Fancy a Cuppa?

So OK. Here’s the deal. There’s this tea set. It’s Fisher Price (a well known solid children’s brand) and it’s sweet and quite clever (as far as a tea set can be). The teapot makes noises like pouring water when it’s tilted. It also sings and talks, with an emphasis on manners (please, thank you, stuff like that). It comes with two cups and a plate with three cakes, each a different shape (a very basic shape sorter). We’ve got several friends who have this set and the boy LOVES it. He loves the noises it makes and in some kind of primeval way, he loves ‘making the tea’ (which is super weird as we don’t drink tea in our house and he’s certainly never seen a teapot in real use!). It’s gorgeous and clever and fun.

Oh yeah and it’s almost aggressively girly in it’s design.



Not only is it made in a traditionally female centric colour pallette, but check out the frills and flowers. It couldn’t be more clearly aimed at a female market than if it (and here come the generalisations girls) covered itself in chocolate and kittens.

But why is it?

My son is not the only boy I’ve seen playing with this set, or any other catering based toys for that matter, regardless of their colour or design.

And don’t we want our sons to be polite?

This set is called the “Fisher-Price Laugh & Learn Say Please Tea Set”. One of it’s features is to “teach babies about.. manners, greetings and more”. Surely this is a toy all children could enjoy – after all manners matter! So why is it so very very very obviously a girls toy?

Or is it? Should the colour and design make a blind bit of difference to who plays with it. Should it matter to me? It clearly doesn’t matter to him. He loves it, it’s a really well made, smart toy. Why should I even be having this conversation? Why I haven’t I bought it for him already?

The answer is I don’t know. Something has stopped me. The signals this toy sends out to me as a parent is that this is not for my child. I feel it. On every level. And I hate that I do. What am I worried about? That other parents will judge me? So what if they do.

I’m so confused and conflicted.

I’ve spent my life, not caring about gender stereotypes. I fit them when I choose to. I have friends who fit them and those who don’t. It never bothered me. Last summer I put Oscar in a fluorescent pink t-shirt. Being blonde, it looked fab on him.

And what baby doesn't look super cute trying their daddy's shoes on?

And what baby doesn’t look super cute trying their daddy’s shoes on?

But I know he and I got some questioning looks when he wore it out and one woman in the park felt the need to congratulate me on being brave! Its a colour for god sake. What’s brave about that. Its doesn’t MEAN anything. Does it?

I know the parents of little girls who totally don’t have this problem. Their daughters wear blue and have trains, cars, blocks and a whole host of traditionally “boys” toys. It doesn’t bother them and their girls love them. And I say hooray for that. Who the hell wants a daughter that grows up thinking the only way is Barbie? So why should it be difficult for me to put my mind into the place where buying Oscar a pink tea set, or a doll or any other traditionally “girls” toys is OK?

The honest answer is I have no idea. And that makes me just a little bit sad.

So anyway, back to the tea set. It’s annoying me for two reasons

1) Why on earth it needs to be so very obviously a “girls” toy

2) That it’s bothering me enough to write this

It’s his birthday soon and despite all the rationalising I’ve done both here and at home, I am still unsure as to whether to get it for him. I want him to grow up to be a great host, a caring father. Why then won’t I give him the tools to practice these skills the way we do our daughters?

What would you do?

I promise to do my best….

When I was a child I had seemingly boundless energy. One way I had of channeling this was by attending loads of after school clubs and groups. I did all sorts including several years of “Disco” dancing and about the same of drama. I loved it and I hope Oscar gets to enjoy after school activities the way I did. One of the groups I loved dearly in my earlier childhood (in the mid 80’s) was The Brownies, which if you’ve been living under a rock forever (or come from a country without The Brownies) is the part of the Girl Guiding Organisation for 7-10 year old girls. I was an “Imp” (the name of my pack). I only gained two badges, but they’ve stood me in great stead all my life – Hostess and Agility! I serve amazing tea AND I can do a headstand – what more do you need in life?

Yes this is me in my Brownie Uniform, minus the brown bobble hat! The baby is my sister Laura!

Yes this is me in my Brownie Uniform, minus the brown bobble hat! The baby is my sister Laura!

Anyway, that’s by the by. This year The Brownies celebrate their 100th birthday. For 100 years the organisation has been providing a female only environment for girls to undertake various activities. There was a piece about it on the morning news last week talking about the history of The Brownies and what it did today. It was a sweet piece that I was only really half watching. Until they interviewed someone from their head office. They asked her whether a single gender environment was still relevant. The spokesperson said something approximating this (I wrote it down as soon as I heard it):

‘The girls tell us they appreciate this environment; to be themselves and build their confidence, that they wouldn’t always get in a mixed environment.’

Now I’ve done work with female only groups before, YWCA were a client of mine for years and I’ve heard this argument before. But it never confused me, ever, the way it did when I heard it last week.

I have a son. He is a boy. What is it about him that will mean such a young girl can’t be herself, in his presence? I was baffled and to tell the truth a bit hurt. Surely just by the nature of his gender he isn’t going to hold these girls down? And reversely just by the nature of their gender, girls are not going to be held down by boys? Are they? Seriously?

So my first thought was, what can I do? How can I raise a boy that wont do this? Is that the answer? Is it about parenting? I asked a friend for her opinion – she’s not a parent but she is the most card carrying feminist I know. She was able to tell me of studies that have shown that girls don’t speak out in the same way when boys are present, as boys are socialised to be more confident in the value of their opinions than girls. So maybe parenting does have a part to play? Maybe the parents of girls should be working to ensure their daughters know that their opinions are valid regardless of what the media says? She also pointed out that single sex environments don’t always equal “safe” environments. If children are being “socilised” to be a certain type, then this pressure can be applied by your own sex – being a ‘real’ man for example.

It was really interesting to talk it over from a social perspective, as opposed to a parent’s. My first instinct as a parent was to get offended. Why is my son gonna stop your daughter being herself???? That’s the protective mama in me but not particularly helpful in the grand scheme of things.

I still don’t have an answer, if indeed there is just one answer, which I fear may not be the case. It’s such a MASSIVE subject when you start looking, it’s frightening. But the long and the short of it is I don’t want my son to ever be the reason a girl/woman feels she can’t be herself.

Maybe I should talk to Oscar’s grandma and ask her what she did – she seems to have done a real bang up job with Ben. Hmmm, do you know, maybe this wont be as hard as I first thought 😉

I left the Brownies before becoming a Guide, when I became disillusioned with the organisation. I didn’t get promoted to Seconder, despite being the second oldest, because I was off sick the night they promoted. I felt so slighted! Maybe I’ve just never truly forgiven them? 😉