Tag Archive: Gender

So, one thing that is guaranteed to send me into a hulk-like rampage is a bit of casual everyday sexism.  In either direction, I bloody hate it. Why do we put ourselves into little boxes of who is more capable of doing what based on what’s in our pants? Anyway, just for you lucky, lucky people,  I’ve built up a few little quotes that have made me wince recently, finishing with what we will call ‘the canal calamity’, which tipped me over the edge this week.

  1. ‘Oh, the men are going to sit in the living room’ – OK, it doesn’t happen very often, but when it does it bugs me. I’ve been at many parties (both family and friends) where, at some point during the evening, we’re expected to split off into our genders. Why? I don’t want to sit with the men! I want to talk to everyone! Is this a party or some sort of cult?
  2. ‘Is that a girl bracelet?’ – No. it’s just a bracelet. From Topman.
  3. ‘Boys, boys, boys’ – anonymous and lovely family member says with mock-disgust to tease my 3 year old male cousin. Yes, she’s joking and there’s certainly no malice, but it happens often and prompts him to retaliate with ‘girls, girls, girls’. I know they’re playing, but I think it sets up an unnecessary divide in his thinking.
  4. ‘Oh and for God’s sake don’t be one of these teachers who let’s boys dress up as girls’. Thanks for that advice, anonymous-family member number 2 but I think I’ll ignore that comment. I was talking about setting up a fancy dress area in my classroom with a variety of costumes for the children to try. I don’t know why a boy wearing a dress seems to be the stuff of nighmares for people of a certain generation, particularly as the person making the comment is never going to step foot in my classroom, so this was pretty enraging. No mention of girls dressing as boys either. I assume that’s allowed but boys lowering themselves into any shade of femininity is clearly too awful.
  5. ‘Girls books here, boys books there’ – Oh, this was a good one. Picture the scene. Summer School, 2016. I was helping out in a rural school, organising activities for a handful of children during the school holidays. Passing through the library one day I was bloody horrified to see someone had taken the trouble of organising ALL of the books into a *shudders* colour co-ordinated and clearly labelled girls and boys shelves. Absolutely hideous. Just let the children choose which books they want to read! Fostering a passion for reading is far more important than boxing them up and controlling what they read. Needless to say, I’ve not darkened their doorway again.
  6. ‘You’ll be alright, Sweetheart. You’ve got a man on board.’ – A bunch of us hired a canal boat for a pleasant trip through Llangollen and over the aqueduct. Captain S, experienced, award winning sailor was in charge of the whole business (as the rest of us were ensuring we drank all of the prosecco, in case the weight of the bottles caused the boat to sink.) At one point, I could hear Captain S having the whole driving process explained to her by a bloke who was walking along side the canal. When I popped my head above deck to see who this mansplainer was, he actually said the above line to Captain S. Little did he know that I didn’t have a clue how to drive the thing, and Captain S was a pro. Yes, I have a penis. Doesn’t mean I can drive a boat.
  7. ‘You’ve got a man with you!’ – To add insult to injury it happened again! We’d just travelled over the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and we were mooring up to have some food. Two of my friends (female, for the sake of this story), were hammering in a peg and a ridiculous bloke with a stupid hat and a fag in his mouth sailed past and said ‘You’ve got a man there, ladies!’ in a way that suggested I should be the one using the hammer. I’d already had my go on the other peg! We’re all capable of using a sodding hammer. Look, we can all raise two fingers up to you too. Thankfully, my friends resisted the urge to launch the hammer at his ignorant face.

So that’s the latest rant from RebelliousG. One sure way to fire me up is to assume myself or my friends are incapable (or more capable) of doing something just because of our gender. So stop it.


 ‘It’s OK to cry. It’s OK to talk about what’s wrong. It’s OK to play with girls if you like them, to dress like girls if you want to, to like the colour pink if you like it, [..] to not be all that bothered about football if you’re not all that bothered about football.’

‘How Not to Be a Boy’, Robert Webb.

We’ve all read special books that really mean a lot to us. I’ve got a shelf full, but How Not To Be A Boy felt very personal for me. In my review last week I discussed the messages Webb shared and some of the shocking anecdotes he recalled, but I was wary of including too much of my own personal experiences in a review of a book that was written by somebody else. So I’ve saved them for this week (you lucky things).

I know it’s not my parents or my family who were to blame, this isn’t a dig at them, and I’m not saying that the past has traumatised me beyond repair, but the rules of the patriarchy and society that Webb discussed definitely loomed over my childhood.

For me a big issue growing up was ‘football’. I just didn’t get it. It wasn’t that I hated it (although I have grown to hate the sound of football due to a) Too much exposure of football crowds chanting tunelessly on the TV as a child and b) Now living within ear shot of a football ground.  Why can’t they sing something with words rather than sounds? Songs that I know. ABBA, for instance.) Football just never interested me. Being a fan, my Dad was, I’m sure, disappointed at first but he’s accepted it, after a lot of perseverance. As I grew up, I knew that it was weird that I didn’t like football. After all I am male and all males have to like football, right? I began to notice that people found it hard to talk to me after I dropped the ‘I don’t like football’ bomb. We’d go to parties at the local club or get visits from extended family members and every conversation seemed to go like this.

‘And what team do you support lad?’

