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The objectification of girls? Keep your legs together!

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Serious subject alert!
I’m not sure at the start of writing this where I’m headed so bear with me!
This post is inspired by the exam I invigilated last week. As I wandered up and down the rows of students a few things leaped out at me, harking back to my uni days when I studied Women’s Studies.
It was a maths paper. One third of the girls had a pink calculator. Now normally I wold be celebrating that every student had remembered a calculator but the pinkness seemed forced and out of place. Every other calculator was black, no blue or any other colour. Is it a way of expressing femininity or has society controlled these girls to like pink? Would a boy have been ridiculed for having a pink calculator?
My sister was adamant when she had my niece that she would avoid pink. 4 years later and my niece is a pink fanatic. In contrast I dressed Anya in pink right from the beginning, worried she would be mistaken for a boy (seriously, would that have been so terrible? but a friend of mine had been upset by the same thing… 🙁 )
The toys Anya got for Christmas last year were all in pink packaging. She wants pink everything! But would I give her a pink calculator? No, I don’t think so. It is a functional piece of equipment not a statement of personality. Or is it?
Back to the exam: it seemed to be some sort of sports day and many students were in their PE kit. The boys all had loose baggy shorts and the girls had skin hugging leggings or shorts. Of those in uniform, only 1 girl had trousers, and I hate to make assumptions but judging by her surname I would guess that may be for religious or cultural reasons. At my own son’s school the PE kit is tracksuit bottoms or leggings, with the boys all having the former and the girls the latter. Am I being too fussy to think that 4 year olds are having fashion stereotypes reinforced (by parents or wider social influences)?
Regardless of whether they were in shorts, skirts or the one in trousers, all of the girls sat neatly with their legs together or crossed. The boys in contrast were sat with legs wide apart. As I sit here typing, my knees are together and my ankles crossed. It has been deeply entrenched in me not to spread my legs!
In the last week it has made the national news that boys have been allowed to wear skirts to a school in protest at being unable to wear shorts in the hot weather. Remember the outrage when David Beckham wore a sarong?! Both genders are confined by society’s norms. Girls/women seem to have more freedom in their choice of clothes but does fashion just find new ways to turn them into objects for the male gaze?
So are girls objectified? Are they expected to be sexy? Is fashion a performance? The clothes girls wear are close fitting yet they keep their legs together for fear of flashing pants. Every so often we hear of bras or other inappropriate clothing being released and marketed for young girls which causes outrages amongst parents.
I always sit with my legs crossed. I was sent to the Head Teacher at secondary school for the length of my skirt being too short (yet he enforced the hideous knicker shorts in PE that everyone hated) Anya drives me mad by flashing her pants as she messes around with her brothers whilst wearing a dress or skirt (which is her preference). But is that because I am worried about the opinion and censure of others? Is it so terrible to have pants on display? In another exam I saw a LOT of boys showing off the waistband of their designer pants, cleverly designed to be on display and advertise the brand. Seriously, does this appeal to girls?
I am guilty of judging others 🙁 One girl was wearing so much make up in the exam I had no idea what her actual face looked like. She was blank, a complete mask. Others I was desperate to tell them to make a little effort. Trapped by my own double standard 🙁
It is troubling to me as the mother of a daughter. I want Anya (and the boys!) to be confident in her appearance and develop her own style. Yet I want her to think about her choices: does it matter, who is she trying to impress, is she happy?
Being a teenager is difficult for most of us! And being comfortable in our own skin and clothes is a luxury I didn’t achieve for a long time. I have always been my harshest critic but now I realise it doesn’t matter what the world thinks of me, only my kids and partner. I want them to be proud to be seen with me but at the end of the day I have to be able to live with myself.
Have things really changed that much or am I just more conscious of it now I have a daughter? Do I want my boys to treat women as objects to look good? Do I want Anya to judge herself against impossible ideals? Yet equally first impressions are essential, we are judged on our appearance whether we’re dating, job hunting or just out and about in general. I am reminded of Judge Judy’s catchphrase ‘beauty fades, dumb is forever’ and that applies to boys AND girls.
So thank you for making your way through my musings. Is there such a huge gender divide? Are boys and girls equally affected by social norms? Or am I an old fuddy duddy?!

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41 comments

  1. Although my daughter is only six, I’m proud to say she doesn’t seem affected (and neither are her friends) of “social norms”. As a young toddler, she preferred playing with cars and her train tracks than dolls. She did go through the pink-stage, but thankfully out grew it and is now in the black and purple stage :):)

  2. Yes I believe both genders are affected by society’s push to conform – whether it’s a pink calculator or boys liking dolls. My niece now 18 went thru a “princess purple” stage but outgrew it. My nephew had a doll at 8 and went through an adolescent everything black stage from head to toe. Some of life’s choices are affected by norms and others are an individual choice. #MMBC

  3. I think that gender stereotypes are very much a part of our culture right now. We are made even more aware of them by the people who are trying to fight them.
    I definitely believe that we need to fight for equality. We should allow boys and girls to have their own interests based on their likes and dislikes. I don’t have as much of a problem with gender stereotypes as some do though. I think that men and women are inherently different (biologically if in no other way.), and we can enjoy those differences as well.
    Thanks for sharing! #mmbc

  4. There is definitely huge pressure to conform. When I was younger I would get teased for looking like a boy because I didn’t wear make up which apparently made me look masculine x

  5. Both of my sons had dolls and a pushchair to play with as well as kitchen toys and household equipment toys, because they wanted them when they were small. Yet, even in a home where toys are just toys, not for a specific gender they eventually gravitated towards their own ideas of what is meant for boys.
    Maybe it was the influence of school and what they see on TV?

