Gender, Sport & Toddlers

Toddlers are our chance to change the world.

Ok a bold statement, and don’t get alarmed…I’m not mustering a troop of whisk waving two year olds just yet.

But toddlers are impressionable. They are mostly unencumbered by society’s rules and stereotypes. They are also at the start of their knowledge-gaining and opinion-forming journey through life.

Exposing my son to a male dominated and quite traditional sporting environment from day dot means he may develop a blinkered idea of what is normal in terms of gender roles. This has got me thinking.

I believe that we, as responsible adults and caregivers, have a duty to think about the world’s future for men and women when we are helping shape our toddler’s wisdom.

And there are two toddler character traits that mean we have a pretty wonderful starting point.

 

1. They question everything: 

My two year old is heavily into naming things at the moment, people being a favourite. We have moved on from the blanket ‘man’ identification that was in vogue a few weeks ago and have added ‘woman’ to the repertoire.

Friday found my son and I (not unusually) on the edge of a cricket pitch.

‘Man’ pointing to batsman
‘Man’ pointing to bowler
‘Man, man, man’ taking in a few fielders
‘Daddy’ pointing to Daddy
‘Man’ pointing to opposing team on balcony
‘Man’ pointing to spectators
‘Man’ pointing to groundsmen

‘Woman’, no pointing.
‘Woman!’ no pointing but getting louder
‘WOMAN?’

People were starting to look. I was roused from my habitual response of ‘mmm, man, oh yes’ and I waited.

My son turned to face me ‘no woman? Any woman?’.

Hmm a quick scour of the pitch, the few spectators and the surrounding areas confirmed that indeed there were no women.

I do understand why there were no women on that particular day. I wouldn’t expect to see hundreds of men at a women’s sport event either. Although I bet there would be a few, perhaps the odd coach or spectator at least.

But this isn’t really the point. The point is that the toddler asked.

Sport is a big part of our lives, perhaps it will be a big part of his too. I hope he always asks where the women are.

 

  1. Anything is Possible:

My son and I were playing in the kitchen one morning. I got cold and put on the first thing I found which happened to be my husband’s tracksuit top. A fetching sporting number, it is logo-ed to the hilt as you would expect.

The logos are instantly recognisable to our toddler as emblems of ‘Daddy work’. He stopped ‘chopping’ vegetables and came closer to study and identify.

I waited for the expected ‘Daddy work’. He came really close until he was touching the team badge, he looked at me and then back at the badge.

‘Mummy work’ he declared, satisfied.

Now my son knows I ‘work’ (it’s what we call my volunteering and my book group). I asked what he thinks Mummy does at work:

‘Bat, ball, hit, bat, hole, YAYYY!’

Admittedly this probably has more to do with his skewed vision of what ‘work’ is than anything more profound.

But what a liberated and innocent starting point to think that Mummy could overcome gender (ahem and talent) and play for the same team as Daddy.

 

There must come a point after toddler-hood and somewhere in our childhood where we naturally conform to the rules and expectations of the environments we are exposed to.

I hope when that point comes for my son that he carries on questioning. I’m not expecting him to change the world. But I hope he can navigate through any damaging stereotypes with a strong ‘fairness’ compass. And I hope that he always believes that anything is possible.

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31 thoughts on “Gender, Sport & Toddlers

  1. While you say you’re not mustering a troop of toddlers, I quite like the idea of sending bands of them into corporate board rooms and corridors of government to look around and shout, “Woman? No woman?!” 🙂
    You’re right. Kids ask the questions we’ve stopped asking because we’ve accepted situations as “the way things are” or “the done thing”. As you say, let’s hope they can keep asking these questions.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I found that the gender-biased cultural norms happen by osmosis: one day my son came home from school and proclaimed that pink was a girl’s colour. Despite my protestations, the fact that I detest pretty much anything pink, and ignoring for a moment the tsunami of pinkness when it comes to girls under the age of ten, I argued valiantly and ultimately, pointlessly. Along with grazed knees and a Minecraft habit, he is collecting a whole family of cultural norms that I would rather he didn’t as he grows up. But I shall continue to try and show them for what they are, to make sure he knows that whilst most men can throw a ball further than a women, that does not disprove the fact that GIRLS ARE BESTEST.

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    1. Haha! Absolutely! Yes I am happy for my son to be and like whatever he wants. And there must be something that is just built-in as well as osmosis… my son is seriously into vehicles, generally big ‘boyish’ ones like bulldozers and car transporters. Having the dialogue though is what’s important isn’t it. Great comment as ever x

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  3. I have a boy & girl, 2 & 4, & they are already very much aware of gender. For a short while, big girl would only colour with pink, red & orange. ‘Girl colours’. Small boy wasn’t allowed to use these colours so she would split all pens/pencils at the start of a colouring session. It isn’t that bad any more, she is slowly expanding her narrow selection & I make a point of using all the colours, despite her protestations that I am using ‘boy colours’ which isn’t allowed. I think it’s subtle things that can filter down subconsciously. Wimbledon was on & they switched from the men’s semi final to a women’s match briefly. My hubby made a throw away comment like; “who wants to watch women play?!” I’m pretty sure it was the timing as he isn’t usually a big sexist arse but I pointed out to him how that could affect big girl, he really thought about it as he would 100% be her biggest champion in anything she chose to do & is so encouraging of her in everything, it really made him realise the power of the little things that you say affecting small people. This is how these things start, a seed of an idea that girls can’t do something that finds water & nourishment from the other comments she will hear in her life time. I aim to squash it now & teach her she can be & do anything. In a bright pink tutu if she wishes!! 😉 (Phew, bit of a long comment there, great post!!)

