“Boys will be boys” was a common sentiment back in the day, usually trotted out by the sort of parents who looked on indulgently as their little lads hit stuff with sticks, or pretended to machine-gun cats.
“Girls will be girls” was, and is, less used. Does it mean wanting to be a useless princess, longing to look after dolls and wanting a pink plastic kitchen for Christmas?
You see the gender stereotyping I used just then? Generalising about boys and girls is ridiculously easy. It’s all around us, especially in our shops.
Try it. Walk into the children’s clothing department of a couple of High Street stores or supermarkets, or go online, and note the slogans and motifs used for each gender.
I’ve just been looking at Mothercare, first port of call for many new parents. It has a unisex section, but boy section clothing features dinosaurs, bears, cars, fire engines, rockets and slogans including “Here comes the fun” and “Awesome”. Girls get pink mice, cats and bunnies, hearts, flowers, cake, and slogans including “Hunny Bunny” and “Beautiful like Mummy”.
I kid you not. I don’t think it was so delineated when my kids were babies 20 years ago, or even when I was a child. I don’t remember ever being dressed in pink bunnies (just orange and brown). My gran gave me and my sister a Scalextric for Christmas. No one told me dinosaurs were for boys. It’s as if gender stereotypes have been honed and reinforced in recent years. How? TV, computer games, social media, parental anxiety? Maybe all of it.
Riding to the rescue comes John Lewis, the first UK retailer to do away with separate girls’ and boys’ clothing sections and labels. Its own-brand children’s labels now say “Girls & Boys” or “Boys & Girls” and there’s a new unisex kids’ line, which includes a dinosaur print dress.
The usual suspects do not like it, of course, “the world’s gone mad” and “PC claptrap” brigade, but there has been widespread praise, too. No wonder, when you bother to look and realise just how widespread and insistent boy and girl stereotyping has become on the High Street. John Lewis is simply cutting through the real claptrap and saying that gender bullying by fluffy bunnies and toy trains is not fair on our children, or good for them – enough is enough.
It’s expected that other stores will follow suit, but John Lewis has made that first brave move. A few shoppers are even threatening to cut up their store cards (never knowingly under-outraged, some people).
I predict this will all calm down in time for the Christmas advert which, as usual, will be politically correct, non-judgmental – and widely adored.