Girls and boys come out to play

Since becoming the father of two girls, it’s fair to say that I’ve become more sensitive to many gender issues than once I was. You might even say it’s brought out the feminist in me. Once upon a time I may have questioned things like “women in technology days”, crying “positive discrimination” and “where are the men in technology days?”, the older, wiser and more feminist me can see why such things are necessary, and should be encouraged.

I want my girls to live in a world that lets them be whatever it is they want to be, and doesn’t try to pigeon-hole them. Nothing should be off-limits just because they happen to be girls. And yet, in 2014, it seems the world still works that way.

Browsing the latest Argos book last night, looking for gift ideas for Megan’s upcoming birthday, I was surprised to discover that there is now a range of NERF toys specifically aimed at girls. In case you’re not aware of NERF, it’s a collection of weapons, with names like “Mega Blasters” and “Supersoakers” which fire foam darts and/or water at their victims.

Launched last year, the NERF Rebelle line is a collection of weapons aimed at girls – think crossbows in pink and purple – the not-so-subtle implication being that the girls should be leaving the bigger guns to the boys. Have a look at this page from Argos’s NERF shop, and you’ll see what I mean. The vast majority of the range is marketed with pictures of boys, and then, tacked on at the end like an afterthought, is the not quite so beefy range for girls.

Of course, whether or not our children should be running about shooting each other at all is an entirely separate debate (it looks like fun to me!) but it’s just another example of how toy companies continue to segregate boys’ and girls’ toys, building up perceptions and prejudices that can be hard to break down later.

By coincidence, I saw this morning a story shared by a friend on this very theme, that how children are encouraged to play can enforce stereotypes and limit future career choices.

Now I’m not saying my girls have to be engineers or scientists. Assuming it’s what they want to do I’d be equally happy with them pursuing a more “traditional” female career, like hairdressing or working with small children. What I don’t want, though, is for them to ever feel like anything is off-limits or just for boys.

Of course, there’s only so much Gem and I can do – our influence will diminish over time, in favour of the girls’ peers, which makes it even more important to get the message right today.

Whose idea was gender equality anyway? It seems it was so much easier in the past…

This autumn I'm running/cycling in a 30km duathlon and a half marathon, to raise money for Breast Cancer Campaign. You can read more about my challenge here or support me here. All donations, however big or small, gratefully received!