Monday, 18 June 2012

Who Bullies Our Boys?

My first brush with gender inequality was as a child. As a young girl growing up, I was plagued by TV and advertisements to play with pink things. Barbie, barbie, barbie. Cuddly toys. Betty Spaghetti.

Not gonna lie, I loved Betty Spaghetti. I also loved playing British Bulldogs, fighting and playing football. Very quickly I learnt these were boys' activities and I really ought to be skipping. But skipping was boring and it didn't hurt anyone, so I carried on fighting.

The fact that these were male activities remained with me however. For many years I labelled myself a 'tomboy', and for a few years I was convinced I should have been born a boy. My mum used to get angry with me for saying things like that. She said I liked football because I liked football, not because I was a boy or a girl.

I ignored that back then; I was generally accepted as a boy. Oddly enough my best friend was a male ballet dancer, he liked to dress up and he would skip whilst I rugby tackled. He didn't have it easy either. People called him gay, I'm not proud to say that I was one of them, and he had a hard time all round... But interestingly, his parents (not unlike mine) never discouraged him from playing in the manner he wanted to play. Oh, and he's not gay. He's just a gifted dancer.

It took me some length of time to realise that I was a female. With a pre-pubescent body there is nothing on the surface to distinguish you from the boys, apart from the toys you play with, and having long hair. It all changed when my primary school tried to expel me. My mother thought my male friends were a bad influence and at the age of 11, I was sent to an all-girls grammar school. I was horrified.

In retrospect, it was the best thing my mother could have done. I still resent the ethos of grammar schools; creaming off the most ''intelligent'' children, and removing them from comprehensives, but I quickly began to appreciate being in an all-female environment. I didn't get on well with very many of the girls, they had all grown up in the strict confines of what is girly and what is not, I found it hard to relate. Nevertheless, I learnt a valuable lesson: there is nothing I cannot achieve. For those vital years of education, I was not surrounded by people telling me boys are better at maths and girls are better at sewing. Either girls were good at it or girls were bad at it. We were all people and equals, it wasn't until I left that I realised the rest of the world was thinking about it in a very different way.

To begin with, my anti-single-sex-grammar-schools was fuelled partly by my belief that they're sexist, and partly by my belief that it's wrong to take children as young as eleven, brand them superior, and remove their contribution from the average classroom. I still believe the latter, but by going to a single-sex school I was never inhibited by gender stereotypes. I distinctly remember my textiles teacher telling me that I was her most hopeless student in all her 12 years of teaching. I didn't care. I was good at sport and maths... It never occurred to me that I shouldn't be.

We have a new wave of writing gender differences off as 'biological'. I think it was Newcastle University (correct me if I'm wrong) that published an experiment that claimed to prove that 'females are biologically hardwired to prefer pink because they would have picked berries in the wild'. The test consisted of males and females being confronted with a number of colourful rectangles and choosing which colours appealed to them most.

It seems strange then, that during the Victorian Era, pink was considered a masculine colour, and blue, a dainty, feminine one. Even princesses had their cots painted pink in anticipation of a baby boy. Isn't it amazing how our biological hardwiring can go ERAS without affecting us? Fascinating how a generation of women told to like pink, prefer reddish hues over bluish ones. I rather doubt the results would have been the same in the Victorian Era. The only newspaper to follow this article up with any kind of scepticism was the Guardian. Read 'Bad Science' for further information.

To conclude this blog post, I did not play with action men because I should have been born a boy. I just thought swimming and mountain biking were far more exciting pursuits than changing my outfit and brushing my hair. I'm not saying that gender differences don't exist bewteen girls and boys, but that we're just people. People have a spectrum of tastes and distastes, and it saddens me that we label them male or female, and then try to segregate the two. So maybe we do have more boys at one end of the spectrum and more girls at the other, but why are we denying everyone in between from being who they want to be? Why can't Tom dance and still grow up to be a man? Why are your children bullying him?

P.S. I did a spellcheck and apparently 'blog' isn't a word. Kinda funny that blogger hasn't acknowledged it yet.

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