‘Oh, I don’t like football.’

‘Ahh…..’*quizzical look*


There were rare instances where, following ‘the look’, I’d get ‘So….do you like any other sports? Rugby? Cricket?’ To which I’d fail to redeem myself by saying ‘No’ or when I was feeling particularly brave ‘No but I do like to read.’ It was just totally incomprehensible that I was a boy who wasn’t involved in sports. I started to get sensitive to it and, knowing I was odd, anxious about the conversation which I knew would come. In a lame attempt to tackle it I started to answer with ‘Liverpool’ in the hope it would shut them up.

Of course, as you get older, you realise that you’re not as odd as you thought and there is nothing wrong with being a boy who is not interested in football, but it was such a big deal for me as a child that I remember being elated if I heard a celebrity on TV admitting that football doesn’t interest him or met another anti-football freak like me. Last year, an ex-family member said, whilst I was in the room, ‘Imagine having a son who didn’t like football. You’d be devastated wouldn’t you?’ This is the kind of message I seemed to be confronted with regularly, that I’d failed as a boy because I didn’t like football. Of course, as an adult I was able to shrug off his comments and stick two fingers up behind the idiot’s back, but a comment like that during my childhood would have really upset me.

So I was already failing the stereotype via my choices of hobby, but ‘the rules’ really started to affect me when I started school (Note: this was probably the only time I was ever seen as a rule breaker during my childhood). I don’t know how it happened but I ended up having a circle of friends who were all female. Perhaps I didn’t prove myself to be included as ‘one of the boys’ or perhaps I just thought ‘God, I’d rather be sitting over there with the girls than having competitions about who can wee the highest up the urinal with the boys.’ Perhaps I took part in said competition, failed, and was therefore excluded from anything ‘Boy’ for the next ten years. I don’t know. I just preferred to stick with the girls. ‘Oh, he’s a ladies man’ teachers would tease. ‘Oh he’s gay’, older boys would decide.

I didn’t want to be a girl or dress like them. Apart from a bit of an obsession with the pink power ranger, I wasn’t overly fussed about the colour pink. To me, I just had a bunch of friends. I couldn’t understand why it was an issue for a lot of people. The way I was spoken to, it was almost like I was letting myself down by hanging round with girls. Like I was showing a weakness by associating with them, because they were lesser beings than men (which is obviously totally incorrect). The fact they were girls never bothered me, until people started telling me very bluntly that I should be bothered. I remember in the last few weeks in year six, one boy in my class gave me a bit of a thumping in order to prepare myself for secondary school, where, in his opinion, I was going to get regular thumpings because of who my friends were. Great. It’s always good to have something to look forward to, isn’t it?

And so, like Webb, the ‘Sovereign Importance of Early Homophobia’ came into play. It seemed that because my friends where girls this made me more susceptible to becoming gay and in my town that is a big no-no. Throughout high school the same message haunted me – Do Not Be Gay. Whether it was someone in my family tutting when a gay character was on the TV or one of my English teachers reacting like I’d asked for it when a bunch of nasty girls humiliated me during class. It might have been listening to my Mum use some mildly offensive term to ‘joke’ with my brother or it could have been the time someone close to me gave me a very serious talking to because my gay friend had signed off a message on my Facebook wall with a kiss and, to them, it ‘looked really, really bad.’ The message was loud and clear. Some people decided for me and took it upon themselves to spread the news. All assumed from the company I kept.

I met my then-Best Friend in secondary school and she was a very vibrant and resilient girl. It never crossed my mind that I shouldn’t be friends with her because of her sex, I just thought she was really cool and I admired her confidence! But, by choosing another female friend, I’d inadvertently chosen five years of people telling me I was wrong, without even knowing me properly. I wouldn’t say I was bullied any more than the next person but I did have a label, which I could never shake. I was the boy who had girl friends (never to be confused with girlfriends. That didn’t start until well into my teens and the plural was never necessary). Whether it was a friend putting in a sneaky comment or an older boy humiliating me in front of the whole class just to get a few laughs, there seemed to be something every day. I’d never change it because I believe that my best friend was a better friend to me than any of the boys at my school would have been. We had a lot of common interests and we used to laugh so much! And there were others. I had a whole bunch of friends, most of whom were female, and I don’t regret meeting any one of them. But it’s a shame that my school life was tainted by the most humiliating and hurtful actions just because I chose to be friends with someone of the opposite sex. That decision seemed to put me into a category – I was a boy who chose female company so I must be weak. It didn’t seem to occur to anyone that the females I befriended were probably more bolshie, stubborn and tough than most of the year 11 boys put together. But they were also the funniest and most supportive people I could wish to be around.

Secondary school was tough for other reasons.  It was a time of unrest in my home life and I needed someone to confide in, a service which was gladly provided by all of my female friends. Had they been boys, it may have been a different story, because society doesn’t take kindly to boys who listen or care.

