Recently a friend questioned me over my decision to give my two-year old son a construction themed room. First, a little background to this is required. When we moved into our house, a typical British three-bedroom semi, we put our then 10-month-old son into the box room. He only slept there, so he didn’t really need the extra space, and it meant that our spare room could be used to put up visiting grandparents, etc. We always said we would move him into the bigger room when required, and that time has come.
I was really pleased when I discovered that Next Home do a children’s “builder” range with matching bedding, curtains, rugs, and even a yellow hard-hat shaped light shade. “But isn’t that encouraging a certain gender stereotype?” my friend asked. This made me pause for thought. I wondered if by giving my son this style of bedroom I was encouraging him to conform to what we stereotypically expect of young boys, and if I should rethink the whole idea.
The issue has been on the news so much recently, as toyshops and manufacturers are regularly criticised for encouraging the gender divide. Mum Abi Bechtel’s picture of a sign in a store in the USA which differentiated between “Building Sets” and “Girl’s Building Sets” recently went viral on Twitter and other social media platforms, as many jumped in to criticise the store. In the UK, the Let Toys Be Toys campaign has garnered popular support as it encourages retailers to change how they present the toys in their shops to remove any idea of specific toys for boys and girls. It’s a great campaign that has done a lot to promote the idea that children should be free to choose what they think is fun to play with.
With my own son, I like to think that up until now I haven’t done too much to push him to what we traditionally see as toys for boys. His first bedroom was a jungle-themed room, and for Christmas and birthdays I’ve tended to buy him books, puzzles, and play sets such as the WOW Toys adventure set with a campervan and jungle trailer. I tell him that when he grows up he can be anything he likes. (At the moment it’s a “tree-chopper man” after he saw someone in the park chopping down trees.) Of course, my preference would be for a Formula One driver, if only to give me the chance to one day meet Jenson Button, but if he suddenly decides he wants to be beautician, nursery assistant, or one of the many other roles that society traditionally associates with women, then I will support him all the way.
But here’s the thing; ever since our town’s high street spent almost a year being dug up and repaved, my son has been obsessed with construction vehicles. He loves diggers, cranes, tipper-trucks, rollers, and the lot. His most favourite thing in the world is to walk or drive past a building site. He could watch them for hours. At the mother and toddler group we go to he has an opportunity to play with all sorts of different toys, including a toy kitchen, dolls and prams, fire engines, puzzles, and Duplo, and yet the one thing he always picks up is the Bob The Builder digger. It also has its uses, since at dinner time when he refuses to try something we offer to show him a picture of a digger on our phones if he takes a spoonful, and it works every time.
So, yes, I suppose by giving him a construction themed bedroom I am indeed encouraging a certain gender stereotype. But I’m also giving him something he loves which to me, matters more, because for him, it’s all about the diggers.