We’re good at gender-stereotyping in my family, and for that I think we have to thank Enid Blyton and the Famous Five; reading those books together gave us all much opportunity for gender-based hilarity and mirth when my children were younger. My daughter has had to run the gauntlet of Blyton-inspired patronising and sexist comments from her brothers right through her childhood: ‘Oh wow, brilliant! Sometimes you’re JUST AS GOOD AS A BOY!’ is a particular favourite.
And happily a heavily gender-stereotyped media has kept this rich vein of humour alive and kicking as my children have grown up.
My sixteen year-old son is known variously as ‘the Macho One’ or ‘the Real Man’ by his two older brothers, just because he’s bigger than them and plays football.
‘Do you like my shirt Mum?’ he asked me as he headed for the door to leave for college this week.
I look up and assess him. ‘Yeah’ I say ‘It’s a lovely colour. Really suits you.’
‘Yeah but did you realise it’s not mine?’
He’s borrowed it from his 22 year-old brother.
‘We’re the same size you see,’ he says, ‘So we do clothes-swapping now. We’re like two sisters really, we’re always borrowing each other’s clothes.’
‘And are you like ‘Oooh that really suits you!’ with each other?’
‘Yeah, we give each other fashion advice and help sort out each other’s outfits.’
He’s getting his shoes on now
‘And do you borrow each other’s make-up too?’
‘Well I don’t really have any Mum.’
‘Yeah but he does. Remember that time he wore blue eye-shadow? I think he’s still got it.’
He’s opening the front door now, ready to leave.
‘Don’t think it would suit me. But we do stand in front of the mirror together and check each other’s hair. That’s how we roll.’
‘And do you turn around to give him the full view and say things like ‘d’you think my bum looks big in this?” I ask.
He splutters. ‘Er…NO! That would be ridiculous! Bye!’ and he hurries off down the street.
You might as well laugh at gender stereotyping even as you spend every waking hour campaigning to get rid of it. The more you laugh about it the more kids get to see how ridiculous it is. These days there are even more opportunities to have fun with it, as it’s everywhere: in children’s books, toys, clothes, t.v. programmes – I could give you a rich source of comedy in the kind of programmes my daughter and I watch together. But in the end I think there’s nothing like a bit of good old-fashioned gender stereotyping, and for that I would still have to recommend Enid Blyton. No, don’t thank me.