I have been doing a few interviews recently about my first children's book, Pearl Power, and the reasons behind me writing it. Today I decided to share my thoughts on this and gender stereotyping with you lot too!
When I was a little girl, I wasn't into dolls and prams, I used to ride around the fields of Barnsley in South Yorkshire, on my little yellow motorbike. My long ponytail would swish about from beneath my crash helmet and my steel-soled boot would slide along the grass as I careered around bends.
At the age of around 7 or 8, I started competing in local grass-track races and I was pretty good "for a girl". I absolutely loved my weekend hobby, school however, was a different matter. All the boys were impressed at my achievements and they thought I was weird. All the girls wondered why I didn't spend my weekends with them in Boots, trying on perfume samples and they thought I was weird. I thought it was embarrassing not being like the other girls who had conformed to what the world told them to be. And so I stopped racing and I conformed too. I felt 'unaccepted' unless I did.
This isn't something that has bothered me for the last 30 years but it does now. Now that I have my own little girl and I have acknowledged my reasons for giving in. I didn't stop racing because I was scared of injury or because I didn't like it or because I was no good at it. I stopped because I was a girl. It was as simple as the gender I was born with, and that makes me disappointed in myself, but also with the deep-rooted idea that was instilled within myself and peers about what we should be like as "girls" and "boys".
The worrying part of all this is that the problem appears to have gotten worse and there's a very good reason for it.
If you make little girls feel like they too are 'unaccepted' unless they wear pink everything, have long, flowing hair... that is blonde, love anything to do with fluffy animals (especially if they wear pink glittery collars) and like certain music and TV. If you can get this huge chunk of human beings to conform to all this so that they are neatly packaged in a little box THEY ARE AN EASY SELL. Toy companies, clothing manufacturers, book and magazine publishers have so much less work to do and have so much less money to spend (and so much more money to make) when their customer is an easy target. When they are in a box.
When people ask me what triggered me writing Pearl Power and addressing gender stereotypes with it, I tell them about the morning that Pearl came up to me and declared that boys could become doctors and girls could become nurses. I don't know where she gained this ridiculous piece of information from but these notions are everywhere and they are so damaging to our little girls and boys.
So why are Smyths Toys telling boys that they can't be nurses and girls that they can't be doctors? Because it's easier to sell their costumes that way.
Groups such as Let Toys Be Toys, Let Books Be Books, A Mighty Girl and Pink Stinks are fighting the gender stereotyping with gusto and aplomb and because of them, things are starting to change. Shops and manufacturers are starting to clean up their acts but it's a slow process.
I guess me writing Pearl Power is just me doing my small part. I wanted to write a fun book for young children, that (1) empowers little girls, and (2) teaches both sexes about gender stereotyping and equality. The book is the first of a series in which Pearl and her friend join forces to put right, stereotypical wrongs. If your child has a copy, I hope he or she loves reading it as much as I loved writing and illustrating it.
One last thing: do follow the above groups on Twitter or Facebook or wherever, and be sure to let them know when you spot something (such as the catalogue page above) that you feel is damaging to our youngsters.