Saturday, 19 February 2011

The Doctor's Outfit Debate

Is your blood boiling? Are you enraged? Does it offend you?

I just finished reading a blog post about how a mother was looking for some doctor dress-up costumes for her boys and noticed that there weren't any in the girls section, only in the boys section. In the girls section they only had nurses outfits. The blog post author wrote "Is it only me who finds that offensive?". Well, no, probably not. In fact there was a commenter who said that this sort of thing "makes her blood boil".

It doesn't make my blood boil. In fact it doesn't bother me at all. I consider doctor's outfits to be unisex and if all the dress-up isn't in the one section then do you know what? It has to go somewhere. And where some merchandiser, or some shop worker has placed it doesn't actually make me angry or offended. So if it's split into male and female and you have a pile of doctors costumes in one hand and a pile of nurses dresses in the other then chances are you are going to make the same split. Or else you are really thinking about it a wee bit too much. Does it really matter? If my daughter wants a doctors outfit I know where to find them - same if she wants a pirate outfit or a racing car driver outfit.

But as I said in my comment, perhaps the offensive blood-boiling point should no longer be that we are surmising that girls can only be nurses and boys are naturally doctors, but rather that boys cannot dress up as nurses. How many male nurse outfits do you come across?

The way I see it is that nowadays girls can be anything they want. Especially in our culture. Of course there are still places in the world where women don't have the right to be equal to a man, but let's be honest, if my daughter wants to go to university and study medicine, engineering, or whatever, it's all there for her. What can't she do?

But maybe you think that with these gender stereotypes being laid out in childhood, that she is being pre-conditioned to think 'hmm....maybe I'm not meant to be a doctor. Damn, I'll have to speak to my school careers advisor about where I find openings for princesses'. Well, for me, I think that confidence in thinking you can be whatever you want comes from home. By being told by your parents that you can try and be anything you want (presumably, brain-power and determination permitting).

Of course I understand the perspective of the these women. It's the "Have we not moved on?" viewpoint. It's the stand that says "it's things like this that prevent women in society earning the same as their male peers". I could go on about how lucky then I have been to always get paid a salary I am happy with and build a career where I have been paid equally (and probably better than my male counterparts). But.

What I don't understand is why people aren't outraged that there aren't male nurse costumes for boys or why their blood isn't boiling that they simply cannot find any princess costumes for their son in the boys dress up section. Ok, so I am making fun, but surely, there should be the same anger that boys aren't being offered the same breadth of career choice. That their options are limited. No?

Is that because it's ok to reinforce masculinity on to boys. That in actual fact the norm seems to be to encourage boys to be, well, more boyish? Pretty much all the girls I know are able (because they have them) to play with diggers, and dinosaurs, train sets, and cars. There's no issue. But I know an awful lot of boys who aren't allowed to play with baby dolls, little pushchairs, or play with anything pink. Amongst my friends, when they would come round for coffee often the boys would go straight for the pushchair and race around the house with it, ramming it into the doors or doing races, or just taking a teddy for a walk. All perfectly normal, and good for encouraging caring behaviour. But also amongst my friends are those who just can't bear their sons to be seen pushing a little pushchair. Often they would say "Thank God his father can't see him doing that!"

Oh, and especially if it's pink. Pink of course is just a colour. It really makes no odds. It means no more to your toddler child than green or blue or yellow. You can buy blue baby clothes for girls. But most people like to dress their baby in the appropriate gender colour. I mostly put this down to not wanting your baby mistaken for the opposite sex, because usually when they are really young well, sometimes it can be a bit hard to tell.

When Hamish was a baby I still had an awful lot of bibs from when Orla was a baby. Technically, she really still was, and given they both suffered massively from reflux, well, you can imagine, we had a lot of bibs. A friend was round for lunch one day and saw me (once again) sticking one of Orla's old bibs on Hamish. "I'm going to buy you blue bibs" she said. "You can't put him in girls bibs". Why not? We were in my own home, nobody else could see him. He certainly didn't care, and I didn't care, so did it matter?

