Here are some things that have been said to me by my 4 year old daughter, and by friends’ daughters of similar ages to their parents:
“Boys don’t do ballet do they mum? They only tapdance”
“Football is for boys”
“Boys can already play football at school, it’s too hard to join in”
And said to a friend’s daughter: “You can’t play tag with us because you run too fast.”
(There are many more of these and variations on the theme).
Here are some observations:
There are virtually no women represented in the National Football Museum.
There is hardly any women’s sport on television, and women’s successes in sport (women’s cricket anyone?) can pass by unnoticed.
You don’t see schools’ girls sports (hockey or netball) on television.
Advertising of sports and toys reinforces gender stereotypes.
Girls do less exercise than boys.
Girls’ shoes (school shoes and otherwise) are not made for running around or climbing trees.
Our Sports and Equalities Minister, Helen Grant, suggested that women who are put off by ‘unfeminine sports’ should be encouraged to try ballet or cheerleading. [And I refer you back to my daughter’s comment ‘boys don’t do ballet, do they mum?’
How we play when we are little affects how we play when we grow bigger. I don’t know about you but I am pretty self conscious about trying something new, and about not doing something well. It comes as no surprise to me that joining a group of children who play football faster, better, more confidently, more knowledgeably is a hard thing to do. It comes as no surprise to me that joining a group of children in a ballet class that is for girls is a tough thing to do if you’re a boy and want to fit in.
It seems that sports brands such as Nike and Adidas have been leading the way in marketing sports to women. It’s not about being feminine or segregating sports yet further. More of this please. Because how we (parents, teachers, grown ups, marketing companies) talk to our children about gender matters.