Through their Twitter account @GenderDiary Ros Ball and her partner James have been cataloguing the drip-drip-drip of gendered messages their children receive. With the e-book of the project out today, Ros explained to us how the project came about, and what they hope it’s achieved.
After I had children things suddenly looked very different to me. It was like seeing the world with fresh eyes and what I saw was that nothing seemed fair or equal between girls and boys. I always knew I was going to find the pink and blue divide hard but I wasn’t prepared for just how goddamn angry it made me.
For Christmas of 2010 my partner James gave me a battered second-hand book he’d bought on Ebay written in the 80’s. ‘There’s a good girl’ by Marianne Grabrucker was a book that made all that rage make sense.
Marianne was a lawyer in Germany and while on maternity leave she decided to keep a diary of how her daughter was growing up in a world that stereotyped her because of her sex. This record of a child’s gendered life seemed to be the evidence I felt no one acknowledged – that people treat girls and boys very differently and don’t admit they’re doing it.
We all know that writing things down can be cathartic so it seemed totally natural to follow in Marianne’s footsteps. James and I started a Twitter account (@GenderDiary) and began keeping a record of the things we noticed on a daily basis. And my goodness there was plenty.
So for example on day two of the diary:
11th January 2011
Being shown round her new nursery a member of staff said to our daughter, “this is what we call the boys corner”. It’s a play table for cars.
14th January 2011
Today we had visitors. Our daughter wanted to wear a bridesmaid’s dress she had worn for a friend’s wedding. She said she wanted to wear her dress because the visitors “will like me”. She was right I suppose. A girl in a frilly dress gets a lot of “don’t you look lovely in your pretty dress!” etc. She obviously associates people appreciating her appearance with being liked. There isn’t much discussion from visitors about what our boy is wearing or how pretty he looks.
25th January 2011
Only been tweeting for two weeks but have been amazed at how often there has been something to tweet about. Almost every day. An obvious one this, but a reminder of the different treatment from day one: A friend who has just had a baby girl is very popular and has a house full of cards. There is only one that isn’t pink.
It became a part of our daily life to take note and write it down. It amazed us how keen people were to force children to stick to gender ‘rules’. They seemed to be policing our children. It was everywhere – in children’s TV, films, books, sport, clothes, nursery, school, and of course toys.
10th January 2011
Taken to the panto by her Granny this weekend our daughter and her cousins were buying toys at a stall. Her two older male cousins said, “Why don’t you get this?” and directed her to the pink fluffy tiara. One of her male cousins chose a flashing torch which had pink plastic casing. The woman on the stall said, “Shall I get you that in blue?”
26th January 2011
Today we saw the second of 2 different programmes that had a plot on the embarrassment of a male character because he is wearing pink. If it’s ok for males to be embarrassed of being in any way ‘like a girl’ in quite benign kids TV shows then it’s very deep in our culture.
24th July 2012
This just in from the kids’ aunt: “Sitting by pool with 2-year-old on my knee looking at ‘Where’s Wally?’ book, finding the characters amongst the pyramids. The girl on her mummy’s knee next to us was showing an interest and her mum told her it was a boy’s book! Wtf?! I said I didn’t think it was a boy’s book, and that my daughter loves it just as much as her brothers.”
The gender police were affecting children’s lives, so I was still raging, right?
But what I hadn’t expected was that Twitter would bring us into a circle of people who felt the same and wanted to share their experiences and do something about it. We began sharing ideas, links and wonderful images like this by Cy Chase and Eva Sawyer:
And this t-shirt, one of my all time favourite designs, by Jill and Jack kids:
People encouraged us to write more about gender stereotyping and as we did we decided we didn’t want to just moan about the situation, we wanted to think of ways to change it. We crowd-sourced lists of feminist children’s books, films and toy shops. We discussed ways to use language to be inclusive and we shared ideas on how to take anti-sexist workshops into schools.
But it wasn’t all positive, and sometimes the mountain that we needed to climb to change our culture left us feeling weighed down and depressed. Towards the end of our diary a new group called Let Toys Be Toys appeared and reminded us that campaigning really can work. We’re really lucky to have such an effective group fighting on our side and they continue to inspire us.
Finally after two years of writing the diary we decided we’d written enough but we still wanted to be able to share everything we’d learnt. So we’ve compiled the diary and all our writing into an ebook – ‘The Gender Police: A Diary’.
And we had learnt a huge amount during the project, not just about children and society, but about ourselves and our complicity in the whole daft patriarchy as much as anything else.
‘The Gender Police: A Diary’ is the evidence of two years work – and gives us all proof that we’re right when we say that stereotypes hurt children and limit their lives. We hope the book will help you gain confidence from knowing there are other people out there who feel the same, and that together we can take on the work of creating a more fair and gender-equal world for our kids.