As for talking about my feelings, I’ve been fortunate to have plenty of people to confide in over the years, should I need to, but the pressure of ‘manning up’ has certainly been there. I had to be strong, solely because I was a man. During a particularly grim period a number of years ago, I confided in a doctor about feeling constantly on-edge and miserable (at the time, dismissive of the ideas that I might be anxious or depressed, because I’d been conditioned to think of those illnesses as weaknesses. I now know that the strongest person can suffer these conditions). The first doctor told me to buck up and fix my feelings ‘the British way’ (whatever that is….having a cup of tea?). The second one told me to find a good woman. I’m thankful that, after many dark months of feeling awful and constantly on the verge of tears, I was able to manage my feelings in my own way, but to someone less fortunate than me, that advice from a professional could have been very dangerous. Webb’s book highlighted just how dangerous the pressures society puts on men to bottle up their emotions can be and it’s terrifying to think so many suffer in silence.

So in 2017, I finally got the advice I needed twenty years ago. It might have come too late, but as I grew up I taught myself that ‘normal’ didn’t exist, that I shouldn’t be ashamed of who I was and that the problem lay in the way my life was viewed by others, not with myself. It would have been great to have been given this advice when I was younger, and I’m sure in a way it was hinted at by some people, but I can’t regret anything because it’s made me who I am. That’s sort of why I shared it (or a slice of it. I have enough material for many, many blog posts).  Yes, it’s been a bit of self-indulgent therapy for me, but I hope that if the teenage me is out there reading this they’ll realise that they don’t need to be ashamed, or feel like the odd one out because it’s absolutely OK to be themselves. You might feel like a failure at the moment, but in time you’ll realise you’re only failing a stereotype, and that can only be a good thing.

Image result for How not to be a boy In the last year I’ve been lucky enough to experience two works of art that have really ‘spoken to me’, having never really understood the phrase before. The first was the touring production of Rent in October 2016 (after which I spent several weeks sobbing). The second was How Not to Be A Boy by Robert Webb.

I knew from pre-publicity that this book would be right up my street, and I was correct. Not only was the main thread relatable, but How Not To Be A Boy is beautifully and passionately written by Webb. I absorbed this book. It was actually ‘unputdownable’.

How Not To Be A Boy is Webb’s memoir with a focus on the pressures he encountered to conform to society’s ideas of masculinity. Webb writes honestly about his upbringing and childhood, and with hindsight is able to identify some of the dangerous messages he was given which effected his adult life. It begins with his closeness to his mother and difficult relationship with his father, and ends with his modern day struggles to steer away from following his father’s path.

Webb’s discussions on gender go beyond the ‘blue for a boy and pink for a girl’ debate, and he relives insightful anecdotes, (some warm, some hilarious, some tragic), in a way that had me unable to resist the urge to fling my hands in the air and shout ‘Amen!’.

Webb talks about the patriarchy, and how the rules and gender stereotypes created by society are damaging to both women and men. A striking moment is when he talks about how ‘clever’ boys and girls are viewed by society. He notes how when labelled ‘clever’, girls have to respond with how hard they’ve worked for it, whilst boys are expected to shrug it off, as if it all came naturally. If you’re a boy who does well at school, excuses have to be found for this ridiculous behaviour, and often you’re labelled with having no common sense. ‘He’s a clever lad, no common sense though.’ (How many times did I hear that growing up?)

A common thread throughout  is of males suppressing their emotions. One of the most heart-breaking parts of the book comes at the mid-point, where Webb tells of the loss of his mother. Webb writes about his grief and suffering so eloquently that it’s frustrating to comprehend why we are constantly told to ‘man up’ and hide our true feelings. We’ve all had experiences with this, to various degrees, and it’s important that Webb highlights the problem in his book. With almost three quarters of suicide victims in the UK being male, it’s of vital importance that we breakdown the ‘man up’ culture and talk about our problems, as Webb does in university. The patriarchy strikes again by enforcing a false notion that only females open up and talk about their feelings. What a dangerous message. Webb talks candidly, and admirably, of his battles with suicidal thoughts and his subsequent therapy sessions, in a way that may give hope to many.

How Not To Be A Boy also brings to light just how old fashioned words such as ‘masculinity’ and ‘femininity’ are. As Webb explains, all they do is conjure up archaic stereotypes which, in 2017, are unnecessary. He describes masculinity as a repressive process which needs to be recovered from and explains how the term only really means ‘not being a woman’. Why not a woman? Women are strong, brave, loving, thoughtful, sensible, loyal, trustworthy and millions other admirable adjectives so….why do we have to avoid being like that? Why do we need these words?

The restrictions that we live under should be blindingly obvious, but Webb unmasks these hideous stereotypes with flair and style, adding his own thoughts, warm humour, and prompting many outbursts of ‘YES!’  from this reader. In an era where people are angry at clothes shop for removing labels, and the walls of gender stereotyping are being slowly eroded, How Not To Be A Boy is essential reading and a book I won’t be forgetting in a hurry.

Somehow the BBC documentary No More Boys and Girls managed to evade me but after a couple of prompts from people who know my interests, I managed to catch it this morning. And I’m so glad I did.

Using a focus group of year 3 pupils in Lanesend Primary School, Dr Javed Abdelmoneim uses a series of strategies to investigate how gender boundaries affect children.

Most disturbing is the opinions girls have of their own gender. The children saw men as strong and powerful whilst women were weak and emotional. According to the children, men could have ‘harder jobs’ – such as authority roles, like policemen or captain – whilst all women seemed destined to be hairdressers. One of the most memorable parts of the programme saw the children draw their own ideas of a mechanic, magician, make up artist and dancer. All of the children associated male characters to the first two professions and female characters to the second two. Of course, their preconceptions were changed when Dr Javed introduced a real mechanic, magician, make-up artist and dancer with opposite genders to the children’s ideas. The girls were in awe of the female mechanic whilst the boys enjoyed a tutorial from a male make-up artist specialising in SFX make-up. It was amazing to see the children understand that ‘anyone can have a chance to do what they like’.

