It is easily done: how often have you opted not sit next to a stranger on the train because they look ever so slightly odd?
The trouble is, stereotyping or putting people into boxes tends to make us more comfortable and takes many of us back to a ‘simpler’ time, when things made more sense. If that time ever existed, of course!
In the past week I have read two news articles about girls which have made me cross for completely different reasons. One was a public relations gimmick, masquerading as a ‘news story’, which highlighted 50 things that dads of little girls should know.
The second was based on a report by three American universities which concluded that by the age of six, some girls don’t think it is possible to be as brilliant as their male counterparts. As a dad to an engaging, sensitive seven-year-old,it was impossible for my shoulders not to drop in disappointment at the sheer inevitability of it all.
I wasn’t surprised to read the ‘what all dads need to know’ article, particularly on discovering that it was the creation of doll manufacturer Mattel. While it may have been seen as a fun thing to do, the list, which included knowing how to both shop and do a French plait, is less than helpful if, like me, your daughter point blank refuses to adhere to perceived normality.
The list, coinciding with the company’s latest advert in America, which depicts ‘normal’ dads playing with their daughters and their Barbies, also acknowledges that girls like to climb and some may even like football.
While it is clearly a piece of marketing guff, the article and the advertising campaign reinforce the stereotype that all girls like dolls, glitter and cartwheels. They don’t.
One of my proudest achievements thus far was teaching my then two-year-old the Pompey Chimes and she now accompanies me to matches in far flung places such as Cleethorpes. And if I ever attempted to put any plait in her hair, never mind a French one, I would be swiftly dispatched with a Miss Piggy-style karate chop.
But it all becomes more serious if we dwell on the academic study in the States which examined the behaviours of children aged between the ages of five and seven. The research concluded that from six upwards that girls were less likely to associate brilliance with their own gender than boys were.
The researchers wanted to discover how soon differences in attitudes between the sexes occurs. My eldest child is now at an age where self consciousness is beginning to dictate how she behaves – what she really needs to know is that everybody is different.
I am not one of those who thinks a truly equal society is unachievable but until we are rid of lazy stereotypes, we are not going to get there quickly.