OPINION: Blue is for boys is bullsh*t
The great Gloria Steinem attended the International Conference on Masculinities this week. After some discussion about why she wasn't wearing her newly famous clitoris ring, the activist gave The Huffington Post her advice for young men wanting to get involved in the feminist movement.
"I would say that each of us has only one thing to gain from the feminist movement: Our whole humanity," she said. "Because gender has wrongly told us that some things are masculine and some things are feminine... which is bullshit."
Those comments really resonated with me this week as I was mulling what I thought may be my somewhat idealistic position on gender stereotyping and raising children.
Since having my first child a year ago, I've made a conscious effort not to subscribe to the blatant in-your-face idea that 'blue is for boys and pink is for girls'. From the outset I worked hard not to only buy him blue clothes, but threw in as many greens and yellows and purples as possible. Much to the confusion and distress of some, my husband and I even made a point of dressing him in pink babygrows.
It wasn't easy and I certainly don't think I've been entirely successful in my mission. Most of the clothes on sale in the shops for boys are blue and he wears a fortune of superhero attire because his mom is a fan - but I do like to think that I would dress a hypothetical daughter in Superman and Spiderman too.
After his first birthday party a couple of weeks ago, I surveyed the devastation in his playroom, which was littered with the detritus of a well-celebrated occasion. Amongst the torn shreds of wrapping paper were cars, trains, diggers, trucks and building blocks. Sure, there were gender-neutral educational toys and books and shoes too, but there were no dolls or tea sets or anything pink. "I did consider getting him a wooden kitchen set," assured one friend when I pointed out this peculiarity. I do often sit in his playroom and wonder whether it would look more pink if there was a girl upending all the boxes of toys and dispersing them to every corner of the room rather than a rough and tumble boy. I like to think not.
To test my resolve and just how difficult it is to swim against the current, I went to a toy store this week to buy a gift for a friend's daughter. I deliberately didn't want the salesperson to know I was shopping for a 'girl gift'.
"I'm looking for a gift for a three-year-old," I asked.
"Is it for a boy or a girl?" the saleswoman immediately responded.
I sighed. "Does it make a difference?"
"Yes. We have these for girls," she said, pointing to an assortment of dress-up dolls, ironing boards and mini kitchen appliances.
"And these are for the boys," added the woman, showing me a pile of far more interesting building stuff.
I landed up walking out with the most gender-neutral gift I could find. However, I quickly realised my efforts were in vain as the little girl was dressed head to toe in bright pink taffeta and waving a wand when I arrived at her 'Princess Party'.
To further highlight the overwhelming bombardment of gender stereotyping in toy stores, a friend recently posted on Facebook a picture of a popular retail toy chain. There were two distinct towers - a blue one for 'Boys Toys' and a pink one for 'Girls Toys'. Each featured 'gender-appropriate' displays.
This really irritates me. Because all this does is reinforce the belief in a generation of children that 'blue jobs' are for boys and 'pink jobs' are for girls.
Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, wrote about this in Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead.
"The gender stereotypes introduced in childhood are reinforced throughout our lives and become self-fulfilling prophesies. Most leadership positions are held by men, so women don't expect to achieve them, and that becomes one of the reasons they don't."
In her book, she referred to T-shirts sold in the US. The boys' version was emblazoned with the words "Smart Like Daddy", while the girls' version said "Pretty like Mommy".
"I would love to say that was 1951, but it was last year," wrote Sandberg. "As a woman becomes more successful, she is less liked, and as a man becomes more successful, he is more liked, and that starts with those T-shirts."
A couple of weeks ago I had an experience that made me question my commitment to trying to challenge the popular belief and efforts to break the cycle.
I was speaking at a book event and when I came out of the venue, my car had a flat tyre. Now I know how to fix a flat tyre. My father made damn sure I knew how when I started driving. I also used to take a keen interest in what was going on under the bonnet and even had youthful ambitions of being a car mechanic one day. Seriously.
But standing in the parking lot next to my flat tyre, I knew there was no way I was going to get my hands dirty. I turned to my colleague who very quickly assured me of my decision. "No way. That's a blue job! Changing tyres is definitely a blue job!"
And despite my strong belief that gender stereotyping is bullshit, I found myself absolutely agreeing with her. I found the closest capable looking male and sweetly asked him to come and rescue me. There are some things I just know that my husband would be better at than me - not because he insists, but because I do.
Gloria Steinem would be ashamed of me.
_Mandy Wiener is a freelance journalist and author working for _ Eyewitness News . Follow her on Twitter: @mandywiener