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The BOYS shoes in the GIRLS world

Last week I had a tearful tantrum on my hands as I tried my best to attach Tibbs’ blue trainers to her flailing feet before nursery. In between the enraged screeching, I managed to decipher the shrill shriek of ‘NO BOY’S SHOES!!!’

I was shocked. Never have we discussed the concept of girls this and boys that. Never have we labelled these innocent, fun shoes as being for boys.

The answer lay in wait for me at nursery itself, when I picked her up later that week. “I have blue shoes!”, proclaimed Tibbs proudly to her key worker. “Oh, you means the BOY’S shoes?”, replied the key worker.


This comment cost me 20 minutes of tantrum time earlier in the week, and, I worry, an entire childhood of insecurity and doubt over which clothes are ok for a little girl to feel proud of wearing.

This, I’m happy to say, has been the only testing experience I have had in the nearly two years of Tibbs’ attendance at her wonderful nursery, but, as she gets older and her capacity for mimic and understanding grows, I’m wondering when it’s appropriate to give them my views on gender neutral education. Is it ever appropriate?

The most recent addition to the nursery’s toy roster is a pretend hairdressing salon, where I’m told my curly haired girl spends lots of time playing with the pretend straighteners. The more I think about this, the more I’m concerned. Nobody should be telling my daughter that her hair would look nice ‘straight’, even in play, should they?

But, I acknowledge that beauty is not my strong point. I don’t paint my nails or put make-up on every day, or even have a full-length mirror in my house. I don’t dry my hair. I don’t ask her if I look pretty in my outfit.

So, should I rely on nursery to do this for me, bearing in mind I lean on them four days a week for other aspects of her learning? By not leading the example with feminine beauty, am I setting her up for a fall if I don’t let them teach her to ‘make the most’ of herself? Or by tucking her into her trainers and letting her choose her own clothes every day, discussing diggers and adjusting her fairy wings whilst she plays with her toy cars, am I letting her blossom into the person she naturally would become?

This is one of the toughest issue I’ve faced as the mother of a girl yet. What are your experiences? Should I be explaining my concerns to nursery?

**UPDATED** I had a fantastic conversation with our nursery manager this morning who allayed all my fears and explained how they encourage gender neutral play with all their toys and games. I feel lucky to have such responsive childcare!

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  1. I would have pulled nursery up. Blue for me does not equal boys shoes. For me it comes across as disparaging by the nursery. I wouldn’t be keen on hair saloon either, unless they are encouraging as a game for all the children and how are they mangaging comments about children about their looks. Is it role. Play to improve self-esteem?
    I am the mother of a boy, he has worn pink, I gave him dolls and a pushchair, dollhouse, and I gave him all manner of boys toys. Role playing caring for a home or a child is something to encourage in all children – for most it ultimately becomes part of life. We have never pushed things for being for either genders. I’m a feminist I don’t want him to see girls as reduced to one thing and boys another.
    Personally, is ask nursery about their gender neutral policy.

    • You, plus my own thinking and other people’s opinions has spurred me into action and I had a great conversation with the nursery manager this morning. Thank you!

  2. I’m glad they reassured you. Sometimes these comments are made without thinking. It’s good that you had the conversation with them, as perhaps it will be something discussed by them more. The gender neutral play is great, but needs to be backed up with support for basic things like girls wearing blue shoes being normal.

    • Thanks Simon, I agree, and fortunately, nursery seem to as well, she took my concerns really seriously and I do get the impression the comment was innocently made in the first place. After all, many nursery staff are young people themselves. We are also really lucky to have a very good balance of male and female staff there too, which I think is healthy for play and attitude.

  3. oops, the toddler pressed send! Anywho, we have always strived to make sure that there are no ‘girls toys’ and ‘boys toys’. My girls, even as teenagers, often choose to have boys trainers because they are always much more comfy and practical than they pale sparkly girly options and my sons both happily have their nails painted, play with dollies etc.
    I don’t wear makeup, do my hair in styles or wear ‘girly’ clothes (which my mother does all 3) and yet I have 3 daughters with their own styles that include VERY feminine, grungy and also a virtual Emo. So they will all do their own thing as they get older no matter what influences they have when their little xxx

    • That’s really reassuring, thank you! And thanks for commenting too, toddler and all!

  4. My own girls often wear shoes and clothes which used to belong to their older brother. For the convenience of this comment I will hereafter call them “boys clothes” but you know what I mean. They’re not all blue. Some are camo, black, orange etc. But other people (kids and adults) often ask the girls why are you wearing boys clothes/trainers etc? To which they answer, “Because I like them.” They also choose new things which sometimes happen to be in the boys department- Pirate Bags, cooler Pyjamas etc and the same questions get asked. Two of the girls also like clothes bought in the girls section and that’s fine too. It seems we still have a long way to go for unisex clothes to be worn without a second look. Everyone should be free to wear what they like. For two of my girls, their favourite colour is blue and the eldest is turquoise (lol). My son’s favourite colour is orange. I don’t actually have a problem with the Hairdresser Role Play in a nursery setting. It is for both genders to use and most people I know (apart from my very rugged partner haha) do use a hairdresser in one form or another. It is learning about the world of work and about in everyday life going to one. No doubt, that role play are will soon be a construction site, hospital, vet, farmers market or travel agent soon- staff are usually great at giving the kids varied experiences. My kids just get their hair cut at home, never see me using a dryer or straightener etc so I’m happy for them to learn that some people do. So glad you had a good conversation with the nursery. I hope she will wear her blue shoes with pride again soon xxx (sorry for the essay, E!)

  5. Cherry has always been very girly although having said that she’s finally stopped loving pink and now chooses yellow instead which I am pretty happy about! It was after being in nursery however that she started coming out with comments about things being ‘for boys’, not even just blue things. Once we walked past a black bike and told me it was for boys! I think it was probably just being around the other kids there. I’ve always explained to her though and all colours are for everyone and children can play with anything they like. Tiger has always been a mix as he loves cars and bikes but also likes to have his hair tied up and play with dolls. I think the options should be there for all kids to wear and play with whatever they choose 🙂 x

    • Jess, I think a lot of it is other children too, and sometimes, we overlook their influence in the face of adults being around who we automatically believe were the culprits!

  6. Dan Dan

    I would immediately take my child out of such a small-minded nursery. It only takes one brainwashed key worker to poison an entire institution.

    • I don’t think our nursery is small-minded, I think it was an innocent syntax error by a usually very trustworthy young person. It is symptomatic of a wider view on things for girls or for boys, but I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt as their care for our daughter is, for the main, fantastic. But, thank you for your comment Dan, it’s interesting to see how passionately people believe in this issue, and inspiring to the parent of a girl.

  7. I’ve always bought blue shoes for my girls (from the boys’ dept usually because evrything is so colour-coded). The reason for this is that I just preferred the simpler look of boys’ shoes to the often pink, glittery, OTT design of girls’ shoes.
    So far my girls seem to enjoy wearing what they want from tu-tus to batman t-shirts selected themselves from the boys dept to of course Frozen tops as well. I try to let them just go with it. One day they will choose a floral dress, another day trousers and a top. I really hope that’s how they will always feel about clothes and life in general – that it’s a wonderful smorgasbord and you can pick whatever you like, according to how you feel.

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