The amount of times the children referred to males as ‘strong and successful’ was shocking, especially as they saw females as the total opposite. It’s sad to think young girls are starting their lives thinking so little of themselves. To show the children that biologically they were all as strong as each other, Dr Javed set up a fairground style strength tester. It was powerful to see one girl cry with ‘happy tears’ after she exceeded her expectations and one boy have a meltdown because he didn’t reach the highest score. It’s important to remember these children weren’t born with these ideas. As adults, we have programmed them to think that boys are stronger than girls. On supply, I’ve visited schools where boys were chosen to move the PE equipment because the teacher needed someone with ‘big muscles’ to help. I’ve seen girls left out of using gym equipment in high school, banished to the dark corners of the sports hall to do some aerobics instead. Is it any wonder the children breakdown when they realise these stereotypes aren’t true?

I’ve talked about my own experiences in school a lot, but it’s still shocking to think that happened just over ten years ago. Split PE sessions with ‘gender appropriate’ activities seems like such an old-fashioned idea but it was happening ten years ago! Although I may have been the victim of a bad careers advisor (and unenthused parents), I remember being told to choose another career path other than one in the theatre. It was heavily hinted at that the theatre was a world for women and, although I would have been happy to be involved in any way (actor, stage-hand, technician…anything!), I was persuaded to keep that dirty secret part of my social life, not my career. What struck me was just how excited the boys were to meet male role models from creative industries, from areas that are usually perceived as ‘female’, and vice versa for the girls. Why should they be denied the chance of following that route just because of the restrictions adults have put on gender? As teachers it’s our job to encourage and nurture each child. Breaking down ridiculous stereotypes and opening those doors to career paths should be part of that.

(As a little side note, I was at a course a few months ago where we were discussing curriculum topics. We were advised to think carefully to ensure the topic we choose inspired all learners and not to ‘choose fairy tales because the boys won’t be interested, or dinosaurs, because we need to keep the girls on board too.’ Well, in my opinion it shouldn’t be a case of choosing the right topic, it should be a matter of delivering the topic in a way that inspires all children. In January our class topic will be dinosaurs and I can already think of many girls who that will appeal to. I had lots of boys last year who loved learning about Little Red Riding Hood. The topic title shouldn’t matter, it’s the activities that draw them in.)

Having a quick scout on Twitter I can see that No More Boys and Girls has come under fire from a lot disgruntled people calling for an end to ‘gender neutral nonsense’. The Piers Morgans of the world are mistaking the programme for encouraging children to choose their gender, when that is not the case. The whole point of No More Boys and Girls is to break down stereotypes that are damaging our children’s view on the World and of themselves. Anyone who is happy for girls to believe they are the weaker sex and live a life feeling second-best, and for boys to live under the impression they must be strong and successful, then break down when they inevitably ‘fail’, needs to seriously consider their beliefs. It’s about raising a generation of confident individuals who aren’t afraid to embrace failures, and who can aspire to be whoever they want to.

Breaking down these boundaries is about nurturing confidence and self-belief, and it starts in the classroom and at home.

Image result for Pink Ranger gifWhen I was a child I was obsessed with Power Rangers. Many weekends were spent high kicking and karate chopping in the garden attacking imaginary Zed Putties. My favourite ranger was the Pink Ranger. I thought she was awesome and kick-ass. I didn’t even think about her suit colour or the fact I was a different sex to her.

I just thought she was great.

My mum and dad did not approve and I was bluntly pushed towards the blue ranger with all the subtlety of Rita Repulsa’s transition to Dad-Eye-Candy in the new film. (Whole different blog post there.) But regardless of what my parents thought, I still thought she was great and, in a very child-like way, she was a bit of hero for me (until I grew out of my Power Rangers phase).

And then as I got into my teens the Doctor came along, bringing with him a range of heroes and role models for me to fantasise about (Errm…excuse me. Not like that.). How awesome was Rose? Loyal and quick-thinking. Donna Noble – hilarious, sensitive, self-less and selfish at the same time. Awesome characters – I wasn’t going to pretend I didn’t like them just because I’m a guy.

I was sixteen when Torchwood started and I was instantly obsessed. Part of the pull for me was the relatable characters – including Gwen and Toshiko, both fearless and flawed, making terrible decisions but fighting their way back on top and learning from their errors, however painful.

I didn’t think that because they were women I shouldn’t admire them. And who wouldn’t want Storm’s powers in X-Men? She’s brilliant!

So, my point is, it shouldn’t matter what gender your favourite TV character is. I’ve got girls in my class who love Spiderman, but somehow that is a bit more acceptable in society than a boy who likes Wonder Woman or Elsa or Clara Oswald. It shouldn’t be. One girl in my class LOVES Doctor Who, she’s actually obsessed with Matt Smith and David Tennant. If a six year old child is able to look past gender then so should adult fans of the show. A female Doctor has been on the cards for long time and, judging by how incredible Missy turned out to be, I’m looking forward to seeing Jodie Whittaker’s take on the time lord. A role model is a role model and gender should not be a factor. We admire these characters for their personalities and their responses to various situations, so there’s no reason we should be discouraging boys from watching Doctor Who now that the main character has changed sex.

