I had a lucky childhood.
I grew up believing I could do anything or be anything I wanted. If I set my mind to it hard enough.
At the age of 3 or so (above) I was convinced I was a dog.
I wasn’t at all concerned about whether I was a male dog or a female dog - it seemed irrelevant. I didn’t have any dolls - just a pack of furry toys. Many of them were dogs.
My hair was cut short and I tended to wear my brother’s hand-me-downs. It was a question of practicality. I did have a blue party dress with a sticking-out skirt, which I hated wearing. Not because it was a dress, but because it was itchy.
The boys’ clothes continued into my teens. I grew my hair a bit longer in the 70s, but so did my brother and most of the boys I knew. I do remember us getting muddled up by an elderly relative, who’d thought “the boy was the older one.” He was in purple cords, I was in a Ben Sherman shirt and jeans. We thought it was funny, a bit subversive.
If you look at photos of groups of young people in the late 60s, 70s and 80s, the boys and girls look pretty similar. From Woodstock to the New Romantics. I dug out what I think must be a book to accompany an exhibition, entitled 14:24 British Youth Culture. It was published in 1986.
You can see the effect in these photos of punks and skinheads by Nick Knight.
But something started happening just after my son was born, in 2000. When he was small, our house was a sea of yellow, blue and red plastic. I bought his clothes from flea markets.
But I did start noticing that the brand new toddlers’ clothes in H&M were sectioned off into “boys” and “girls”. For “Mummy’s little man” and “Daddy’s princess."
And Lego had started producing rather “girly” toys.
And our neighbours/fellow primary school parents would have parties where men and women sat in different rooms. Or even “women/men only” parties. This latter phenomenon I initially (rather snobbishly) put down to class or maybe educational level. Or possibly even an age thing, although this seemed unlikely as it didn’t seem to reflect any kind of progress.
And that “Women are from Venus, Men are from Mars” book started a whole industry of pop-gender-psychology. Excerpts from 1950s publications coursed around the internet, demonstrating how dreadful life was for women in the 20th century. I found these somewhat suspect - my mum had two degrees and was better academically qualified than my dad.
Ten years ago, we had the whole full-blown pink glitter pony stuff spilling from the kindergarten into adult life.
And then came the whole #MeToo thing, the victim/oppression/patriarchy stuff and the omnipresent adjective “toxic.”
I wondered why on earth I’d want to join a “women only” group from my college, that I’d deliberately chosen because it was mixed. And whether segregation really is progress.
This data, published recently in the Financial Times, didn’t really surprise me.
But some of the extreme reactions I saw on LinkedIn certainly did. A lot of screeching about how this is evidence that all young men are unredeemable sexist and racist bastards.
Still, I can look forward with optimism. I hear there’s a brilliant new invention called “gender-neutral clothing” for children.
Whatever will they think of next?