The long and short of it…

Dressing up at the British Museum

This is me, age around nine, with one of the worst haircuts I have ever sported. Seriously, what was the hairdresser thinking? The honest answer is that I was probably desperate for this cut. I was an active child, so I bet I wanted something that meant I didn’t have to sit still for mum to do my hair. I wasn’t amused when other well-meaning mothers often mistook me for a boy, though.

Why was I so bothered?

Gender neutral parenting has been on my mind after seeing an American documentary on ‘Extreme Parenting’ recently. I was really surprised by the idea that gender neutral parenting is considered extreme. Oh yes, I’ve heard of parents who won’t reveal the gender of their child to anyone, and I can see that that’s pushing the boundaries, but the family in this documentary seemed, well, completely normal to me.

At 18 months I have no problem at all with what toys my twins play with. And I wouldn’t bat an eyelid if either of them wanted to try on my shoes or paint their faces.

In a way I would say having boy girl twins puts me at a real advantage. We have toys traditionally for boys – cars, trains etc, and toys traditionally for girls – tea set, toy buggy etc. Ez and Fonz have equal access to both, and on the whole play with both in equal measure, though Fonz is very car-obsessed.

There is one area in which we haven’t gone down the neutral path. Clothing. Sure my two share some jeans etc (and they used to share babygros) but mainly Ez wears skirts or dresses (I’m not that keen on pink though) and apart from that one time I accidentally put Fonz in a dress (I blame sleep deprivation), he’s dressed in trousers or dungarees. I’m not sure what this says about us? I know I’ve turned Ez into more of a mini-me than I would ever have thought I would. At the moment hair isn’t an issue. I haven’t needed to cut either twin’s hair yet, so I’ll leave that decision a little longer.

How do the roles fall in your house?

This post was written for The Gallery, where this week the prompt was: Hair.

27 comments to The long and short of it…

  • Great photo!

    Read this with interest. Didn’t see the programme. I tried to encourage non-gender specific with my son, he has a doll, a buggy, a dolls house, he also has cars, garage and trains. I am amazed that some people has raised an eyebrow at his dolls house. I love the type of play it encourages – much more imaginative and communicative than play his cars.
    I don’t know how long his interest will last, if peer pressure will kick in and he will abandon the dolls etc.

    Beautiful Silent Sunday photograph loving the hair.

    • Young Mummy

      Yes, I wonder when peer pressure kicks in? Ez and Fonz don’t have a dolls house yet, but they both love playing with a friend’s.

  • mamabearuk

    Oh my goodness. You have just taken me back to circa 1993 when a friends visiting uncle exclaimed ‘ooh I didnt realise Nicola had a boyfriend’ at the sight of me walking down the stairs after a sleepover!! I mean, honestly, couldnt he tell from my lime green and lilac shellsuit that I was a girl?? ;-) I too had short short hair and actually hated it so much so I am never going to force my little one to cut her hair short.

    • Young Mummy

      Yes, I can remember a mother saying ‘let the little boy past’ when I was at the beach, wearing a pink swimming costume that had a frilly skirt!

  • The gender roles are clear. H goes to work. I dress the children. This line was drawn after the time he “got the baby dressed” and I found both her little feet sticking out of one pant leg. Sigh.

  • Since retirement hubby does the ironing, washing up & garden. I do the rest. We share tea making in the morning & I’m the cook apart from one night a week! Not a huge ‘equal split’ but better than nothing!

  • Kat

    I am very much of the gender neutral school of thought even if I don’t label my choices as such. Both of my children enjoy vehicles, building and other traditionally ‘boy’ style toys (all of which will help their spatial thinking) and they both nurture and play with ‘girl’ style toys. Everything is available to them and they play with what they are interested at the time. Relatives seem to latch on to only the interests which support their preconceived gender ideas such as Monty’s obsession with tractors, diggers and lorries but ignore Milla’s obsession with tractors, police cars and steam engines. Despite our repeated stressing of non-pink things for Milla as soon as our second daughter was born there were pink gifts because we hadn’t reiterated our preferences. It can be hard sticking to our guns as essentially people are a product of their own long-term conditioning but we don’t want our children to ‘told’ how to behave because of gender norms. We seek to give our children a wider outlook with fewer limits imposed simply by the chance of birth.

