm clouds are gathering on the horizon. Recently he was playing with a boy a few years older than him, and the older boy decided to exclude a girl from their play. My son’s reaction was to be flattered he was chosen as part of the in group. It is hard to counter that thrill with talk of niceness or fairness. But how would you feel if it was you who was told you could not play? But he picked me, mommy! He picked MEEEE!!!
Many, many years ago, a close friend reacted with horror when I told her I wanted more than anything to have children, to be a mother. In her horrified dismay, she actually called me counter-revolutionary. She saw child rearing as the least feminist vocation on earth. She had it completely backwards. Raising children can be completely revolutionary. Categorizing is instinctive, but bigotry is learned. What if we just stopped teaching it to children?
One night at dinner, I was attempting to cajole my son to eat his vegetables and asked him if he wanted to be strong like his uncles. “No,” he said, “I want to be strong like you mommy, and like Fireman Sam.” Aaaaah, my little pet fills my heart with pride. I think his friend needs to spend more time playing at our house.
I bought those Dora pyjamas today. We got some strange looks, but my son was so excited clutching his bright pink treasure he was oblivious. Vive la revolution.