  6. My 5 year old has already decided she doesn’t like pink. My four year old has been quite resolute about the fact that she wants to be a builder when she grows up. I guess there’s hope for them!

  7. Interesting as there are so many different ways of looking at the same thing. Is it self expression, peer pressure or parental pressure? What of these is bad, middling or fine? Lots to think about.

  8. There is so ways to look at it, my boy loves everything rainbow and pretty, and I don’t discourage it, I’m pretty relaxed about it all,and try and let them just go with what they like. Although my little girl is only 14 months so not sure how I will see things later on.
    #RVHT

  9. We are our historical wiring, unfortunately – and it creeps out in surprising and ugly fashion at times, no matter how enlightened we try to be. Love the Judge Judy quote #GlobalBlogging

  10. Sarah Ann

    I always had a black calculator because I was never into pink as a child/teenager and thankfully, it was never inflicted upon me. I think – as others have said – there is a push to conform which heavily affects both genders (I would argue more so during teenage years when there’s a lot of peer pressure to deal with)..

  11. I try and avoid pink toys as with a house of boys (and one girl), the toys should be enjoyed by everyone. As a baby Eliza was dressed in greens, blues, yellows but now she is 6 and knows her own mind, she is a proper pink princess!!

  12. No, you aren’t an old fuddy-duddy. I have the exact same concerns. When my adopted daughter arrived to live with us she was just a profusion of pink. But she has now got over that and hates all things pink, much prefers to do more ‘boyish’ things. I let her experiment and explore here feminine side, but back it up with a whole lot of self-esteem. I want here to be comfortable with herself and not feel the pressure to be pink and pretty! Fab post! #Bigpinklink

  13. I think there are so many expectations when you’re younger as to how you should dress and act. I never really wore pink as a kid, I was kept in quite neutral clothing and I grew up choosing to dress in darker colours, and as a teenager I rarely wore makeup until I was about 16/17 x

  14. I agree there are definitely norms in the way of behaviour and pink items or the “girl” equivalent. That being said, I quit like the idea of a pink calculator and other things and I would probably buy one not because i’m a girl but because I like them and I also want that to be okay too (if you know what I mean)

  15. So many factors can have an impact on our children can’t they. I wish it was easy for them to remain individual, like they are when they’re tiny and they don’t see the gender specific toys and traits. I think it certainly gets harder for people as they get older to remain uninfluenced by peers and the media. I suppose all we can do is guide our kids. Thanks for joining #bigpinklink x

  16. I just go with the flow with my kids. I let them watch programmes they like, regardless of whether it is meant for boys or girls, and I do the same with toys., Maybe I find it easy because they are boy/girl twins, so I have to satisfy 2 genders.

  17. I have a pink laptop. My first two mobile phones were pink. I unashamedly love pink but hate dresses and only rarely wear skirts. I tend to sit with my legs spread apart – but maybe that’s a queer thing *shrugs* – I usually blame my love of more masculine hats (trilby, fedora, etc.) on queerness (i.e. the get out of jail fabulous card!)

    Whatever you do, people are going to judge you. Because they don’t realise that actually they’re judging themselves. (Raised by hippies, not my fault.)

    Just teach your kids to respect themselves and their own bodies – and to respect others (i.e. don’t show up to a funeral with a skirt you can use as a belt.) Beyond that? They’ve gotta find their own way, and whatever they choose is A-Okay! 🙂

    #RVHT

  18. We have two boys, but would love a girl but my husband often says to me at least we don’t have to ‘worry’ knowing he’s referring to their makeup, clothing etc. But we do need to worry. I need to worry about ensuring our boys grow up respectful and honest and don’t grow up treating girls as someone that just looks good. Either way I don’t think the teenage years will be without their issues!

  19. I dressed my daughter in blue as a baby and got regular comment of ‘how old is he?’ Even when it was a skirt or bow! Now she’s four she is a big lover of all things princess and pink but still wears blue as her favourite colour!

  20. I just wrote a post about pink and how it makes me kind of uncomfortable that my daughter likes it because of all of the stereotypes that it connotes. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the colour itself, but there is something wrong with presenting it as exclusively for girls, or making dolls/domestic toys/etc all in pink, implying that boys can’t like those things. #FamilyFun

  21. I don’t like pink because of all the princess connotations, but my daughter is of course allowed to like pink. When I buy something for her, I will usually stay away from Barbie pink, which she doesn’t like either. I too feel embarrassed when she inadvertently flashes her pants while playing with her brothers, but I’ve never interrupted their games because of it.
    #FamilyFun

  22. #dreamteam food for thought…. i guess it doesn’t matter as long as their are options for equality. like the boys wearing shorts in the news last week. I’m not sure it matter what colour the calculator is, i just want them to use it well. i often buy things in my sons fav colour – green. why? because he will wear it / use it / engage with it.