  • Kat

    PS – nice hair birthday girl :)

  • Isa

    I have a son who is nearly 3 and a daughter who is 7 months and as soon as I had a girl I saw how other people reacted differently towards the two of them. Straight from birth it was isn’t she beautiful and lots of dresses and pink headbands and things for gifts. My son loves playing with jewllery, handbags and headband’s, often saying he wants to look ‘pretty’ most probably overheard from my mother saying Lily looks pretty wearing a certain thing. I personally don’t care for most girl clothes out there so Lily wears very neutral colours (much like me) and a lot of her brother’s hand me downs. She has long curly hair and pierced ears (Latin American tradition for girls *sigh*) but other than that she is treated and plays with the same as her brother. For me personally, I encourage whatever my son or daughter want to play with, there are no boy or girl toys in my eyes just toys. I had to tell my Mum off for telling my son that tutu’s were for girls when she asked him to choose a fancy dress outfit. I was so angry that another person least of all my mother would put her view of gender specific ideas onto my 2 year old son. If he wants to dress as a ballerina, why can’t he? If he want’s to play with dolls, that’s GREAT in my eyes. He can learn so much from experiencing caring for a doll. He is interested in makeup and perfume but also in diggers and trains, what’s the big deal? Really, why do people have this obsession with pink frilly things being for girls and blue car things being for boys?

    • Young Mummy

      I’m looking forward to the dressing up stage, and I’ll definitely be encouraging Fonz to try “girls” costumes as well as boys! I used to regularly dress my younger brother up as a girl and pretend he was a sister.

  • This is a really interesting debate. I have two children (boy 5 and girl 3) so like Kat our house is has traditionally male and female toys. It’s only in the last year or so my son has been calling the dolls, kitchen etc ‘girls toys’. My daughter has been pink obsessed for about the last nine months. I’m not a fan but have decided to go with it. Other mothers of daughters have said that if you fight the pink thing – the obsession goes on for longer, I take comfort from the fact that she prefers deep raspberry pink and not the sickly pastel pink that’s marketed at her.
    My Mum was a proper 1970s feminist, for which I’m eternally grateful. However as a child I would’ve loved to have been allowed to be more pink, more traditionally feminine, but my Mum was determined I should not perceive myself in such narrow terms. As a parent I can see her point exactly – I particlarly hate toys that are identical in all ways apart from being blue for boys, pink for girls – however as I’ve grown up I’ve often felt a bit abashed about finding a way to express my femininity. In some ways my Mum’s scorn at the pink and flowery has stayed with me. Which is a shame as in many ways I am quite traditionally girlie,I’m an ex cookery book editor who does an awful lot of sewing! What I’m saying is although I fully support the general aims of gender neutrality some care has to be taken so that a child doesn’t perceive that to be interested in anything traditionally masculine/feminine is wrong. It needn’t be a negative as long as it isn’t the sum total of who they perceive themselves to be or what they can become.

    I’m sorry I’ve rambled – that is truly an excellent ‘do!

    • Young Mummy

      I have found it extraordinarily frustrating how everything – from bibs, to cups, to PJs from most high street stores – come in pink or blue. When I can I mix and match – so the twins’ sippy cups have a pink base and blue lid for example. Surely there’s got to be a demand for different colours?

  • I had a terrible time at 13 when I decided to cut my hair shorter and I was referred to as the boy twin and my sister was the girl twin. Me in Bright neon pink T and leggins with a headband too! I was mortified! I used to get stopped when out with the twin boys and told how lucky I was to have ‘one of each sex’ even though they were both dressed in various shades of blue….they quite happily play with their big sister toys, Princess pink kitchen, her doll house, hair dryer set and love trying trying to put shoes on the Barbie dolls. They also play with cars, trains and balls etc. We encourage them to play with whatever they like and when out shopping they get drawn to pink/glittery things and point them out for their sister. When they were much younger they wore a lot of their sisters hand me down, with two babies and the constant wee, poo, vomit I dressed them in whatever was clean! But my daughter at a very early age was very girly – from 9 months she loved to dress up and play princess/fairy/mermaid games, and although we don’t look alike we both share the same I have nothing to wear morning drama – going through several outfit changes (OH watched the boys and just lets us get on with it, secretly pleased we only had 1 girl). The twin boys on the other-hand don’t seem that bothered about what they wear, for practical reasons its navy, red or green (light colours show up the stains). I had to cut the boys hair several times now; as longer hair used to get matted with food and also the hair pulling wrestling games used to end in lots of tears. At nearly 2 they just seem so much more active than how their sister was – amazing upper body strength to pull themselves up onto the dining table, climb the mantelpiece. Typical boy behavior, little scientist testing everything to their limits, trying to figure out how they work and wrecking things. All Curly Haired beauties pristine toys, books lasted really well for the first 3 years until those two got their hands on it.

    • Young Mummy

      At the moment it does seem like Ez is quite traditionally girly, and Fonz more of your “typical” boy. But I’m loathe to say that this is because they’re boy girl – I believe it could just as easily been the other way around – I reckon it’s all down to character rather than gender. It’s hard to find a balance between playing to their interests, without pushing them down the girl/boy road..

  • Love your hair AND your top :)

    I have real issues with the pink thing for girls – why does everything need to be pink to be girly? We gave Big M a train set for her first birthday, and along with duplo it is one of her favourite toys. She also has dolls and picnic sets, and I hope that if we had had boys we’d still have those toys too.