Image result for Doctor who female gif

Image result for fancy dress crayola children

‘And don’t be one of these teachers who lets boys dress as girls!’

Advice given to me a few months ago after I discovered I’d be taking on Year One. It might not surprise you to hear that this comment had come from a person of a certain generation. A generation where boys were expected be the epitome of strength and masculinity and certainly did not wear dresses.

From very early on I’d decided I wanted a performance area in my classroom. Drama is very important to me and I wanted to encourage performance and self-expression within my classroom. I started to collect bits of costumes and masks and puppets that the children could use, and it was whilst sorting through a pile of materials one day, that I was given this worldly piece of advice. I didn’t challenge this person, mainly because I care a lot about them, but also because I wasn’t in the mood for flying into a full on rant about diversity – I was floating happily on the news of my new job and I wasn’t going to let a stupid comment burst my bubble. That said, it took a lot to ignore it.

Well, I didn’t ignored it.  Instead, I let it fester for a bit and then I decided to turn it into something positive.

Now, I’m not saying we should encourage every boy to wear a dress, but neither should we make them think wearing ‘female clothes’ is wrong, if that’s what they choose to do. Clothes are clothes. Pink is just a colour. People are people. What bugs me is that this person would have happily told a dress-wearing-boy that what he was doing was wrong. He would have made him feel abnormal and ridiculed when really that boy isn’t doing anything wrong at all. He’s not hurting anyone. He’s not being offensive. He’s just wearing material. Material that could also be cut into a t-shirt and trousers. He’s still a boy, a person, with feelings and aspirations and insecurities, just like the rest of us. We’re all material, just cut differently.

In this person’s youth, girls wore skirts and boys wore trousers. I understand that this person was raised in a different time and it must be hard to acknowledge the change, I’m sure when I’m into my eighties they’ll be things I’ll struggle to understand, but, in my opinion, I’d rather live in an era where people can wear, and do, what they like. Nowadays, it’s perfectly normal for girls to wear trousers but if a boy wore a skirt he’d be laughed at. What is it about femininity that we just can’t handle? Regardless, if a little boy sees a pink cardigan or a flowery skirt, he’s not seeing something that ‘only a girl should wear’. He’s just seeing another costume from the fancy dress box.

It’s the same with toys. Boys don’t think that dolls are for girls until we enforce that opinion on them. Until we intervene, they just see another toy they could play with and take care of. I’ve witnessed genuine concern for a male three year old who was playing with dolls. He was happy whilst he played and cared for the baby but there was mixed horror and concern that this child shouldn’t be playing with “girls’ toys”. Why? It’s not going to damage him. In fact, having his toy snatched from him and seeing mad, panicking adults is probably more damaging.

Incidentally, I won’t be stopping a boy reading a book targeted at girls either. Or vice versa. I’m an avid reader, and I’m passionate about instilling a love for reading in children. I was in a school once were the library was split in two. You guessed it, ‘Books for Girls’ and ‘Books for Boys’. It made me feel pretty queasy. When I was younger, I probably would have wanted to read the pink book with the picture of a witch on the cover, but I would have been too shy to because it was clearly marketed at girls. Reading it wouldn’t have changed me in anyway, but the children and teachers in my school would have thought otherwise. (In reality, I would have read a few pages, realised it was a load of cheap crap and put it down. If only I’d have had the confidence to be seen reading a girl’s book.) In my classroom, I try and aim for gender neutral books but, if I girl wants to read a book about football or a boy wants to read about princesses, I won’t be stopping them. Just seeing them reach for a book is enough to make me happy.

Anyway, after thinking a lot about this comment over time, it only made me more determined give these children a place to be who they want to be. I want children to know that it’s OK to be whoever they want. I won’t enforce any kind of behaviour or opinions on them, but neither will I discourage their own interests or ideas. If they want to dress up in the mermaid outfit, that’s fine. If they want to play with the dolls, that’s fine. If they want to play football, that’s fine. If they want to play princesses or astronauts or builders or ballerinas then that is absolutely fine with me. Because they’re children. They have no preconceptions about what’s ‘right’ for a boy and what a girl ‘should’ do – that is all rubbish that we bombard them with as they grow up. (In my first week in this class, I had to assure a girl that boys could like butterflies too after she laughed at a boy in the class for saying how much he liked the decorative butterflies in our reading garden. She was totally confused. So, your insect preference now defines your gender. Do you like butterflies? You must be girl. Who has told her this rubbish? And why?!) For now, I want them to be able to explore their own identities, and, more importantly, play, learn and have fun in a safe, relaxed environment where they won’t be judged.

I won’t be a teacher who lets boys dress as girls. I’ll be a teacher who lets boys, and girls, dress however they want.

I’ve got long hair. Not too long but long enough that my fringe is getting in my eyes. Long for me. When I was younger I used to work in a petrol station and I could always tell when my hair needed cutting because old men would start referring to me as ‘love’ and ‘darling’. Because only girls can have long hair. When it gets this long – which I must say is not that long – people start referring to it as ‘girly’. More gender-confined rubbish. I’m a man, so I can’t grow my hair longer than a couple of inches.

