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.

A post shared by The DADventurer (Dave) (@the_dadventurer) on

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!

  • Nige

    Fantastic post you may have read my recent experience with one of the girls around the word tomboy. It really annoys me. Like you I just wish people would think and let kids be kids and dress and play with whatever they want. Great read mate

    • Thanks mate. I’ve not had chance to read your post yet, but I saw it pop up on some social media somewhere. Will give it a read when I have a sec. Yeah exactly – I think tomboy suggests that a girl is less of a girl. No, she’s just a girl.

  • Ben Scott Green

    My son is constantly mistaken for a girl, the only reason being he has long blonde hair. It happens daily regardless of what he wearing or doing. If he is wearing VERY obvious (and i mean serious uber level of definite boys clothing) he gets called a tomboy.

    • Crazy. Like I say, must purely be that 0.5 sec snapshot and a decision made – long hair = girl. Long hair is cool, if I had a son, he’d totally rock that 🙂

  • My eldest was always mistaken for a girl. Such is life with a toddler terrified by hairdressers. Never bothered me and I never corrected anyone.

    Then my OH chopped his hair while he slept, so badly I had no choice but to take him for an emergency skinhead.

    Only then did it dawn on me that whilst it hadn’t bothered me, it might be a little embarrassing for the lady in our local coffee shop who’d consistently referred to him as ‘she’.

    So I did the only thing I could, coward that I am. We found a new coffee shop 🙂

    • Hahaha – not had to do that yet, but defo going to keep it in mind. I don’t really like confrontation or awkward situations.

  • JB

    This is so accurate! So many people get weird about the color clothes a kid wears. Someone was offended that my son’s (mostly blue) cup had a pink lid…uggg. Whoever gave colors a sex?

    Mama posting this by the way—As a kid I hated pink. Still not a big fan. I’d rather wear red. I also loved dinosaurs as a little girl (still do lol), but as a kid parents and other kids my age would tell 3-5yr old me “dinosaurs are for boys”…oh okay, so sad too bad. Dinos rule! hehe

    • Exactly – a colour is a colour. So sad when people are told something isn’t for them when they have a genuine interest. Totally, dinos are very cool 🙂

  • Kizzy, Izzy & Baby

    My daughter is almost 3 and often gets called a boy. She doesn’t always dress girly but she doesn’t wear “boys” clothes (apart from when she’s dressed as a stormtrooper!). She’s often carrying a toy dinosaur and loves playing with cars and dolls equally. Plus she has short hair as she pulls it out so we have to get it cut. Like you I don’t always correct people but now when people call her a boy she’s started saying “I not a boy, I a girl.” It’s doesn’t really bother me as I know with her hair and clothes its not really making it obvious to other people, so I don’t blame them for jumping to the conclusion that short hair + blue t-shirt = boy, but now she has started to pick up on it I’m not quite sure how to respond! It’s really harsh when older kids openly discuss if she is a boy or girl within earshot which has happened a few times!

  • Larry

    We follow a tradition where you don’t cut a boy’s hair till he is three. When my boys had long hair, people would sometimes mistake them for girls. Like you, I generally did not correct – especially when it was older people. I didn’t feel like explaining. Anyway, like you say it is not malicious and often occurred when people were being friendly.

  • Jeremy Barnes

    nobody has actually called her a boy, but the “tomboy” label has been thrown about quite a bit. Drives me mad

  • David

    We get this all the time with Chase. To be fair, he has long hair, but that’s the only thing that makes him particularly girly. I’m not overly fussed, every now and then it frustrates me, but most people tend to correct themselves I’ve found

  • Oh this is a conversation I have regularly with people who think T is a girl because he’s not in blue or green. People ACTUALLY ask me “what” T is sometimes. Personally, he’s the most “boyish” toddler I know so I don’t get it. Likewise, I really can’t see how people can’t see that L is a girl.

    Although I get annoyed, I try and challenge the people that ask why they think T is a girl and more often than not they say it’s the clothing. Thankfully I’ve only had one instance of someone asking why he’s in a “girls” top and was confused why I would put him in it – others thankfully agree that what they said was silly and that clothes should just be clothes.

    Changes are happening, but I think we’ve got a long way to go before people don’t automatically see pink as for girls.

    Not sure what the point of that comment was but I just needed it off my chest. Basically, I agree with you.

  • Andrew Brown

    This is a really great blog. As the father of a two year old girl, who’s interests range from Disney princesses, to helicopter and fire engines. I don’t believe in automatically taking her to the “girly section” of a toy shop, or always buying her pink clothes. She’s already quite independent, and knows what she wants 🙂 She’s just as likely to pick out a toy tractor, as she is a dolly, and i like that. She can play with, or wear whatever she damn well wants.