‘I’ve realised sexism is hard-coded into my lexicon’
Trying to raise my young sons to be feminists is a proving to be a tough challenge
‘Paw Patrol’ is like ‘Homeland’ for preschoolers.
“Why is there no Skye on my tee-shirt,” my almost-three-year-old looks up at me with disappointment as he names the five male Paw Patrol puppies on his top, the female being the only missing one.
Despite having taken several college courses on gender inequality and feminist theory, none had prepared me for this. How do you explain sexism to a kid? “Well Arthur, the exclusion of Skye on your tee-shirt is the child-gendering process being imposed by the patriarchy.”
If you don’t hang out with children under five, I should explain.
Paw Patrol is like Homeland for preschoolers. Skye is the only original female member of the talking rescue dog squad. She dresses in pink and flies a helicopter.
If you do hang out with the most energetic small humans in the world, you will know all about Paw Patrol . . . over and over. Its formulaic stories are so addictive I’ve restricted it to Fridays. So every morning I get asked, “what day is it today?”.
For months, I convinced Arthur it was only available on other people’s TVs. But one day I broke the emergency glass that is Paw Patrol. It can’t be unbroken. It is the ultimate bribe if you want your toddler to do something seemingly impossible like walk home in a straight line without stopping. But like any drug, one is never enough and there’s always a hangover (tears).
Most preschool homes will have at least one piece of its endless merchandise. While Skye features on bright pink ‘girl’ clothes, she’s nowhere to be seen on any of the ‘boy’ tee-shirts I can find.
I had over the years thought about how I would raise a feminist daughter – including making sure she owned lots of non-pink clothes. But it turns out I have two wonderful boys and I’ve realised that raising them to be feminists is just as important.
Obviously, this starts with role models at home, not in cartoons. The boys have parents who equally share household duties. Therefore, I can only see it as a positive that my toddler already knows that Daddy’s cooking is way better than Mammy’s (he makes a “bleugh” sound when he sees my rubbery scrambled eggs coming).
Arthur recently asked me to put together his train set in a tone with all the urgency of a call to the Paw Patrol. Since it takes half an hour to put together and a two-minute tantrum to dismantle and I was in the middle of feeding his younger brother, I replied “wait until Daddy gets home”.
However, fearing this was saying that a woman couldn’t do this, I sat down on the floor, feeding the little brother with one hand and reading the instructions (clearly not written by someone with impatient children), with the other. Much muffled cursing later, there was a version of the train set. Not the one pictured on the box. There were lots of leftover pieces and dead ends. But it worked and I was very proud.
“Is Daddy nearly home?” he sighed.
Despite my efforts, somehow the sexism is hard-coded into my lexicon. “Don’t hurt him,” I shout as the toddler chases a hapless bird in the playground (I have no idea how to tell a bird’s sex except ducks and peacocks). ‘Coo coo here comes Mr Firefly,’ I say to the three-month-old as I wave his colourful genderless toy during ‘tummy time’.
Sometimes my enthusiasm goes too far.
When I recently spotted a female bus driver while out with my public-transport-obsessed son, I screeched with excitement. “Look there’s a woman bus driver.”
Realising my overzealousness was giving the game away, I change my tone to casual. For months, I’ve been teaching him to wait for the “green person” before crossing the road. It hasn’t caught on. “Green man means go, orange man means hurry up,” he tells me.
I think I’ll have to pick my battles.
So what was my answer to the conundrum of the missing Skye? It turns out she is hiding behind all the male pups!
Yes, I bottled it.
As for a super-sparkly pink Skye top for my son?