I was in a school recently where I taught a very fashionable and on-trend year 6 boy. He was part of a group of alpha males – intelligent, popular and sporty – and in my first week I overheard him telling his friends how he wanted a man-bun in his hair. His friends, roughly all around eleven, seemed indifferent. Neither supportive nor adverse. Just not bothered because, let’s face it, it’s not their hair, it’s his, so he can do what he likes. However, it was the adults that seemed surprised. ‘He’s going to look like a muppet,’ one commented. During the last week of term, the boy walked confidently into school with his hair in a small ponytail. Again, a few comments of surprise from the children, but overall no fuss. The adults however….

‘He looks ridiculous..’

‘Oh! What does he look like?!’

‘Poor thing…’

Now, I’ve spoken before about these gender stereotypes in schools – remember Cardigan-gate? – and I’ve said that these views seem to be adult-imposed. The children in the school weren’t fazed, the criticisms came from the adults. Now, please understand, this school was lovely and every member of staff was committed and passionate about pupil progress, development and wellbeing. I’ve not been in many other schools where the sense of community was so strong. So, this really is my only criticism. I don’t think their comments were formed through malice, just through this ridiculous habit that we’ve picked up of consigning traits to masculinity or femininity. As teachers we have to champion diversity and individuality. This boy had decided he wanted a ponytail and – very bravely – walked into a class of his peers wearing his hair in a style that was different and that he had chosen. I made sure to tell him that I thought he looked great. Children should have the confidence to express themselves and know that it is alright to be the people that they are. Children are following our lead, so we should be modelling that confidence and support.

Coincidentally, I noticed a few weeks ago that SpiceWorld was on Netflix. (Did I watch it? Of course I did! It was terrible). I was seven when that film came out – so primary school age – and when asked how I wanted to celebrate my birthday I asked to take a few friends to the cinema to see SpiceWorld. Now, hats off to my mum and dad, because they made the absolute right choice and they took me. Not once, at the age of seven, did I consider SpiceWorld, a film about five girls, championing girl power, to be a ‘girly film’. I know parents that, had they been in my parents’ shoes, would have anxiously tried to persuade me to see another film. Like Men in Black or Jurassic Park: The Lost World. Masculine films. Because we all know that lads are more likely to handle aliens and snarling dinos. Well, not this lad. I was all about the zig-a-zig-ah and I’m pleased my parents supported my choice. (They also get extra points for actually sitting through it.)

So, basically, let children watch whatever they want (you know, within reason) and if they want to grow their hair, let them. Children have very little understanding of what is ‘for a boy’ and what is ‘for a girl’ until we impose those thoughts on them. So the only way we’re going to change that is to stop. Now. Stop telling them they can’t play with that toy because it’s pink/blue. Stop telling boys they need a haircut because it’s looking ‘girly’. Stop telling them that cardigans are only for girls! (Yes, I’m still not over it!) Instead, let them decide, smile and be proud that you know a child who is confident in exploring their own identity.

There is something that bothers me. Something that seems to creep into every aspect of my life. Something that, sometimes, I don’t even notice until I give it extra thought. But it’s still something I feel is very, very wrong with our world. If you’ve read my previous posts (See Cardigan-gate) you’ll know that this issue is our obsession with the promotion of gender labels.

Last week I moved house and, behold, that issue reared its ugly head once more.

ME: So I’ve narrowed my wallpaper down. These are my final four….but I think I’m going to go for this one. (Holds up non-flowery paper)

MUM: Yeh, nice. (thinks) Yeh, you’ve made the right choice. Very masculine. You don’t want those (indicates a print with black and white flowers on) You want something manly. Not flowers.

ME: (Seething) Do you know it really bothers me when people say stuff like that? Why can’t I have flowers? I’m perfectly comfortable with who I am and If I like the flowers, I’ll have them. Because it’s my home and I don’t see why men have to avoid things if they have any kind of flowery print on them.

Baffled, Mum just shrugged and continued cleaning, whilst a can of gender worms wriggled through my body.

What annoyed me is, although I’m sure she didn’t mean any harm, mum didn’t want my new home to reflect me, she wanted it to reflect my masculinity. But unfortunately, anyone who knows me will see it’s pretty obvious I have one hell of a feminine side too.

She threw another gender-dagger my way later on by saying ‘Yes, it looks great now. Very manly.’ But changed the conversation at my pointedly raised brow.

When people walk into my apartment, I want people to say ‘Oh, this is very you’, not ‘this is very manly/womanly.’ Why should wallpaper be assigned to a particular gender? The print was black and white so it wasn’t the colour that my mum was picking up on, it was the fact there were flowers on it. Not even overly-flowery flowers. Leaves. So why are leaves feminine? Jeez.

Anyway, allow me to take you on to another rant I’ve been meaning to have which sings to the same conformist tune.

So, my grandma, who is the sweetest, most inoffensive and caring person I have ever known, fell victim to society’s demands recently. Her great-grandson, who is also my godson, is three. He spends a lot of time playing with his older sister and his cousin, who is the same age. Now the boy, who we’ll call H, is very easily pleased. He’s not fussy with toys and will play with anything. Including, his female cousin’s toys. Which are obviously mostly pink *rolls eyes and bites tongue*.

