Stereotyping Kids: Not Wearing Pink Doesn’t Make My Girl A Boy

Over the last few months, there’s been an increasing number of people referring to Toddler L as a boy. It never really bothered me when she was a baby, as, you know, most babies look pretty similar. But now that she’s approaching her third birthday and is a proper little girl, I’m getting a little frustrated at what seems to be inbuilt, underlying stereotyping about gender.

The amount of times she’s confused as one of the opposite sex beggars belief. To give you a few examples, in the last few weeks a dad at a toddler group called her a “he”, a waitress referred to her as a “boy” and someone in a shop said “son”. Each occasion has obviously been a mistake with no malice or harm intended, however it’s still a bit bloody annoying.

I don’t know whether I should or not, but I don’t correct people when they get it wrong. Despite writing about it here, it doesn’t bother me enough to make someone feel stupid for what is an honest mistake. I doubt they woke up that morning thinking “Hmm, today I’m going to confuse kids’ genders to mess with their heads”, so getting an apology for a slip of the tongue isn’t something that’s going to result in everlasting change.

It’s strange though. It does feel like the default is to assume that a child is a boy unless there are punch-you-in-the-face indicators that they are in fact a girl. In that split second where someone goes to say “boy” or “girl”, unless they can definitively deduce that the kid is a girl, then they ‘obviously’ have to be a boy.

But that’s where I have a problem – every kid is unique and I don’t believe there is a ‘typical’ boy or girl. Why should a kid – or adult for that matter – be defined by what they look like, what their interests are and how they wish to live their life? A girl is still a girl if she doesn’t like pink princessy stuff, just as a boy is still a boy if he doesn’t like football.

Bend it like Beckham? Nah. Toe poke it like Toddler L! Slightly unfortunate expression though.

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The thing is, I do get why people may refer to Toddler L as a boy. When it comes to the usual clues which (stereotypially) define gender, the sprog doesn’t necessarily display these. For instance:

(1) She doesn’t have long hair – not out of choice or style, more because it’s taking ages to grow. As such, she rarely has things like bobbles or hair clips either.

(2) She doesn’t always dress ‘girly’ – she wears whatever we think is cool (or is washed). Sometimes this could mean glittery shoes, a tutu skirt and a pink top, other times it could mean black trainers, jeans and a dinosaur jumper. Either way, we buy – and she wears – what we like, regardless of whether they are labelled boys, girls or unisex.

(3) I often call her by a shortened version of her name. It turns out that this shortened version could be a boy or girl name.

(4) Her interests span a wide range of things, including stereotypically girls and boys things. As such, she’s equally happy playing with dolls as she is with trains, or being ‘rough and tumble’ outside as she is having a tea party inside.

As I say, I can see why people might mistake her for a boy. It’s not intentional or malicious, it’s just a lack of stereotypically ‘girly’ clues which people are unable to pick up on. But, why do these clues need to even exist? Why does a girl have to have long hair and a boy have short hair? Why can’t a boy play with a Barbie or a girl play with superhero figures. Why can’t a girl wear blue and a boy wear pink?

The answer – obviously – is that they can. Kids should be able to do whatever they want, express themselves how they wish and learn in whatever way they choose, without any limitations derived from gender stereotyping being placed upon them. The sad thing though is that they often can’t. The way products are marketed and the stuff they watch on TV, as well as comments from ‘interested third-parties’, are (largely) focused on making boys be boys and girls be girls.

That’s ridiculous though. Obviously she’s maybe a little young to fully understand it, but I love that Toddler L isn’t bothered about gender stereotyping yet. I fully expect some of her ‘non-girly’ interests to wane as she gets older and is influenced by her peers, but I’m going to do whatever I can to show her that there’s no right way or wrong way to be a girl. The only way is the one that she chooses and is happy with. That doesn’t make her a tomboy or a girly girl or any other stupid labels designed to limit her potential. It just makes her a girl – nothing more, nothing less.

What’s your view on stereotyping kids and labelling them as ‘boy’ or ‘girl’? Has your kid(s) ever been continually confused as the opposite sex? Let me know below!