Raising Tiny

My niece looks like my brother. Sounds cute but she’s actually my sisters daughter. I’m not saying she’s currently resembling a nearly 42 year old man but, Tiny, as we like to call her, has the same heavy brow and cheeky smile that our brother possessed as a child. She also really looks like her Dad with her blue eyes and dimpled hereditary chin.

For someone who doesn’t suit a dress Tiny is often found in jersey sweat pants, a lot of navy and with short blonde hair. She gets called a boy constantly. She is the perfect example of the problematic association we have with what girls should be wearing and what boys should be wearing. Of how we are presenting them to the world and quickly making assumptions from it. To identify a baby girl we will often look for pale pastels, cute dresses, frills and bows. To identify a boy we’re looking for blues and greens, trousers and trainers. Trucks on tops and cars in the buggy.

Regardless of whether or not Tiny suits a dress {we can’t work out what exactly isn’t working} my sister’s style isn’t particularly feminine and so has always dressed her in what is typically seen as boys clothing. But what actually is ‘feminine dressing’ and what are ‘boys clothes’ these days? Generation Z {also known as iGeneration loosely determined by those born mid 90’s to mid noughties} is saying that gender and sexuality are more fluid these days. They refuse to label and be labelled. They are wearing what they want, sleeping with who they want and explaining none of it.  We oldies need to take a leaf out of their inclusive-to-all-genders book and stop pigeon holing which ultimately leads to limitations.

In the one and a half years that Tiny has graced us with her presence I have been so conscious of anything I buy for her. My sister and I discussed it often and said no to cutesy pink clothing, no frilly dresses, no patent shoes with bows on and definitely no dolls. Nothing that is seen as too girly girly for the latest girl in our family, We decided. We talked endlessly about presenting her to the world as an equal counterpart to her male contemporaries. We wanted her to be treated equally and that was going to start with how she looked and what it was she played with.  It was going to be the same as what boys are given to play with and what they are dressed in. She goes to football on a Monday {Wobble and Kick is what it’s called and is much more of the former than the later}, was bought a helicopter for Christmas and still hasn’t worn a dress once.

The problem lies, however, not with what we buy or dress Tiny in but how our older generations view those things.  We’re seeing the pink, the dolls and the dresses as weaker representations of gender. To be overtly feminine has been taught to us as being weaker and more fragile. As we grew up we were predominantly told, and shown, that strength and masculinity was through owning cars and trucks, running around playing sports, ruining trainers and being in charge. This way of thinking is where the change really needs to happen and not from how we’re showcasing ourselves on the outside.

We need to show that regardless of whether you’re playing quietly in a corner wearing a tiara or shouting, running and jumping all at the same time little girls and little boys can still be seen as equals. Being overtly feminine should not be seen as a weakness. If that’s your thing then that shouldn’t come into play when later on down the line you’re negotiating your pay check and demanding more money than your male colleague. If you love rugby, lads nights out and beer drinking competitions then it should also be ok to cry and show sensitivity. That’s where the equality is going to come from and not from telling girls they need to be more like boys.

It should be ok to subvert these hard and fast masculine feminine traits millenials and generations before have been taught. It should be ok but it’s going to take a long time and a lot of effort. Change is coming though. Last year John Lewis announced that they have removed the ‘Girls and Boys’ labelling of their children’s clothing range for newborns up to 14 year olds. They “do not want to reinforce gender stereotypes within our John Lewis collections and instead want to provide greater choice and variety to our customers, so that the parent or child can choose what they would like to wear.”

And that’s perhaps why Generation Z is deciding that gender rules are more fluid. They’re making up their own minds about what masculine and feminine actually means and whether, to them, it still even exists. I know I’m trying to get on board with this way of thinking but I know it’s going to be hard work.  I’m starting by deciding we need to stop saying that Tiny ‘really looks like a boy’ and realise that she just looks like a tiny person of Donovan/McKee lineage. I’m deciding that I shouldn’t be afraid to buy her a doll and see that as a weakness. I’m educating myself and others to stop telling boys to ‘man up’ and girls to act ‘ladylike’. I’m trying to teach Tiny to be kind, thoughtful, interested and interesting and to be whoever and whatever she wants.


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