Anyway, I overheard my lovely grandma saying this:

Grandma: Oh I’m gonna have to get H some new toys. Bless him. The poor thing. He only has girls toys to play with.

What are girls toys? Since when do toys have a gender? When a toy is made do the makers say ‘congratulations? It’s a boy!’ No. A toy is a toy. No gender. Just like a gate is a gate. A flower is a flower! H has never once complained about having to play with ‘girls toys’ because he is still young enough to not understand the labels adults put on things. H was perfectly happy playing with those toys, so why did G’ma feel it was so urgent to get him some ‘boys toys’. And of course, the toy she bought him was a blue truck. Because only boys can drive trucks.

In the same week H’s dad rushed across the room to pull a pink plastic hairdryer from his hand, exclaiming ‘No, H, no! That’s for girls. Don’t play with that!’. What on earth did he think would happen if he continued letting his son play with a hairdryer? He’d don killer heels and start singing the hits of Kylie? Or perhaps he’d develop an interest in hair and fashion. Or perhaps nothing would happen at all, he’d just enjoy five minutes of playing with a poxy pink hairdryer!

All of these stories are unified by a fear. Although I don’t think my mum or my grandma meant any offense, they were both scared of that obsession society seems to have with promoting masculinity. Grandma and H’s father were worried that by playing with pink toys, H was going to lose his masculinity, and by forcing blue trucks on the boy, that would ensure he grew up nice and manly. Mum was worried that by having flowers in my living room, people would think I was a feminine. And of course, that would be terrible.

I don’t see why people can’t be left alone to be themselves. If children want to play with a particular toy, just let them. If they want to wear a particular colour, just let them. Whatever adults or children want to do to express themselves, just let them.  Although girls are now encouraged to take on what might have once been perceived as ‘male’ jobs, It seems the world is still obsessed with squashing any kind of femininity in males. So masculinity is still seen as the preferred gender. And why does there have to be stronger gender? What happened to equality? In 2015, surely a man should be able to decorate his wall however the hell he likes!

EastEnders has always been very special to me. When people ask me if I like it, I say ‘No. I live it.’ For me, EastEnders is a life choice. It’s the only soap I can watch and I think of these characters like real people that I visit four nights a week. (Wednesdays are so depressing).

But enough about my love for Albert Square. This week I want to talk about something deeply moving that has come somewhat out of the blue. Amongst the high-profile storylines like Kathy’s Return, the Linda/Dean Saga and the juggernaut that is the Lucy Beale Story, something modest and almost unnoticed has blossomed into a powerful piece of drama.

I am, of course, talking about Christine.

Dominic Treadwell Collins brought EastEnders back from the brink of death by injecting a mix of believable, edge-of-seat storylines and well-crafted characters. I was a fan from the moment the Cokers arrived. It was lovely to have a ‘normal’ (whatever that is), happy couple on the square. Whilst Lin Blakley (Pam) proved her talent at the emotional stuff when it was revealed Pam had helped her son to die, I was guilty of thinking Roger Sloman (Les) was more of a comedy actor. His gurning and over the top pronunciation painted Les as a loveable misery-guts who perhaps wouldn’t be out of place in a Carry On film. Then Paul arrived and the dream team was complete. It’s great to see the grandparents-grandson dynamic on screen, having been part of that family set up myself. Although I still think we need to see more from Paul, Jonny Labey has created a loyal and confident character, who isn’t without his faults, and who has a strong, protective relationship with his grandparents, particularly Pam.

So, for months, we’ve been speculating over Les’ supposed affair with Claudette (another fantastic character introduced by DTC) and last Monday Les finally revealed to a gobsmacked Pam that he had an alter-ego called Christine. Now, I had my suspicions for a few weeks that Les was cross-dressing (I’m an EastEnders expert – not much gets past me) and I must admit I was worried. After Les’ previous comedy scenes I was worried that the storyline might mock Les and his situation. Thankfully this didn’t happen.

Instead, we got a beautifully written and sensitively performed piece of drama. The focus has been less on what Les is wearing and more on the fact he has kept it a secret for so long. Friday’s scenes were extremely powerful. I found myself wanting to skip through all the Kathy and Ben stuff (even though they have been brilliant) to get back to the Coker’s kitchen table. I felt the same butterflies as Pam as she waited to meet Christine and when she finally made an appearance I was touched by Christine’s fragility. The moment Paul walked in was truly shocking, as the scene beforehand was so engrossing the sound of the front door opening provoked a genuine flutter of panic.

What EastEnders has done is incredible. Les doesn’t want to be a woman. He isn’t transgender and he isn’t gay – he is still utterly in love with Pam. For Les, Christine is a coping mechanism. He spends his days suppressing emotion and acting in the conventional and socially acceptable male way. For Les, Christine is his chance to express his emotions. She is simply another part of Les. EastEnders are giving us a highly believable and modern storyline. I know lots of men who feel pressurised to be that archetypal male. I’ve felt that pressure myself (remember cardigan-gate?). When Les explained that he needed to be feminine in order to express his emotion I completely understood. Les has become a victim of the pressures of society that many of us feel and feels that crying or grieving would betray his masculinity, therefore he has to appear female in order to do those things. I also think that it’s refreshing that EastEnders have chosen to give this story to an older character. I know a few people who would think that only the younger generation experience this sort of crisis, and would proudly say ‘Oh, you never saw this when I was younger!’. Well, they’re wrong. And stupid.

