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Columnists

Gender balance

Jude Simpson

judeS.jpgWhen my son says, 'I'd like train track for my birthday', I smile and agree. When my daughter says (of anything) 'I want a pink one,' I cringe.  I am happy to procure for him such masculine icons as vehicles, bridges, hammers and building blocks. But when she longs for a baby doll in a pram - preferably one who wees - everything within me rises up and shouts, 'Nooooooo'!

What a hypocrite!  My favourite thing in life is my baby in the pram, and the bodily functions of my tiny offspring are an endless source of fascination.  I sometimes play trains, but I wouldn't want to drive one for a living. I'm a walking, talking female stereotype, and never been happier. Yet it seems I'm embarrassed to let my daughter be one too.

Reluctant feminist? Self-conscious chauvinist? Who knows. I love seeing him build towers, and I love seeing her 'breastfeed' soft toys (usually from her belly button). If you ask me the value of Motherhood, I'm militant in my belief that there is no calling more noble. Yet I have been conditioned so strongly not to condition my daughter that I can't see the line between encouraging her to be free and encouraging her to be herself.

Research suggests that children don't know that they are a girl or a boy until they are at least two, and don't realise that gender is essentially intractable until they're around six. In between, the finer points take some pinning down. ('You gotta willie?' my three-year-old asked me the other day.  When I said no, he turned, astonished, to the Hubster and said, 'Mummy's a GIRL!')

My daughter doesn't even know that she is female, let alone know how to guard against being forcibly assigned stereotypical female roles. It's because I'm a responsible parent (I hope) that I do some guarding for her.

The geographical and historical co-ordinates of our birth are a huge part of who we become.  As a teenager in the 1980s it never occurred to me that I couldn't be whatever I wanted (as long as I wore shoulder pads and electric blue).  Nor did it occur to me that it might occur to anyone else.  That's one of feminism's successes.  My feeling of guilt when I am baking and the Hubster is doing DIY is feminism's sad but inevitable echo.  When I realise I'm wearing a floral appliqué apron and anticipating the happy look on his grubby face when he bites into my Victoria Sponge, I wonder how I can ever claim to be emancipated.

Of course it's all about freedom and choice. And it's perhaps harder to model freedom when you have already used it to make a choice. Let him have his train tracks, and let her have her dolls. As long as I never walk in to find one of the latter tied screaming to the tracks of the former in front of a fast-approaching 6:50 Express from Paddington, I think I'll leave them to it.