My daughter is ready for her first bicycle. My son is ready for his first ‘laufrad’ (Does this have an English name? Wheel-less bike? Push bike? Google translated it as ‘impeller’??!!). Sadly, he is getting a hand-me-down, while she is getting a new one. I have a feeling this will be repeated in a few years, when he is also ready for a bicycle.
So, I went online, as we always do, to find out more about the perfect bike. The first site (and the second, and the third…) I visited had two pages: ‘boys bikes’ and ‘girls bikes’. No overlap; no mutual, unisex bikes… just two separate pages.
I can feel this blog becoming a bit of a rant. How is it that something as genderless as a bicycle has to be classified like this? It’s not even, as with adult bikes, that the cross bar is in a different place (unnecessarily in my opinion- unless you are still living in the Victorian age and wearing long, billowy skirts). It is solely colour. All the boys bikes are blue/ black/ orange/ red, and the girls bikes are pink/ purple/ more pink. Girls get pink Hello Kitty bikes and boys get blue Captain Sharkey. Girls get a pink rabbit design, and boys get a green crocodile. Why? WHY??
It’s the same with clothes: when I shop for my son he can be a superhero, a train driver or a mechanic. When I shop for my daughter she gets cupcakes, flowers and to be batman’s wife! Boys get to be heroes. Girls get to marry them.
OK. I smiled for a second when I saw these t-shirts for the first time, but then I stopped smiling. However innocent these messages seem to be, our children are at their most persuasive age right now, so what message are we really sending them? Many people don’t see the problem in the bicycles or shirts, but kids are very aware of what they see, and build up a set of information which will be with them for their whole lives. Lisa Wade, associate professor of sociology at Occidental College, California, says that young children are rigid about gender stereotypes: “They learn their gender identities are very relevant and they learn that there’s a lot of very complicated rules about how to be a girl or a boy, and they’re at that stage of life where they’re trying to learn the rules”. It’s just a t-shirt, but the subliminal messages are that girls shouldn’t be assertive, or shouldn’t be good at science, or should focus on how they look, not who they are. It’s just a bicycle, but the colour encourages both sexes to get stuck in a specific role- one that could stay with them the rest of their life. Is that what you want for your daughter?
It’s not just girls who are getting the message. Boys can read the underlying text too, that girls are in some way lesser than they are. Boys are learning that girls should defer to their needs and wishes, and that girls are weaker, less capable, princesses. It’s not all positive for boys either, though. How often have you heard the comments: “man up”, “boys don’t cry”, “don’t be a girl”? They are insulting to both sexes, and reinforce in a terrible way what I think we should be trying to remove from society: this never- ending set of expectations that we have for our children.
There are so many million gender stereotypes that our children will have to face and combat throughout their lives… surely we can totally avoid my pet peeve- the bicycle. My daughter is now riding a black/ blue/ orange bike, and my son is on an orange/ pink ‘laufrad’. Do they care? Not in the slightest.