Lin Blakley has been magnificent as Pam has tried to come to terms with no longer knowing the man she loves, whilst Roger Sloman has surprised us with a moving performance as Les and Christine. I hope he gets the recognition he deserves. I’m sure this storyline will continue along a sensitive and realistic path. As much as I understand Pam’s frustration, I really want to see Pam and Les patch up their problems. Pam is a force of support within the Square and I’d love to see her support her husband. I want to see more of Christine and I don’t want to see her used as a figure of ridicule (hmm….not happy with you, Eamonn Holmes).

Whatever happens, I hope the Cokers, all four of them, are around for a very long time.

I’d like to tell you a story. It’s about a young, handsome, blond teacher who was eager to please at a new school.

Now, so far throughout his time at this school things had gone relatively smoothly. Until the day this guy chose to wear a cardigan. It wasn’t anything outrageous. It didn’t have sequins or fluorescent animal patterns or anything. It was just an ordinary grey cardigan which he had worn in many schools before.

The scene went something like this.

[8.45am. Children begin to enter classroom. Sir is busy preparing resources for the first lesson.]

CHILDREN: Is that…a cardigan? Sir’s wearing a cardigan. Why is he wearing a cardigan?

[Sir hears this and smirks to himself]

SIR: Bore da.

[A child splits off from the group and steps towards Sir, eyeing the cardigan suspiciously.]

GILR: Sir…..is that a cardigan you’re wearing?

SIR: Oh. Yes, I think it is.

GIRL: Why are you wearing a cardigan?

SIR: Because it is cold out. I was cold.

GIRL: So you a put a cardigan on?


GIRL: But Sir. Only girls wear cardigans.

SIR: Hmm. Well, that can’t be right because I’m not a girl and I’m wearing a cardigan.

GIRL: Hmmm…

SIR: That’s a bit like saying you can’t wear trousers because you’re a girl. That would be silly wouldn’t it.

GIRL: (Thinks) Yes. You’re right.

That wasn’t the last case of Cardigan-confusion our friend encountered that day. At several points in the classroom, on the yard and in the canteen he was faced with a perplexed child querying his choice of clothing. Luckily he was able to confidently reply (with just a hint of a jazz hand) ‘Because I’m the height of fashion, that’s why!’.

He finished his day with a final cardigan-confrontation on the school yard.

[Sir stands on the yard surrounded by a group of boys]

BOY: Sir. People are saying you were wearing a cardigan earlier.

SIR: Yes. That’s true.

BOY: Oh (thinks) But why were you wearing a cardigan, sir?

SIR: I was cold.

BOY: Cardigans are only for girls though.

SIR: Well, that’s ridiculous. Of course they’re not. Lots of men wear cardigans.

BOY: My dad doesn’t.

SIR: Well….I’m not your dad!

Now our wool-loving friend wasn’t angry about all this. The majority of the children didn’t mean to appear cheeky or rude, but were genuinely intrigued. Our friend was shocked and surprised that he had caused such cardigan-controversy. He’d worn the same cardigan in four or five other schools without any cardigan-comments. Why was it such an issue in this school? There were no major differences in schools other than the location but for some reason these kids just could not understand why a man would want to wear a cardigan. What ridiculous statements to make – ‘Only girls wear cardigans’ – had these children not seen people before? The cardigan crew can be seen in boybands, presenting TV programmes, and even in clothing catalogues! These children had expectations of our friend which he had broken. To them, a cardigan was not a ‘male’ piece of clothing.

With a particularly cheeky knot of pupils, this was the first of several incidents alluding to our friend’s gender. During a game they had devised, it was announced that ‘Sir is a girl!’ to raucous laughter. To which our friend was able to coolly reply ‘Well….what would be wrong with that? You’re a girl and you’re great.’ The laughter stopped and the children paused to think this over.

Our children seem to have it drummed into them that to act feminine is to be weak. I’ve heard ‘he’s crying like a little girl’ so many times. Why can’t he cry like a little boy? Little boys cry just as much as little girls. As is evident by the crying boy in the first place!

All this links back to a comment I’ve previously made – Teachers should be able to be themselves and model self-confidence and security. It would have been easy for our friend to give in to the fuss made by the children and continue sans cardy. However, this would have given a wrong message. Our friend wore that cardigan with pride.

But why was it such a huge fuss in the first place? Why couldn’t these children grasp the idea that cardigans were not just worn by girls? Who had armed them with this false information in the first place? If we want an open-minded, accepting world then we need to instill it in our children now instead of giving them false ideas about who should wear what. Clothes do not have a gender.

I know this whole post might read as a slight over reaction but I am very passionate about allowing children to develop into tolerant, diverse young people and to encourage them to be who they want to be. In this case, the children had never seen a bloke in a cardigan before. To me, that was slightly unsettling and although it may not be the end of the world, their reaction was an unsettling indication of the values they had acquired from their environment. Being in any way feminine should not be an insult or a weakness and wearing a cardigan should not be cause for concern.

Needless to say, I wore the cardigan for the rest of the term.

I mean, he did.