Before Baby-Bel had turned 6 months and was barely mobile, her Great Aunt gifted to her a scarily life-like baby doll, complete with its own pushchair. Aside from giving me the heebie-jeebies as a result of its ability to blink, drink, cry and babble, Baby-Bel today revealed that it also wears a pair of real child’s pants (aged Newborn) – wee-ird. While she engaged in interacting with her inanimate friend, it occurred to me that the path is already being laid out before her, dictating the choices society deems apt for a Girl.
As hard as I have tried not to swathe her in a snow storm of pink, I have gradually found myself relenting. Moreover, the majority of the clothes she still wears are gifts from kind friends and family – all under the spell of the pink pixie. Plus, I am known to be partial to a touch of prissy in pink myself. But having said that, Baby-Bel wears mostly trousers (practical – who can be bothered with hauling on a pair of tights after every nappy change?) and I prefer dark colours (all the better for hiding dirt and stains) – so her ranking in the girlie stakes is, at most, mediocre.
I am increasingly wary of forging and enforcing stereotypes on a child who currently is open to boundless options. She delights in her cousin’s toy cars and most certainly harbours a slightly destructive boisterousness typically associated with little boys (being made of puppy dogs’ tails and all). But that doesn’t worry me. I embrace her liveliness, curiosity and willingness to explore the small world of which she is aware. My only worry is that she is already being defined and presumed to be of a certain inclination, through no conscious choosing of her own. And I have myself to blame as much as any other.
This morning I picked out 2 birthday cards – one with a big yellow tractor for a boy (might as well have the words ‘alpha male’ emblazoned on it) and one with 3 ballerinas in twirling frou-frou pink tutus for a girl – I rest my case. Who’s to say whether the boy might not prefer a bit of Billy Elliot-inspired frippery? Baby-Bel might still be at an age where a good deal of the toys she shares at her play dates are very much of a unisex nature: shape sorters, puzzles, musical instruments, walkers and ride-ons. But there is a fork in the road ahead. Barely perceptible initially; you’d be forgiven for thinking they were just two lanes on the same dual carriageway – blink and you’ll miss it – bare left for ladies; right for the road to manhood. The fast lane permits more reckless attitudes and bravado – think fire engines, trucks, building bricks, guns (well, less so than in my day); the left hand lane encourages pursuits of a more leisurely and altogether meek manner – fairies, doll houses, dressing up (as nurses to the boys’ doctors). Come to think of it, boys are groomed to do, rule, build, provide. And the girls? It seems they are groomed to nurture and fantasise.
I’m no feminist and will happily have doors courteously opened for me by gentlemen but I am left wondering, what if Baby-Bel decides her inclinations are altogether more boyish than the hackneyed norm for her ilk? Will it be a case of access denied or worse, the abandonment of dream goals for the sake of convention? I want her vista to be wide as the Sargasso Sea; not halved at the outset by stultifying conformity. After all, I come from a culture where sons are the prized bull in the herd; daughters incite near indifference. As for inheritance, girls don’t count – it’s a boys-only club so on my brother all will be bestowed.
It suddenly dawns on me that Baby-Bel has gone disconcertingly quiet – usually a sign she is indulging in activities of a forbidden nature (last time she was emptying out the contents of my bedside drawer). Sneaking a peek, I find her with her thumb pressed firmly in the eye socket of her baby doll, intent on gouging out the eye ball. Hmmm. Perhaps it is premature to be worrying over her subjugation. Furthermore, it seems her maternal instinct might even rival my own meagre offering.