As I was getting started on this article about the problems of gendered play, something remarkable happened. I went to buy a new battery for my watch. I asked two shop attendants if they could help me and while doing so, both of them stopped, pointed at my watch and asked if it was for me. I said yes and they replied, “How cute”. The face of the watch was pink; a very faint colour of pink barely noticeable.
Sure, we can say that the shop attendants didn't mean anything by it, but their actions still reveal a typical gender role pattern that is more limited than unlimited. It is a mindset that starts off looking at life from a strict gendered point of view. Imagine how much time and energy is wasted worrying about what fits one's gender role or not? This is valuable time and energy that could, for instance, be used to find creative solutions for pressing societal issues that our world faces.
It starts when the baby is born. Parents hurry to ask; is it a boy or a girl? Preconceived notions of gender are then passed on to the child. Boys are expected to be tougher and stronger, girls are expected to be proper, have clean clothes and a tidy room. Soldiers and the colour blue for boys, dolls and the colour pink for girls. It sounds cliché and old fashioned right? Though something that I obviously had to endure recently. Years go by and girls are schooled into the path of ‘proper behaviour’ where a subtle step back occurs; a behaviour they’re praised for. Boys are expected to elbow their way through and step forward.
This falls in line with what the Harvard Business Review reported when they wrote, “A majority of women don't apply for jobs unless they "believe" and "assume" they are 100% “qualified”. According to a Mckinsey report, women are often hired based on their experience and men on their potential.
Two years ago, an analysis by economists at the World Economic Forum found that in England, women's salaries went down £2,700 in a year. England fell out of the list of top 20 gender equal countries.
People tell me that they always remember having either pink or blue clothes and toys, for example, from a very young age and that it must be a natural part of people’s identity. Well, memories manifest around the time we learn to speak, and by that time the child have, via parents and society, already been moulded with the gender stereotypes, much like a newly bought computer with pre-installed software.
Observations have been made in a kindergarten that younger girls were told by their older female peers that they should cross their legs while sitting down; anything else was unfeminine. My thoughts also lead me to think of my friend and the upset state she was in when her son was teased for playing with dolls, “Now he only plays with cars!”
So, gendered play could be seen to rob us of a larger vision. It affects our workplace, and can bully us through school and into later life, it creates confusion about one's gender role and can lead to misunderstandings in relationships, be it private or business. The main problem with gendered play are the ramifications for the future and this was mirrored in the moment with the pink watch.
Going back to the ‘pink watch moment’ gives evidence of how subtle the gender role norm is. Had I not been aware of it like I am today I might have gone home and felt stress, anxiety and bullied, without knowing why. Often times when men and women meet, a censorship of thoughts, expressions and body language ensues - psychological constructs so deeply rooted it feels coded in our DNA.
A lack of awareness of the root cause is like having an invisible boxer that keeps punching you, and the discussion of a focused gender equal society has to be realised on a humane level as a human right.
I keep imagining a future where people are liberated from the confinement of strict gender roles and freely mix without labelling each other as gay, lesbian, straight etc. A future where minds are freed, truly creative and have infinitely larger scopes of vision. I see people looking back at how we live and wonder how we could have ever gone on that way, and how we almost robbed each other of our lives because we found it hard to imagine anything other than what we grew up with.