Let’s brush up on gender-stereotyping children

By Jasmine Stephens, Family Editor

Yesterday I took my three children to the dentist expecting to learn a thing or two about brushing techniques, but instead we came out having taught the dentist a lesson in gender-stereotyping. I’m quite proud to say that over the years I must have done a pretty good job of hiding my dentophobia as my kids love going to the dentist. It would appear that the top three dental lures to under-7s are

in bronze medal position: the posters of grinning cartoon characters on the walls and *gasp* the ceiling,

in silver: the ride in the magic rocket chair,

and light years ahead in gold: the well-done stickers.

So, we’re now galloping towards the check-up finishing line. Child number three has been on the trip of a lifetime to the moon in the rocket chair. Fifty-eight teeth are present and correct and apparently two more will likely be causing us nocturnal strife very soon. At this point the children are virtually drooling with anticipation of the main event; the stickers. Or perhaps the drool is due to the scale and polish, but I digress. The dental technician comes over to my daughter with some stickers and, horror of horrors, she has made a fatal error and fallen at the last hurdle. She has brought her a selection of five princess stickers from the ‘girls’ stickers box’ to choose from.

Well, I have raised a 6-year-old feminist and in our house princesses are purely for high-days, holidays and apparently, younger brothers. My daughter looks in disgust at the stickers and asks if she can choose one from the ‘boys’ stickers box’, while the boys are arguing over who gets Sleeping Beauty. The dentist and technician, both female, are highly amused by this entirely unexpected turn of events. I can only assume this is a first in the world of dentistry. A girl who doesn’t like princesses? A girl who wants more choice than that?

This episode demonstrates how our children encounter insidious gender-stereotyping in the most benign of places every single day. Stereotyping which encourages our daughters to only identify with ‘disneyfied’ passive characters valued for their beauty and our sons to wear t-shirts with slogans announcing ‘Here Comes Trouble’.

Campaigns such as pinkstinks (pinkstinks.co.uk) and lettoysbetoys (lettoysbetoys.org.uk) are doing a great job of putting pressure on retailers and raising awareness of the need for equality in our children’s clothes and toys, but perhaps we all need to try a bit harder to question the behaviour of those, often well-meaning, people who pigeonhole our kids on an everyday basis. There was the time in a local restaurant when the waiter brought the toys which came with the children’s menus; my sons were given dinosaurs and my daughter was offered a tiara. The parents at playgroup that chuckled at my son for dressing up as a fairy.

If my infant schoolers can understand that the dentist doesn’t need separate sticker boxes for boys and girls, then it’s surely not that difficult to grasp.

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