Home » Gender: Politics, Relationships & Thoughts » Learning Gender Roles Via The BBC

Learning Gender Roles Via The BBC


The BBC have recently been accused of sexism with their remake of children’s classic Topsy and Tim.

It was claimed by parents that the BBC misinterpreted the original children stories, and chose instead to reinforce traditional gender stereotypes, which were being aimed at very young children. The charecter Tospy is a little girl who is seen baking princess cakes with her Mum, while her Brother Tim is informed baking is not for him. As a boy he can play outside on his bike or help his Dad with “mans work”.

I wondered, as I have on many occasions before, how do we learn our ‘gender roles’? Is it nature or nurture, and how can we be sure?

Thinking of my own childhood, I recall never being compelled by my parents to be particularly ‘girlie’, and naturally I wasn’t this way either. I was always encouraged to just be me, and perhaps by being a headstrong child who knew what I liked, pressures to be ‘girlie’ (if they existed), never affected me. I therefore feel surprised that in the 21st century children are still being encouraged to mimic, and reflect, what their own parents deem to be acceptable gender specific stereotypes. It just seems almost self defeating and rather odd.

Why would any parent force their child to be anything, and ruin their own child’s ability to blossom and develop naturally, free of preconceived ideals laid down throughout the eons?!

What is so terrible about girls playing with cars and bikes, and boys playing with kitchens and dolls? Surely having diverse skills and interests make for more rounded and capable future adults?

I know if I had children, I would indeed encourage them to be them; who else can they be after all!

Don’t get me wrong, their is nothing wrong with traditional gender roles, if those people performing those roles are happy enough to do so. Yet, there is nothing wrong with mixing it up either!

Living in Madrid I see many more examples of the conventional family unit than I do in the UK. The wife cooks, cleans, takes care of the house and kids, while the man works, is head of the household, applies the discipline and often the education of the kids. This is almost expected and seen as the social norm.

Now my household has never been quite like this, to the surprise of the people I meet in Spain. People are shocked that I am interested in politics, and also that my degree, career and writing all have a political grounding. I have actually been told how unusual it is for a girl! Obviously they haven’t heard of Emily Pankhurst, Simone de Beauvoir, Eleanor Roosevelt, Margaret Thatcher, Naomi Wolf and Hilary Clinton; what about Eva Perón?

For me, applying any expectations upon a person, especially at a young and impressionable age, just becomes a simple case of the self fulfilling prophecy. You get what you expect. Women and men then become merely caricatures of their gender, nothing more than that! How can we then argue they are naturally as they should be?

Have women actually been able or allowed to genuinely break through that “glass ceiling”? Not if the 21st centuries depiction of gender is the reference point; a woman’s place is still at home, while the man still belongs to the world. This has to be true, the BBC even think so!

To be serious, in recent years it has been a giant step backwards for men and women alike. Adverts, marketing, media and society in general have peddled the over sexualisation of the younger generation. This has drip fed a generation with gender specific notions of beauty, relationships, sex and availability, youth, frivolousness, self obsession, celebrity culture, diets, gossip, fashion and materialism.

So, maybe reverting to the stereotypical gender roles is only the natural step forward from this re-education?

For me I feel it is difficult to distinguish, and therefore state concretely, how much of nature actually plays a part in a child’s socialisation, self perception and development. Especially with all the dross floating around their environment.

Think about how difficult it is for us as adults to really separate ourselves, and our choices from all the expectations applied upon us, what we have seen, learnt, experienced and absorbed into our psyche?

If it is so difficult for us as adults, the question then remains; how can a child?

Nature v’s nurture, for me there is no real contest to contest!

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12 thoughts on “Learning Gender Roles Via The BBC

  1. 🙂 The MSM have a lot to answer for.

    In Germany certain creches are actually forcing a reversal of gender roles now, pushing boys to play with dolls and kitchens and girls to play with cars and mechanic tools.

    As a mom of both a boy and two girls (who are as different as chalk and cheese) I’ve seen my oldest go full-on for the Barbie gig in all detail; my son loved his “action figures” (which are really teensy-weensy “man dolls”) but you could chase him around the house with a Barbie or anything girlie; and my youngest rejecting dolls altogether and “adopting” fluffies instead.

    I did encourage variety in all of them. I did not force my son (or either of my daughters) to play either with cars and helis or with baby dolls. I grew up with a nearly same-age brother and together we played everything (but he switched off when it was the turn of the dolls).

    Gender roles happen by themselves. I’d vote for nature; minimal nurture where this particular issue is concerned.

    • Thanks for your response, I appreciate it. I don’t believe any child should be forced to become someone else. That is extreme! I really feel it is an individual preference. Of course ensuring kids have a choice of toys is a good thing, whether they opt for dolls or cars then is their choice! Thanks once again. Bex

  2. Great post! Nicely done and thought provoking. I have one son and consciously tried to avoid gender stereotyping him. He wore fuschia baby grows (as well as lime green, and other colours my mother didn’t totally disapprove of), was never given guns or “violent” toys, was allowed to wear his fairy wings out whenever he wanted, and has had a succession of soft toys that he’s nurtured. He even went through a stage of calling himself by girl’s names, and would tell people who asked that he was a girl (he was about 3). But what I noticed amongst the little kids was that a) boys seemed to get “gendered” sooner than girls. They started defining “boys” play and excluding the girls at quite a young age, b) give two kids a stick and the boy would pretend it’s a gun apparently regardless of parental intention. I never figured that one out. I definitely think it helps children play more experimentally if they aren’t limited by gender expectations, but I also think that there is only so much parents can do. As soon as you take your carefully nurtured offspring out into the world, everyone and their dog seems to feel entitled to impose their views on you. I’ve been berated for allowing the fairy wings, denying my child the delights of McDonalds, encouraging artistic play, talking to his imaginary friends along with him … and lots more. Self-doubt could take hold after a trip to Tesco!
    He’s almost 16 now, and while there are things I look back on his childhood and wish I’d done them differently, it’s not that stuff. Whether by nature or nurture or some alchemic mixing of both, my son is a bright, funny, creative, confident and compassionate young man who has a much stronger sense of who he is and what he stands for than I ever did at his age (and for a long time after).

    • Thanks for your reply, I appreciate it so much! Wow, what a great example of a parent just letting their kids be, I am in awe. I wish more parents could be like you. I agree, and do think society is the main influence, not just on kids but parents too. It’s like you have to justify yourself, and choices to strangers; in what world is that OK?! It perplexes me. I just wish people would mind their own business, and deal with their own lives before thinking they have some power to interfere or condemn others! It is wonderful to know your son is as he should be, and all the better for that! Thanks so much for relating your experiences! Bex

  3. Hey Bex! As a security guard, I am a man in an especially male-dominated job. But, the women in this line of work do just as well as men do. Well, sometimes even better. Actually, I can sort of keep a score board of how many men I’ve met in this line of work who are so not cut out for it, while I have only met a single woman who wouldn’t have cut it. When it comes to failures in the field, women are underepresented (how do you like trhat for discrimination 😉 ). And those women are not necessarily unfeminine. A bit odd, yes, but that comes with the turf, and holds true for men as well.

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