“That’s for girls”

Asked by a colleague to help address some discussions emerging in her setting from children with increasingly entrenched gender-based ideas around play, I created a small-group activity to challenge their thinking.  I gathered objects in pairs that could be perceived as gender specific – two sunhats, both pink and flowery; two water bottles, one Thomas the Tank Engine and one Buzz Lightyear; two torches, one Postman Pat, one Disney Princesses & two tiny blond dolls. Photos represented a random boy & girl, fictitiously named Bobby and Martha, for the children to allocate the objects to.

With a list from the class teacher identifying the specific children who were talking about things being “For girls”/”For boys”, and I was ready to go, looking forward to the challenge.  What followed were a series of conversations I had not at all anticipated.  Knowing the children, I naïvely presumed that after a quick chat, using the toys to illustrate the point, I could soon help them realise that gender-based stereotypes did not need to apply to their play.  How wrong was I?….

Firstly, a boy aged 5 said neither sunhat could be for Bobby, both would have to be Martha’s. Asked why, he replied “Boys need a T-Rex or Shark-fish hat! Not flowers! Boys don’t like flowers!” I asked his peer next to me if he liked flowers and he nodded, though did not look convinced by the pink hat.  Next, two empowered, articulate girls aged 4.  “The Thomas water bottle can be for Martha. Thomas the Tank Engine is for boys AND girls, but Toy Story is much more a ‘boy’ programme, because there’s not many girls in it, so that one’s for Bobby.” Gleefully, I pointed out that Thomas the Tank Engine is even more devoid of girls than Toy Story, if that was their criteria. Unyielding, they maintained it was less gendered somehow. They said the princess torch was Martha’s. “It’s more girly,” they explained. I said that Martha hates Cinderella. They looked at me incredulously, asking “So it’s the other way ROUND???”  Another group considered the water bottles, a girl aged 5 said that both the bottles were for boys.  I asked “So Bobby gets two drinks and Martha gets none?” Apparently so.  “Yes,” she replied.  This child also found it tricky to allocate the two little dolls given one had a pink dress and one blue. “Boys like blue…but dolls are for girls…” Confusion.

Realising I was making no headway whatsoever, I eventually asked a 5 yr old girl to tell me whether a list of activities were for boys, girls or both. “Sand?” “Both.” “Water table?” “Both.” “Painting?” “Both.” “Bikes?” “Both.” “Snack area?” “Both.” “Blocks?” “Both.” “Book corner?” “Both.” Finally, what seemed like a breakthrough…..Though determined to have the last word, the child added “But girls like girl-things and boys like boy-things.”

Work in progress.  RAGged to amber 🙂

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1 comment to “That’s for girls”

  • Love It Judith! What a wonderful opportunity to start a conversation and keep it going. Wonder if this was followed up in whole group time, children who had less gender specific views could help their peers see other options.
    Looking forward to hearing more and thank you so much for sharing your ideas so generously – I really appreciate it.
    SA 🙂