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    1. I think you are absolutely right that things filter down subconsciously. And your seed analogy is just perfect. So is the pink tutu!
      I’m really interested in the difference in raising boys and girls when dealing with these things and instilling a sense of possibility in a child (boy or girl). Have you noticed a big difference in your approach yet? Or do you think maybe boys don’t need as much teaching that they can be anything because we live in a society where they sort of can?? So they need teaching that anyone can be anything?? I don’t know!! And, although I’m asking that, I don’t know that I do think boys think they can be anything…They can have it hard when it comes to expectations too…

      Anyway a great comment and thank you for taking the time to make it x

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I think I can see the doubt in my lg whereas my boy seems fearless & confident in his ability to do anything he chooses. He needs a lot of emotional support where she is more independent but when it comes to sports it just seems a given in his mind that he can do it & be amazing. She needs more gentle encouragement. Maybe it is inbuilt into females to feel unsure about these things so the seeds of doubt find more fertile ground there. I am trying to show by example that girls are just as able to do things as boys. Doesn’t help that my hub is super sporty & I am super not so he thrashes me at most things!! 😀

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    1. Thank you for hosting!
      Yes it was really sweet and just made me realise that it’s good to answer those sorts of questions from time to time. It was quite unusual that there were absolutely no women to be seen though!

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  4. How interesting that he would think to point out the absence of women. Yes, let’s hope he will continue to question that. I love how naturally accepting and tolerant children are. As you say, they will assume that anything is possible. They will also accept everyone as they are. Very sad that in order for all the prejudices and discrimination that still exist in society to continue, children have to be learning along the way not to accept people. Children naturally question & they will notice differences, but they don’t naturally judge, discriminate or limit.

    Anyway – what a great, thought-provoking post. x

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    1. Thank you. Yes you’re so right, there is a big difference between questioning and judging / noticing and discriminating. Lovely comment silly friend. So my husband took him to a women’s game at the same ground a few days ago in order for him to find all the women….he’s now saying ‘woman, bat ball hit bat yayyy!’. It’s wonderful that acceptance is so much part of his world at the moment. X

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  5. I find it fascinating what goes through their little minds. I am quite hot on making sure that my son doesn’t play with gender specific toys, he loves car’s and his baby.
    I hope that we as his parents can instill the fact that it’s okay not to conform and be different. I have always felt that I have needed to ‘follow the crowd’ which I know as led me down roads that I shouldn’t have gone. I am hoping that he can a sense of self-worth and be confident in himself.
    Great post!!
    Becky xx
    #TwinklyTuesday

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  6. I really enjoyed reading this on #twinklytuesday Lucy. You make a good point here. I always loved the days when my daughter and her babygroup buddies played without these boundaries. The pink baby buggy was fair game for any toddler and would be fought for like a pot of gold with no question of male or female. The king (or Queen) of the baby group would undoubtedly be the one with the toughest grip and the biggest shove.

    I think the ‘conforming’ for us came once The Kid started nursery.

    However, we do now have the rise of the boy girl and the girl boy. This for the initiated means girls that play football and boys that don’t! We have football boys and non-football boys. Progress perhaps in that these kids are not feeling pressured to conform and are equally respected by their peers for being different and different is OK.

    I could carry on but as I’m on my hols, I’m going to leave it there. Great read.

    Nicky x

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    1. Thanks Nicky, ooo I was an uninitiated one…that’s interesting. I hope that continues as they get older and so neither boys nor girls feel they have to do something they don’t want to. Very interesting as well that you noticed ‘comforming’ at nursery. An age thing or exposure to more children more frequently as well…?? I don’t know! It also makes me wonder about the old nature/nurture aspect too. Such a great comment, thank you for taking the time to make it and happy holidays!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. This is something I worry about too. RJ’s Dad is a boys-boy, and went to an all boys school, so his gender politics are a bit squiffy to say the least (mainly in that he doesnt think men and women can be friends, there must be an…erm..you know what element to it!) Raising a feminist boy is going to be a challenge!

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  8. What a lovely post! Toddlers are so impressionable and it’s probably the time when we’re the most openminded we’ll ever be in our lives. It sounds like you’re doing a good job raising him too 🙂 #wineandboobs

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    1. That’s very kind of you to say so. Thank you. And I completely agree with you about toddlers being impressionable and openminded, it’s unknown openmindedness isn’t it? But perhaps that’s the best kind. Thanks for commenting x

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I love this – it’s amazing how toddlers are so fine tuned at noticing irregularity. They really question things, and make US question things. Perhaps they are not as “Neanderthal” as we all previously thought then…! #wineandboobs

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    1. Thanks Debbie, that’s kind. A few days later we took him to the same ground to watch a women’s team play, hopefully he’ll grow up thinking that it’s just as acceptable/normal (although less frequent admittedly in his experience) to have a pitch and balcony full of women as it is men!
      I appreciate you popping by…and thank you for the social sharing too x

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  10. I love how toddlers question everything – my eldest was always asking “why?” about everything. I was having a conversation with my six year old recently though about activities and sports and he was saying that he could only do ‘boy’ sports because he is a boy. I tried to explain to him that there is no such thing as ‘boy’ or ‘girl’ sports these days as anyone can play/do anything. I gave the example of a male friend of ours who was a brilliant ballet dancer. I think this clarified it for my son as the look on his face was of “oh, ok then”. He still said he didn’t want to do dancing, but do soccer instead, but he suggested his younger brother might want to do dancing. At least he knows it is a perfectly acceptable choice. #wineandboobs

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