At kindy, I watch my son charge around with other little boys, roaring and scowling and aiming pretend weapons at each other. They wear dinosaur shirts and shorts and bucket hats and they are dirty and happy and wild. The girls are playing different games.
The educators try to keep a lid on the play-fighting amongst the boys, but it erupts again and again. There is no real malice in it, they’re only trying aggression on for size. Sometimes a blow will land, and there will be tears. The tears make clean little rivers over their grubby, chubby cheeks and you can see the echo of the babies they were so very recently.
On the way home from kindy, we argue about whether or not girls can be Power Rangers. He says that girls are not strong enough, or fast enough, or powerful enough. I produce examples to prove that I am all of those things. When he grudgingly concedes that I can be a Power Ranger if I really must, he adds the caveat that I can only be the pink one.
‘I don’t want to be the pink one. I want to be the green one,’ I tell him.
He shakes his head, weary, and gazes out the window, as if he’s searching for an alternative reality where he’s not forced to engage with such moronic travelling companions.
‘Either you are a pink Power Ranger or you’re just a mummy.’
Wow, what a smorgasbord of options. How can I possibly choose.
‘Let me think about it.’
He waves his hand, dismissive.
At home, we claw back some power over the situation, editing the content of books as we read them aloud to erase any inherent gender stereotypes or sexism. We tediously insist on challenging every little hint he drops about girls and boys and the gulf he imagines between them. I even resorted to looking on eBay to find more female Duplo and Lego figurines, just so I could include them in the firefighting and the police chases and the rescue missions. When I tell him stories, I give them appallingly heavy-handed moral subtexts about girls doing whatever the hell they want.
I don’t enjoy this policing, I’m not that bloody humourless. It just feels essential.
Mothers are not responsible for the men their boys become. But, together with their other parents, I think we do have a responsibility to them when they are these little boys in dinosaur shirts, roaring in the sandpit.
We’re responsible for telling them that the world owes them nothing.
We’re responsible for reminding them again and again that boys are not better, more deserving, more powerful, or entitled to anything just by virtue of their anatomy.
There’s an imbalance that needs redressing, and I think this is the only way.
Yes, they’ll grow weary of us and our constant nagging, but whatever - that happens anyway.