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Child of Our Time

Nicola Mostyn is minding the gender gap

Published on May 13th 2008.


Child of Our Time

What makes us who we are? Are we born or made? And what’s this fascination with Bratz dolls? This BBC series, which is following 25 children born in 2000 until they are twenty, aims to answers all these questions and more and, with trusty Professor Robert Winston and his moustache at the helm, you feel sure that some ground-breaking discoveries are afoot.

Seven year old girls want to be thin, because “nobody really likes fat people”, choose skimpy, sexualised clothing, a la Bratz dolls, when given free reign in a dressing room, and identify with figures like Beyonce and Shakira. Sadly, this is not particularly shockin.

And there are a few eye-opening moments in this first episode of Series 8, which explores “the divide of the sexes” and revisits the children on the cusp of their eighth birthday. The parents are an interesting bunch for a start. Ruth and Richard bring up their children together but lead separate lives: “Mummy likes purple and Daddy likes red,” their son, Nathan explains, directing the camera to their separate duvet covers housed in separate bedrooms. Richard, we learn, slept here with his girlfriend until recently, when they broke up. Richard does the childcare and Ruth goes to work. They meet up once a week for a diary meeting.

Tanya and Andy are another unconventional couple, with Tanya doing all the childcare and bringing in all the money whilst Andy faffs around making signs, but little income. Apparently he intended to be a stay-at-home-Dad but didn’t quite take to it, a fact neatly illustrated by some footage of him tipping his child out of a swing onto her head. Perhaps he’d been at his “second office,” as his wife bitterly called it. (That’s the pub, by the way.) Their daughter, Rhianna, is disturbingly precocious: “Sometimes I just hate my life completely,” she says, like a world-weary fifty year old trapped in a seven year old’s body.

Helen is a cutesy blonde cherub in specs, the only survivor of triplets. Her parents, Jeanette and Barry, have great ambitions for their daughter. Her mother thinks she could be a doctor, her dad thinks she’ll be one of the first people on Mars. “Just because someone’s a girl, she can still put on lipstick and a classy spacesuit,” he points out. Move over Emily Pankhurst.

The programme also reveals that, while young boys aren’t too interested in body image, young girls are “heavily influenced by fashion and celebrity culture.”

These seven year old girls want to be thin, because “nobody really likes fat people”, choose skimpy, sexualised clothing, a la Bratz dolls, when given free reign in a dressing room, and identify with figures like Beyonce and Shakira. Sadly, this is not particularly shocking.

The most interesting part of this programme was when the children had to choose values from a set of blocks bearing words. The boys quickly threw away “clever”, because being clever is boring. The girls chose “kind” and “healthy.” Almost all the boys ended up with the block that said “rich.” The exception was Nathan, son of the separate lives parents; he, too, chose “kind” and “healthy,” which might explain why he currently has four girlfriends. Think on, lads.

Any notion one might have had that men and women are basically the same were entirely scuppered when it came to communication; here the gender lines were practically drawn in barbed wire. Paired up like a mini-pops speed dating session, the girls rattled on about their pets and their birthdays whilst the boys blinked at them, made robot noises or stared at their shoes. Actually, I think I’ve been on that date.

So, were any extraordinary conclusions drawn? Only that, whilst many parents lives are becoming less traditional, children are as divided as ever along gender lines because of the way they are marketed to. But this was proven right at the beginning of the programme when the children were asked to taste two batches of lemonade – Princess Pop and Rocket Pop – and decide which one they liked best. Almost without exception the boys prefer Rocket, while the girls chose Princess Pop.

So far, my hopes for the future lie with taciturn, dyslexic Tyrese, whose parents are afraid he’ll become a gangster. He tasted both lemonades at length before concluding, correctly, “they’re both the same.” Tyrese for a place in the House of Commons. Or at least a seat on that shuttle to Mars.

Child Of Our Time, BBC 1, Thursday, Episode 2: The Age of Stress

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