Last week, I found myself shocked when my two-year-old said, “girls can’t do that”. To put some context around her statement I was moving some rubbish that was sitting on our doorstep for the wheelie bin. She turned and said to me, “Mummy, girls can’t pick up rubbish.” I was gobsmacked! How does a child from a very equal family come up with these things?
“Yes they can!” I retorted, almost as I would to any peer who said something so ridiculous to me. I then bent down, saying, “What makes you think girls can’t do that? Girls can do anything!” I exclaimed, ignoring the ache in my heart.
“Mummy, a boy [she said the name, but there’s no cause for that now, is there] said, when we were playing in the sandpit, that girls can’t play with trucks, and he took them away.” She wasn’t upset about it. It was matter-of-fact, like “that’s just the way it is, Mum”.
Related: To all the super heroes
I stood upright, looked down at my little angel and told her, “You tell that boy that you can play with whatever you want to.” We then sat down and had a little chat on the steps about girls and boys playing with dolls, and girls and boys playing with trucks. And anyone being able to play with what they like. It was a tough conversation, but I felt that she listened to me (for once!). We then had the same chat when we got to childcare where her sex is in the minority. It was all very solemn, kneeling down to my little girl and telling her that she can do anything boys can do (with the exception of peeing when standing up, but I thought introducing that concept at age two might cause all sorts of interesting – and messy – outcomes).
I couldn’t believe it. Who would have thought that, at age 2, we need to be talking about equality? I’m not going to say feminism (although I would call myself a feminist), because I want to stress that this is about her being equal, and I don’t want the anti-feminists to roll their eyes and think anything other (we can discuss feminism being about equality at a later point, dear anti-feminists). What if my daughter was telling a boy he couldn’t play with dolls? That little boy was just reflecting behaviour he has seen. Maybe, like me, his parents don’t know it’s time to talk about treating his peers equally.
And so it is that I’m writing this post. Our childcare centre excludes language such as “good girl” and “good boy” so no gender bias is formed. Moreover, my daughter comes from an equal family, where Mum and Dad share all responsibilities around the house, around child-rearing, around work. She has no cause to think things should be otherwise, but there you have it. It happens anyway. And it broke my heart that my little girl could think that she couldn’t do anything she wants to do because of her gender at the age of two.
So, I’m starting a callout to my fellow parents. Let’s teach our kids equality, let’s call them on behaviours that aren’t equal, and let’s not make a world where they need to even talk about equality and feminism, so that this conversation can be over. Let them climb trees, play sport, read books, role play with dolls, cook meals, ride bikes, kick a football, run free and be kids, regardless of their parts.
Next: Missy’s first sleepover