    • Young Mummy

      Trying to avoid pink is so difficult, that i have kind of given in a bit, though I do prefer a bolder pink to baby pink. I think it gets easier when they’re toddlers, but girls’ baby clothes are almost exclusively pink, with flowers or glittery bits. At the moment Ez is wearing a boys’ coat because the girls’ ones I found were so ridiculously girly.

  • Love the picture!

    Gender issues are all out of balance in my house, my two year old boy loves my makeup and wants to dress up in princess outfits whereas my 18 month daughter loves cars, climbing and getting into trouble! Her twin brother just takes whatever is left be it a car or a doll – he is not fussy! I don’t think it matters they just play with what they like and half the time they are copying you anyway! x

  • Lu

    Great post. Alfie (very nearly two) loves nothing more than his pretend kitchen, although that could be because my OH does all the cooking (our new extension is known as ‘Daddy’s new kitchen’). His current favourite game is ‘playing shops’ – is this because Mummy loves shopping I wonder?

    He does enjoy his garage and cars, but is equally happy playing with (my old) dolls’ house when we go to my mum’s. I would never discourage any kind of play or imagination even if it didn’t fit traditional gender stereotypes. To be honest, the lack of nuturing play in their childhood is probably one reason why so many men have difficulties when they eventually become parents.

    Alf rarely wears blue – he’ll choose red or yellow – but I have friends with girls who seem to have an innate preference for pink. Would be interesting to know if this is actually a gender ‘thing’? Or merely an excuse…

  • We have two girls who like a lot of what is considered ‘girl stuff’ but have a lot of cars, trucks etc and when Nia turns two she’s getting a train set. I believe in letting them play with everything and I don’t believe in prescribing play. If and when we have a boy, he’ll play with the same stuff. My brother and I loved each others toys as children and we were encouraged to play with what we wanted.

    The boyf and I had a very interesting discussion when we became parents where I told him that as well as doing boisterous stuff, he’ll have to play with dolls if that’s part of the play. At first he thought I was talking jive (I got the whole ‘back home in Africa’ line) but he does and I have found him organising the girls play kitchen for them. The girls closest friends are boys as well. Oddly despite my protestations they both like pink but we have trained people to buy cool stuff that’s pink (Scandi brands very good at it) or it gets returned or passed on. Like Lu’s Alfie, the girls wear a lot of brights and quirky prints – I think it sometimes raises eyebrows of our more traditional African and Caribbean relatives!

  • I have a boy and a girl, and the great thing was when Monty was a year old I was a childminder so the toys I had were totally accross the board and nothing prescribed or forced at all.So we had the teaset and the trainset and the pram and the dolls etcetc. And all the children could play with whatever they liked. I think though even if I hadn’t done that job I would have bought Monty a pram as it shows to me it is no different to my husband pushing our kids in the buggy. Equally Blossom loves to play with cars and the trainset much to Montys annoyance. I don’t really see toys in a gendered way rather a world way? I drive a car so why shouldn’t Blossom play with one?
    Unfortunately there are stereotypes which we come up against, they are there because people reinforce them. But they are also there to be challenged.
    The clothes thing is a tricky one, I have to say how I dress my two depend on my mood that day, sometimes Mo is in skinny jeans and a flowery shirt, other days quite traditional in cords and a top with planes on it. Similar with Blossom, not a fan of pink (unless cool print and scandi as Nat says)so some days a tutu and tights, but most days navy jeans and a lot of blue blouses/ tops that although are feminine are easily mistaken by the non think outside the boxers who think pink for girls blue for boys! Monty had very long hair at one point which is now shorter for purely practical reasons but he would always be called a girl and I used to get annoyed. Not because being a girl is an insult but because I hated the narrow mindedness of long hair therefore girl? But maybe that is me showing double standards?
    Love this post as it realoly makes you assess your stance on this :0)

  • We tried very hard to keep things gender neutral for Moo, toys-wise.

    And then she turned two.

    And regardless of how many trains and cars were in the house, all she was interested in was babies, cooking and painting.

    Nature or nurture? Who knows…

    However, Moo wears a lot of dresses and skirts – she’s a titch, and I’ve yet to find a pair of trousers that fits her. And tights are so much easier than trousers and socks… But this is always the tricky one, because I do feel that gender neutral shouldn’t mean me dressing my girl as a boy. Because I don’t see any boys’ parents dressing their boys as girls. I’m not quite sure where that takes me, but there it is.

  • [oh - and moo's favourite colour is blue. She will always pick the blue one if there's one on offer - even to the extent of preferring George over Peppa Pig!! We had nothing pink until she was 2. Then the family gifts changed that. But me? I love pink and wear it all the time...]

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