We're currently driving home from Thaxted. Quite a lot of my blogs start like that, don't they? Thaxted is a place we visit rather often. It's close enough to London to come to for a half day or so and it gives us a fabulous opportunity to commune with nature. The fields around the town are so beautiful to walk in. Tonight the air smelt, as my Mum put it, like "late summer." It's a very specific smell which I remember well from my childhood; a blend of dusty hay fields and the dark, verdant bite of soily hedgerows. I remembered sixth form walks with my brother and the Sidey girls through woods and churchyards on the Northamptonshire /Bedfordshire border, the threat of school just around the corner, the smoky sun low in the sky.
So it would appear that my blog about early onset gender stereotyping has caused more controversy than I perhaps expected! In fact, I'm surprised the suggestion that parents might think twice before buying their sons toy guns would create any controversy outside America. It seems I was wrong.
I should start by apologising to anyone who was genuinely offended by what I said. I certainly didn't set out to write anything unkind. It is true that I was writing from a hunch and not from a perspective of having done a long-term study into how many gun crimes were committed by men who were given large quantities of toy guns as children. I am also aware that, as a non-parent, I have absolutely no right to tell parents what to do with their own children's lives. That goes without saying. We all know that you can't be a good teacher if you're not a parent. Or a paediatrician. Or a composer, I suppose... Parents understand the world in a special way which us mere mortals struggle to comprehend. We have to imagine instead what it must feel like to have been a child...
I'll say just two more things on the issue... I was at a school where a former pupil, obsessed with guns, came back and shot the deputy head and a number of the kids with an air rifle his father had given him. I've written about the experience before in this blog. It's something I wouldn't wish on anyone and I'm afraid it's an experience which I feel couldn't have been helped by the childhood experience of firing a toy gun with no consequence.
My second point is a more personal story. I had a fairly miserable period in my early childhood brought about directly by gender stereotyping. As a five-year old, when I started school, I wanted to play with the girls. I liked the games they played. They seemed more imaginative. The dinner ladies had different views. They said if I played with dolls and things I would end up being gay. So I was banned from sitting with the girls.
I still remember running through the playground crying because I had no one to play with.
I went home in tears and told my Mum what had happened. I'm not sure this was the famous time when she went in and told the teachers she'd rather I were gay than a nuclear scientist, but on this occasion she tried to find solutions, and asked me what it was that the boys in my form liked playing with. I told her that they all had action men.
The next morning, when I woke up, my Mum had gone to a charity shop, bought an old, naked action man, and stayed up through the night making clothes for him. She'd knitted him a little jumper, made a cape out of an old cagoule and a little pair of corduroy trousers.
I took the action man in with me the next day, and proudly went over to a group of lads who were playing with theirs. They took one look at my action man and fell about laughing; "he doesn't have eagle eyes!" They chanted! "Jippo action man."
Eagle-eyed action men, you see, had a little button on the back of the head which enabled the action man's eyes to move from side to side.
...And so I took my rubbish action man, and hid it under a pile of coats. I didn't want my Mum to know it had gone down badly, and for the rest of the week, until the ban was lifted on my playing with girls, I sat on my own at play times.
There. That's all I have left to say about gender stereotyping. I'm aware that everyone is different and that for every story like mine, there will be a million others from people who have different views on the subject.
Oh yes. One final coda. I always wanted a Girls World but was never allowed one. Good things come to those who wait, however, and, for my 39th birthday, my five-year old god-daughter presented me with hers. It now sits in the kitchen, her glorious golden hair tumbling over the microwave! You see? There's hope for us all!