So my question is, why are we all busy 'boying' up our boys and narrowing their options, when to make our girls girly is now seen as a negative. (I'll put money on one of the things that makes the 'blood-boiling' commenters blood boil is the proliference of candy pink toys). Is it really that we want our girls to have it all, preferably in boyish hues as well, but really none of us can really get our heads around our boys being a little more effeminate? And what's wrong with boys being girly? Because surely girls can be anything they like, which is more than you can say for boys!

(A bit ranty and serious for me, I know. Normal service will be resumed shortly). Oh and of course, this is only my opinion. I know hee-haw about feminism, didn't live in a time/place where women didn't have the same opportunities as men, and of course can only talk about what I have experienced or observed. But reading about women getting offended about stupid kids costumes seems to make my blood boil! Ha!ha!)


  1. I can't think I am that much older than you, but I certainly still live in a time and place where women don't earn the same that men do for the same jobs and where, in blind tests, men and women are graded differently based on their perceived sex/gender.
    So yes, no one cares about there being no male nurse costumes because no one thinks that the preferred sex should have the option of "dressing down" to a lesser paid and respected position.Just as the winners don't get offended by the terms used for them and the oppressed, losers (of the fight, not intrinsic worth), minorities, and women have terms used for them that are offensive.
    And yes, I find it offensive that dr's costumes should be in the boys aisles. Let there be only one aisle. Or freak everyone out and put them in the girl's aisle if you feel like segregating them. Because with two girls I have watched their idea of what is appropriate being shaped every day by small things just like that.I corrected the kita erzieherin yesterday when she said that boys drive engines- right in front of my daughter- and told her no, boys and girls can drive engines if they want to and study to do so. That may be a lie- it might be impossible for a girl to actually get that job due to the sexism in the industry- but my 4 year old has a few years left before I want limits put on her dreams.

  2. I don't think anyone would be freaked out to find the doctors costumes in the girls aisle. It's not the case that you don't get female doctors, so it wouldn't even be mildly surprising. Out of my friends 5 are doctors, and 4 are female. Girls have the ability to train for any career they choose.

    Yes, there are female engine drivers. We see plenty of female U-Bahn drivers here in Berlin. In your position I would have said to my daughter that "traditionally, it was a man's job, but yes, you get women train drivers too. But really sweetheart, leave it for the men because unless you want to spend your day with a perpetually glazed expression, meeting no one, going up and down the same line, day in, day out, with occasional suicides thrown in, then I'm sure there are far more interesting jobs you can do."

    I also don't think that it is sexism that prevents nurses from becoming doctors. I think you'll find that it probably has a lot more to do with social class and qualifications providing the barriers. I don't believe that the majority of nurses are people who were desperate to be doctors. While nurses don't earn as much as doctors, I don't think it is a lesser job. In fact I think there should be male nurses costumes for children as men in a caring role is a perfect role model for children to emulate.

    I obviously as I said can only give my own opinion and speak from my own experience - and maybe I am what you class as one of the winners, but I just don't feel oppressed (as a woman). I am not starting out with the attitude that there are things that my daughter cannot do.

    In the UK I imagine that thanks to 'positive discrimination' in fact my opportunity to become a doctor or an engineer or whatever else, is actually increased. The UK government spent a lot of time and money encouraging people from lower social classes, and minority groups to go to university. Throw in my age and I would also be in receipt of better funding given I would be a 'mature student'.

    Anytime I have worked somewhere and felt that I wasn't earning enough and wasn't able to negotiate a higher salary, I've never been without the option of going elsewhere. If I felt unfairly treated because I was a woman (and I have worked a lot in male-dominated offices), then guess what, I could complain, take it to a tribunal, or if it wasn't worth the hassle, just go elsewhere.

    Going back to the original point, there are places in the world where women have very little rights, where they are not classed as equal citizens to men, where they are required to walk x number of paces behind, where they are abused, and so on, and so on. We don't live in these places.

    If all people have to get worked up over is where kids costumes are shelved then it strikes me as not being a big deal.

    I understand that you completely disagree with me and that's fine. It's only my viewpoint I'm expressing.


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