Last week was International Women’s Day. A day to celebrate women and continue to raise awareness about gender inequality. And on that very same day – a day when women all around the world were fighting to have their voices were heard – I'm ashamed to say, I stood there silently as my two daughters were completely gender stereotyped.
I was doing the double pick-up – Miss 4 from kindy and Miss Toddler from childcare – when the most seemingly innocuous thing happened; the girls were offered stickers. Awesome! What kid doesn’t love stickers?
A plastic container was handed to them full of different sheets of stickers and their eager little hands sifted through, frantically trying to find the ones they wanted. My 20-month-old chose a sheet full of jungle animals and my eldest chose space themed stickers with planets and rockets.
What happened next left me literally speechless.
The educator handing out the stickers looked at my toddler’s choice – jungle animals – then fished around in the box and pulled out a bright pink sticker sheet full of sparkly fairies. She said, “Here, did you want this one instead? I know you’ll like this one.” And proceeded to SWAP her lions and giraffes for what? A more appropriate choice?? Then turned and did the same thing for my four-year-old.
They both ended up being given a pink sticker sheet filled with sparkles and fairies. Despite the fact this was not what they originally chose.
And after having chosen their stickers for them, the educator actually said, “See? Girls!” Triumphantly. As if to say, girls will be girls, so predictable - always choosing the pink stuff.
They didn’t choose this!! YOU DID!
To be fair, my four-year-old is obsessed with fairies and if she’d seen those there in the first place she totally would have chosen them. But after said educator had disappeared with her sticker box, I saw my little toddler’s face. She was left a bit stunned, pining after the box of stickers as her beloved animals were being carried away.
You see, my toddler doesn’t give a shit about fairies. She’s learning how to say the names of animals and even though she can’t pronounce them properly, she can do a pretty awesome lion’s roar and can screech like a monkey - scratching her underarms for extra effect. She likes to snap her arms like a crocodile’s snout and chase me around the house growling like a bear. What do fairies do? Nothing of particular interest to a toddler.
Of course, I know this educator didn’t mean any harm. In her mind, she was making a couple of kids happy by offering them some stickers. And it goes without saying that in the grand scheme of things, given the atrocities some little girls around the world are subject to, I’m fully aware that being handed some girly stickers rates remarkably low on the list of things that need addressing.
But by the same token, it’s the little things that count. It’s all these little moments that add up. That shape a person. Because in that moment, a 20-month old girl inadvertently got taught a lesson I’m really not comfortable with – she learned that jungle animals were the ‘wrong’ choice. By physically taking the stickers from her hands and replacing them with a ‘more appropriate’ choice, that educator was teaching her right from wrong. She was teaching my daughter that because she’s a girl, she should have chosen the pink sticker sheet full of sparkly fairies.
And the worst part is I didn’t say anything. “Actually, she really loves animals right now can she please keep that one?” That’s what I should have said. I’m her mother, her protector. I should have stood up for her and made sure that everyone learned a lesson that day. Because I’m sure that educator wasn’t even aware of what she was doing. I’m sure the gender stereotyping was completely subconscious.
It’s such an innocent mistake, and yet so powerful. Because that was just one microsecond of all the moments in my daughter’s life when she’s going to learn what it means to be a girl. And I don’t want her to grow up in a world where she’s reduced to sparkly pink fairies. Eff that. I want her to roar like a lion!