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Gender roles

July 11, 2018


The first question people ask when they see my baby bump is “How far along are you?” The next question is always “Do you know what you’re having?” Most of the time, I manage to resist the urge to answer the latter with “A baby”. 


When I tell them that it is a surprise what gender we are having, I have been very fascinated with the reactions. The biggest concern on everyone’s lips is how we will know what colour baby clothes to buy, if we don’t know whether it is a boy or girl. My family in particular (most of whom are in the UK), really want to know the gender ASAP so they can post over the “appropriate” baby clothes.


This totally perplexes me, as I can’t imagine the baby gives a damn what colour his first onesie is, nor could my husband and I care less about the colours. Actually, that is not true…my husband has decided that the first outfit it will be dressed in is an All Blacks baby suit, complete with silver ferns. 


I have two close friends who are also pregnant (one due 2 weeks before me, and one 2 weeks after – take your bets on the odds of us all having the babies on the same day!) They are also keeping it as a surprise of the gender, but have been very careful to buy “gender neutral” clothing until they know. Which also interests me… Both mums-to-be are intelligent, career-driven women who consider themselves equals to men…yet it is still important to them that their boy should wear blue or their girl should wear pink. 


A few years ago, I picked up a copy of Sheryl Sandberg’s book (COO of Facebook) entitled Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead. Prior to reading this, I guess I considered myself a “feminist” but had not, in all honesty, given it a great deal of thought. It was only after reading this book that my eyes were opened to how, from such a young age, the gender stereotyping begins. 


It made me realise how I myself had fallen prey to this, but it wasn’t until it was pointed out to me that I noticed it. How often have you found yourself saying to young children “You look very pretty in that dress” (to a girl) or “That’s a cool truck you have” (to a boy). One statement compliments the girl based on how her clothes make her look, and the other impresses you based on what the boy has in his possession. Is either statement a positive one? 


It blew my mind, as I already thought I was pretty “gender equal” in my approach to life, especially in the Marrzipan classroom. A male student wants to play a female character? All good! A female student wants to play a male role? That’s fine. But why have any stereotype on what “male” and “female” characters should be like in the first place?


Since then, we have made an effort for Marrzipan scripts to have characters with gender-neutral names. Or, we have gone one step further and flipped the stereotypes around completely. Our latest script All Aboard the Kerfuffle, (about a mystery aboard a cruise ship), has a doctor and a nurse character. We are encouraging Marrzipan teachers to use this as an opportunity to have a quick discussion around gender roles with their classes, and ideally to cast the doctor as a female student and the nurse as a male student, to help children overcome any preconceived notions of which is more “normal”. The beautiful thing about children, of course, it that they often don’t have the same prejudiced opinions that adults have developed. 


I am even struck by the amount of principals who are male, when education as profession is (generally) heavily female. A recent article on Newshub stated that there are only 12% male teachers in primary schools. Yet of the 100 schools that Marrzipan runs in, 57% of principals are male! If the education industry is so heavily female, why are there not an equally high percentage of female principals? And how can we encourage more males to join teaching as a profession, so that our young people have more male role models in the classroom?


I hope that as a company, Marrzipan is leading the way by role modelling (both in and out of the classroom) that anyone, male or female, can be whoever they want to be.  With me as Director, and our General Manager (Sarieta) also female, we are showing that females certainly can be leaders. Of our total teaching team of eight, three are male and five are female, and within our senior leadership team, two are female and one is male, so I think that is a reasonable split all around, given the above statistics of the education industry as a whole. Though we still clearly have a long way to go until both teachers and principals/leaders are closer to a 50/50 split. 


So this is why in the future, you may see my little boy painting his nails whilst wearing a bright pink cardigan that my nan knitted, or my little girl running around in the mud in a blue outfit covered with planes and footballs. Let’s let our little humans be whoever they want to be, not who society tells them they should be. As long as they are All Black supporters, of course. 


         A truly “gender-neutral” outfit!  













Boy or girl,

they will be an All Blacks supporter. 

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