  23. I think all kids will feel the pressure to conform in someway at some point but I think it’s always been that way. We all have an inherent need/desire to be liked so will do what we can to achieve that within the social circle we most identify with, whether that’s the goths or the girly girls or the sporty kids etc. As long as we do our best to teach our kids self-worth and give them the confidence to be themselves I don’t think it’s a problem, it’s all part of growing up and they’ll find they’re own way.
    #GlobalBlogging

  24. This is such an interesting read and really got me thinking. I’m a mummy to two young girls and I do worry about how to bring them up – give in to pinks and dresses or force them to be different and wear trousers and dark colours. It’s hard. I have no answers because I agree with both sides of your musings. I think we just need to teach them, as best we can, to be true to themselves and confident in their own choices… but how you do that remains to be seen! #ablogginggoodtime

  25. I have to say I don’t know where I stand on this. As a mother of two girls it is a subject I have often mused over. I get what you mean about your own double standard with the make up. I do wear make up. All the time in fact. I don’t think I cake it on but it is always present. In my defence it is solely for my benefit, I like it. I also figure that if my face offends some stranger at the supermarket it is likely to offend them with and without make up 😉 I do know my opinion on the ‘pinkness’ though. Apparently it is a developmental thing to like pink as a child. Girls like pink and boys like blue. It is the case, something like, 90% of the time. I also wanted to avoid pink when I had my first daughter. 4 years down the line our house looks like a marshmallow on the inside. Ellie is starting to outgrow the everything NEEDS to be pink or I will tantrum’ phase but thats a recent development and Trixie is still in full swing of that stage. I guess some people just don’t outgrow the pink. I am sure some boys don’t outgrow the blue but there seems to be something more acceptable about that and that is not right! Thank you for such a thought provoking read. #coolmumclub

  26. I always sit with my legs crossed too. If my daughter sneezes too loudly I tut and say “that’s not very lady like” What the hell is that all about? You’d think I was Lady Mary from Downton or something!
    #GlobalBlogging

  27. Oh that’s really interesting about the gym kits. I never thought of my little girl wearing those tight leggings for P.E but then she hasn’t started school so I guess I wouldn’t. It’s a difficult one because it doesn’t seem right to me that thats what she should wear but it is exactly what I wear to the gym and to work out and she has seen me in it so who am I to say she can’t? She would literally just be copying me. But then I drink wine and obviously I wouldn’t let her do that so there is a line to tow somewhere….oh interesting one… Thanks for sharing at #familyfun

  28. Interesting post this. Some gender stereotypes make me feel very uncomfortable. Also, I’m not all about pink for girls and blue for boys and I’m always correcting family members if they say “that’s for a girl”. Thanks for sharing with #GlobalBlogging

  29. I do think that things have changed, particularly since I was at school. I always remember our class photo for the entire year group (800 plus children). I was the only girl in a skirt. Literally all the other girls wore quite boyish trousers and sweatshirts. I think that girls seem to be under pressure to be feminine and look glamorous from a much earlier age now. My own daughter is 4 and she’s happiest in her tracksuit bottoms with wild crazy hair. I try to let her just be and not be concerned with her appearance, but I also find myself feeling under pressure to plait and take her hair so that she fits in with the other little girls. Society definitely applies that pressure on us all. Interesting read. Thanks for linking to #DreamTeam x

  30. I do think girls’ clothes tend to be objectifying from a young age. I have an eight year old daughter who repeatedly begs me crop tops. I don’t want her walking around with her belly out. I also wouldn’t have my son walking around topless, so I suppose my rules are similar!

    #RVHT

  31. I do think it’s pretty ridiculous the boys weren’t allowed to wear shorts. At my work they aren’t allowed to wear shorts either, but the women are allowed to wear skirts, which again I think is really strange. Really thought-provoking post! Thanks for sharing with #globalblogging!

  32. I think there is a huge divide . My eldest daughter plays rugby and lives in trackies and hoodies which just unsettles people. She gets comments like “oh why can’t you dress like a proper girl”…drives us both equally nuts #sharingthebloglove

  33. I have 2 girls and I’ve raised them the same. 1 loves pink and is very girly in dresses. The other while she loves a dress she plays with cars and loves red. I think most of it comes down to the child and their personality. But they can be guided by what surrounds them too. thank you for joining us at #SharingtheBlogLove

  34. I try to be very laid back as a parent, especially when it comes to gender stereotypes. My daughters are most likely to be found playing football in the garden wearing a Disney dress, with their little brother wearing the same! I think giving them choices and raising them to know they can be whatever they want to be is the most important thing. Thank you for joining us at #sharingthebloglove

  35. I think that both girls and boys come under scrutiny and as a society we are now taking things ridiculously far and basically need to chill the fuck out really!
    thanks for linking to #ablogginggoodtime

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