We’re in the park and Luna is demonstrating how she has almost, but not quite mastered identifying which children are girls and which are boys. Something which of course she must learn to do. But which is starting to trouble me. Because, as far as she is concerned, what is the difference?
She does know the technicalities. She’ll tell you that “Willow has penis and testicles” and “Luna has vulva”, but of course this is not the kind of differentiating she is doing at the park. And despite our best efforts to avoid gender stereotyping, I know that she’s making some sort of judgement based on clothing, hair style or something else and – not always, but increasingly – accurately identifying the gender of a child. And suddenly I don’t want her to be able to do this.
Another issue: there are daddies in almost every book we read. And while it’s great to see daddies represented, I’m becoming more and more uncomfortable with the sparsity of mummies (i.e. only one per family) in almost every book we read.
So sometimes I change a few nouns and pronouns along the way when I read, and a daddy morphs into another mummy. This then has the added advantage of muddling up any gender stereotypes which may be starting to arise through either the narrative or the illustrations – the behaviour and/or clothing and hair styles of the ‘daddies’ who have become ‘mummies’. It works quite well – most daddies in books don’t have beards…. But of course this plan is doomed to fail when Luna learns to read.
Perhaps, in summary, we need to reconsider what is on our book shelves. And not worry about what other children’s parents think. And accept that our children are going to be – in fact already are – part of a society that just isn’t exactly how we’d like it to be.