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Sydney, Australia
My musings and meanderings on childhood - mine juxtaposed with that of my kids'. Everyday incidents and images from our life in Sydney turn my thoughts towards my own wonder years growing up in Bandra, Bombay, India.

06 April 2011

My Son Wants to Wear a Tutu!

Just made a tutu for my niece who’s turning three. Pink, of course (see photo below). Caitlyn and Caleb spotted it and both decided to try it on. Yes, my almost-two-year-old son likes dolls and dress-ups. Mind you, he also loves his Thomas train and dinky cars, but the minute he sees his big sister with her kitchen set, he demands his pots and pans; the second he spots her with her dressing up box, he wants to wear a tiara! I think it’s cute. My husband does not.

Caitlyn plays with Caleb’s trucks and tool sets. She plods around in her daddy’s shoes once he returns from work. We have a good laugh. So why do we cringe when Caleb goes for the girly stuff? Do we think it will translate into him being an effeminate adult or *gasp* even gay? Surely we know better?? So why do boys have to be rough and tough, while girls are expected to be frilly and feminine?

Gender roles. It starts from the minute a child is born. Pink for girls. Blue for boys – and ne’er the twain shall meet. Look into most little girls’ wardrobes and you are sure to be met with a profusion of pink. A cousin of mine swore that her daughter would wear every colour in the rainbow. You know what? She had a tough time finding anything but pink and purple in the shops.

Toys are supposed to provide our kids with fun and fantasy. They can also teach them social norms and life skills like sharing and caring. But only now that I have kids of my own, I’m realising how gender-loaded these playthings are.

Walk into a toystore for a glimpse of Gender Marketing at its best. Pretty “girly” sections will be segregated from the macho boyzone. Battle; power; weapons; superhero; action; victory: all words used to market boy toys. Conversely, fashion; friendship; magic; glam; totally; glitter: words used to market girls’ toys.

Which brings me to the age-old Nature vs. Nurture debate. Do our children respond to these gender stereotypes because they are genetically predisposed to do so? Is it their innate nature? Or are they culturally conditioned to believe that it is ‘right’ for girls to play with dolls and boys to play with cars?

My Caitlyn loves taking her dolly for a walk in her toy pram. Is this because of her natural need to take care of people or is she merely imitating mummy? If Caleb’s older sibling had been a boy, would he have ever tried on that tutu? Furthermore, do these early preferences translate later into the jobs our children choose? i.e. girls take up caring jobs like nursing and teaching while boys seek out logical/scientific roles like banking and construction. Then again, how does that account for the best chefs in the world being male?

I don’t have the answers. I’m just giving you food for thought.

What were your own childhood experiences with gender-related toys? Have things changed (for the better or worse) now that you have kids? Do you unconsciously perpetuate gender biases when it comes to your children?


  1. hi Ally,
    I didn't do any of the so-called girly stuff as a kid. And yet I am queer. Orientation is not because of conditioning and those 'early signs' can mislead too. but yes, our society and our biases are organised around 'gender roles'.

  2. Hi Nitin,
    Yes, most parents are aware that their son doing girly things does NOT translate into them growing up to be gay. But I'm hard-pressed to find one 'straight' father who does not stress when his baby son grabs a doll! What a strange world we live in! Hope all's well with you. xx


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