So recently I’ve read a couple of articles on how to raise feminist boys.
The basic principles are sound and consistent and not rocket science; modelling equality, allowing a full range of emotions, encouraging freedom in how boys play, especially around dress up and let’s pretend.
In the world of Teletubbies, we were forever defending the decision for Tinky Winky’s favourite toy to be a handbag - knowing as we did that little boys are as fascinated with their mother’s bags as little girls are, and that they very often liked to have a bag as a plaything - so, yes, it’s good to have that acknowledged now. Better late than never.
Another of the principles was to teach boys about consent from an early age, by giving them control over their own bodies by asking whether they want to be hugged or kissed. The thinking being that learning this lesson should mean that boys will grow up being equally considerate to others.
This too reminded of my days working for Anne Wood. It would infuriate her at social occasions when young children were passed round from adult to adult, or embraced regardless of whether or not they wanted to be. “We wouldn’t stand for it as adults, so why should we expect our children to tolerate that kind of behaviour? If people want something they can cuddle whenever they want, they should get a dog!”
It’s a valid point I think. How can we expect our youngsters to grow up sensitive to other’s personal space and understanding autonomy over one’s own physical being, if their earliest experiences have completely disregarded their right to choose who they allow to touch them, and how.
So let’s not take it for granted that children, of any gender, are fine with us picking them up, holding them close, kissing them or whatever. It may not always be necessary to verbalise the request for permission, but we should always pay careful attention to all the signals, to ensure that consent is there.
This Autumn, Tim Hollingsworth, the CEO of Sport England - who are tasked with increasing sport uptake in England - said that children should be taught “physical literacy” as a matter of course, much like being taught to read and write.
Despite allocating £300m of funding to grassroots sport each year, this organisation found that only 17% of children and young people met government targets for physical activity, with boys (20%) more active than girls (14%). Research shows a strong drop-off for girls, particularly when they hit their teens.
I’m sure you’re aware of all the continuing discussion around children and gender stereotyping, in the papers, on television and also within social media. Some time ago, I posted this quote on the 'How to Speak Child' Facebook page and it prompted a slew of comments, mostly expressing frustration at how engrained in common language those stereotypes can be.