There’s been a lot of talk recently about the need for gender-neutrality in schools. Unisex toilets have been introduced in at least one primary school in New Zealand and the US media have been awash in controversy once President Obama stated gender-neutral bathrooms were, in fact, federal law.
More locally, the outcry has been directed at school uniforms as many in the school community would like for girls to have the choice of wearing pants, should they want to, just as their male peers do. The cries are for equality and the role heavy tunics or potentially exposing skirts and school-dresses play in the decrease in girls’ physical activity at school, particularly once they hit puberty - all fair points. It’s brilliant to see more and more schools opening up their uniform policies, some so open as to allow the boys to wear dresses, should they wish. Within much of the education section, thanks in part to the Safe Schools campaign and assertive parents, the definition of gender and associated expectations are, in fact, being redefined.
However, I want to take it back. All the way back to the early years.
Again, recent times have seen some community members rally against gendered toys and there has been great movement away from the whole ‘dolls are for girls, trains are for boys’ ideals.
But what seems to have been completely ignored is the fashion for younger years. Head in to any major department store, head to the children’s clothing section and just take note. Most likely you will find the radically smaller boys section is generally awash with blue, grey, some green and maybe a splash of red. Stripes are as exciting as it gets, other than the sometimes bear, truck or skull or, of course, the merchandised options. Turn the other way where the girls have their choice and you’ll be blasted by the rainbow – colours abound, patterns, graphics and plenty of nice, shiny sparkle. It’s uplifting just to look at all that light and bright.
But who has defined this? Because, if nothing else, I can tell you boys like sparkles too – I have three young sons and, like nesting birds, anything shiny catches their eye. As do colours. And shapes. In fact, these are all things children like (as are bears, and possibly skulls!?). As we know from recent media attention around toys, they also like dolls and animals and nature, while many girls like the more ‘masculine’ trains, trucks, farms and bikes. And blue. But it’s not often girls’ clothes feature any of these so the assumed error in interest goes both ways.
As is the move in so many areas now, let’s break down the gender walls kids are presented with from their earliest years and introduce ‘clothing’ sections, open to both boys and girls. In fact, developmentally, it’s not until the middle years of primary school that gender becomes a true point of difference in kids – before that it’s a learned segregation. So let’s ride this train of open options driven by the impassioned and help our youngest people feel free to embrace what it is they are naturally attracted to adorn themselves in, not what they are told are their selections.