When we were little, my best friend and I used to play Barbies. Our favourite game involved tying a piece of string around each Barbie and throwing them all out of the window into an imaginary pit of fire.

According to James Dellingpole, we must have been little boys.

This came as rather a shock to me. My best friend and I have both grown up as cis women, happily using she/her pronouns to describe ourselves. I went through a phase where I always wanted to be a boy when we played our epic imaginary adventure games, but (unlike some young trans boys) this wish applied about as much to my real life as did my playtime decisions to be a horse, or a wolf, or a dragon.

I knew from the moment I saw the title of Mr Dellingpole’s mess of an article that this was going to be today’s hate-read, but I still wasn’t prepared for the epic levels of word vomit that I encountered. Dellingpole begins the article by describing a dinner with some sixth-form girls and a “progressive” headmistress (scare quotes in original).

‘One by one the girls were asked to tell me of their impressive future plans: “Engineering, Cambridge; physics, Oxford; maths, Imperial; an astronaut; a mining engineer; a brain surgeon…”

“And which of you just wants to settle down and bring up a family?” I interrupted.
The girl I most admired was the single one to raise her hand. It takes real courage these days for a girl to fight against the political correctness of our time and follow her true nature.’

This sets the tone for the rest of the article. In one fell swoop, Dellingpole dismisses the young women’s career plans and positions motherhood as an example of woman’s ‘true nature’. (Interestingly, he also describes it as something one ‘just’ does, a turn of phrase which always implies something inferior – for example, “I’m not a journalist, I’m just a hack who writes poorly researched clickbait.”)

Dellingpole continues: ‘if, as consumer research has shown, it appears that boys are the prime market for test tubes, chemicals and smelly potions, why waste time and effort trying to drag girls away from their hair and make-up sets?

Because it is “sexist” I suppose. That at least is how the various feminist lobby groups would see it.’

Well, gosh, yet more evidence for my apparent boyhood. I loathed makeup as a little girl. I hated dresses, mostly because I was tall for my age, and the only dresses that fitted my height required boobs to fill them out. When I outgrew The Beano, I asked my grandparents for a subscription to New Scientist. I owned several chemistry sets, which caused minor damage to my parents’ kitchen (ah, that must be why I still identify as a woman – I did chemistry in the kitchen!)

As Dellingford goes on to describe girls being ‘denied’ the right to play with dolls, and boys having trucks snatched out of their innocent hands, he seems to have confused campaigns like Let Toys Be Toys with some dystopian fantasy starring Kate Beaton’s straw feminists. He asks ‘is it really “fantastic” to deny boys and girls the kind of toys they most want just to demonstrate how enlightened and post-sexist you are?’

No, dear Mr Dellingford, it isn’t. But no-one is actually doing that. No-one is advocating “making” boys play with dolls or girls play with trucks. If a girl has the choice of a huge range of toys, with no pressure to pick one over another, and she picks the pink doll, no feminist is going to smack it out of her hand and yell “NO! PLAY WITH THE MECCANNO!” (Funnily enough, though, I have heard of plenty of “traditional” parents who force their children to play with “gender appropriate” toys. It’s almost as if they’re the bigoted ones!)

It gets worse, however. Towards the end of the article, Dellingford goes into full-on bioessentialist panic, asking “If little girls didn’t have those dollyhugging instincts we would all be in a pickle because who in the future would do the mothering and who would work in all those vital caring professions from midwifery to primary school teaching and nursing?”

So, a father of two implies that it is biologically impossible for men to show affection towards children? Well, I suppose that’s as good an excuse as any for being a half-arsed parent.

“And if little boys weren’t hardwired into being obsessive, aggressive show-offs and risk-takers, who would spend hours in the lab before making great scientific breakthroughs or drilling for oil or defending the nation?”

I think Ada Lovelace, Marie Curie, Hedy Lamarr, Joanna Hardin and Shakuntala Devi, amongst many, many others, would have a few words to say to you about that. (As for the underrepresentation of women in the oil industry and the army – gosh, could it be because there have been countless efforts to keep women out of those areas of work? It just might be!)

Oh dear, Mr Dellingford. I can’t tell if you’re being deliberately disingenuous, or if you really are just that ignorant. Maybe you should use your fee for this article to get yourself a copy of Cordelia Fine’s Delusions of Gender. You see, people aren’t ‘hardwired’ to do much more than sleep, eat and breathe. Behaviour isn’t encoded on ‘those XX and XY chromosomes’ (and by the way, erasing trans* and intersexed people is a crappy thing to do. There are plenty of women out there with XY chromosomes, plenty of men with XX, and plenty of people of all genders with all kinds of chromosomal combinations. But you’ve clearly decided to pretend they don’t exist).

No, behaviour is not gendered. No, girls are not “naturally” caring and boys are not “naturally” rowdy. Socialisation happens from the moment a person is born; you just don’t realise it because you’re so set on your pink-and-blue version of the world. If a girl baby is treated as “a sweet pretty little girl” and a boy baby is treated as “a big strong tough boy”, then they will conform to that behaviour, because it gets them positive reinforcement in the form of attention. (Seriously, read Cordelia Fine, she’s excellent – and bases her arguments on legitimate studies, instead of observations of two children raised by a self-confessed ‘reactionary dinosaur father’).

I still can’t style my hair, and I still read New Scientist, but I’ve grown up to like makeup and dresses, which I suppose is my ‘true nature’ shining through. Except no, it really isn’t. I study English, but I like sci-fi. I dance, but I also love karate (only quitting because of back problems). I read comics, and am learning to sew. My favourite films include both Dirty Harry and Beauty and the Beast. In short, I’m an individual human being, and my ‘true nature’, like everyone else’s, cannot be summed up by one bigoted dude pushing his own reactionary agenda.

It isn’t feminism that’s damaging and limiting children. It is this fetishisation of “masculinity” and “femininity” (and those scare quotes are mine, because the behaviours and appearances deemed “masculine” and “feminine” aren’t gendered, they’re just stereotyped as such). Thanks to attitudes such as Mr Dellingford’s, summer camps for gender non-conforming children have had to keep their locations secret to avoid being targeted by bigots, and trans women have been turned away from shelters for wearing jeans. (On the flip side, if a trans woman does dress in a way that is deemed “feminine”, she’s targeted by TERFs who accuse her of “reifying gender”. Basically, trans women get crap thrown at them from all directions).

Over twenty years ago, my best friend and I terrorised her Barbies. Last summer, when I was sitting in a café, I saw two little boys playing with mermaid dolls, making them swim around the room. They were clearly having just as much fun as my friend and I had when we were the same age. I hate to break it to you, Mr Dellingford, but it is indeed sexist to say that ‘boys should never play with dolls’. Not only that, it’s just plain mean. I can’t help but think that the people who really wants to police children’s actions, to apply ‘social engineering’ to young kids, are the likes of you.

More of Ally’s rants on gender and other topics can be found on Twitter and Facebook. She has also written a book about a girl who likes engineering. This disgusting piece of PC propaganda is available at Amazon and Smashwords.


About Alice Nuttall

Alice Nuttall is a caffeine-guzzling knitter who divides her time between Oxford and the various worlds in her head. She is the author of a YA fantasy novel, Spider Circus, and three webcomics, Footloose, Cherry, and Black Market Magic, as well as several short stories.
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