This morning I was awakened to the sound of my sons engaged in serious debate regarding the relative merits of Minecraft and Match Attax. In the red corner was 5yo, putting forth the view that defeating zombie pigmen was the finest that twenty-first century childhood play had to offer. In the blue corner, 6yo was staunchly defending the superiority of the football trading card game beloved of all boys in Year 2. Various subtle argumentative techniques were used: shouting, hitting, making up a song about one’s brother’s smelly poo-poo pants and recording it on the iPad. Eventually, the two of them reached a reasonable compromise, one which involved wishing death on one another and thenceforth playing in separate rooms, on Mummy’s orders. They are nothing if not rational, sensible chaps.
It’s on days like this that I’m eternally grateful not to be the mother of girls, who’d no doubt be having some prissy, trivial scrap about Barbie versus Loom Bands or some similar nonsense. As Lucy Mangan sagely notes in her Guardian column today (as sagely as it is possible for anyone lumbered with a prissy female brain to note) girls twat about fighting while boys engage with proper issues. It starts in childhood and continues right through to adulthood, to the extent that women even mess up their own attempts at liberating themselves by being too bloody girly:

My heart fills with despair when feminists and feminism convulse in another self-induced set of agonies. This is women’s besetting sin and reminds me of years of frustration in the school playground trying to play games with other girls, forever arguing about the rules and never starting a bloody game at all. Meanwhile, the boys got together, got on in both senses, and returned to the classroom fitter, stronger, ready for the rest of the day.

Poor, poor Lucy. What a burden it must be to be the only non-crap girl in the village. It’s such a shame she couldn’t have been a boy, really, what with all her serious thoughts and proper opinions.
It’s not as though one of feminism’s main challenges has been countering the view that women’s experiences are trivial, insignificant, not the “real” game. It’s not as though female socialisation constantly teaches women not to fight, not to fuss, not to question the rules, just to play the bloody game even if it’s someone else’s game and you’re already destined to lose. It’s not as though men’s more “serious” battles – war, violence, grossly inequitable political bargaining – aren’t the neat, rational pursuits we’d like them to be. It’s not as though women are told, time after time, that their voices are too shrill, their argumentative techniques too hysterical, their conflicts too unbecoming. It’s not as though “your battles do not matter” is what little girls are taught from the day they are born. It’s not as though pushing back against this – saying “I am real, I define myself and my voice matters” – might, you know, be important. Come on. It’s hardly the World Cup.
As Lucy – poor, too-clever-to-be-female Lucy – says, silly feminists are always “behaving – as the dinner ladies so correctly in all but the politically prefixed sense used to shout at the knotted, tear-stained cliques fibrillating with pointless fury around the edges of their domain – like utter, utter girls”. What a shame we’re not men, wonderful, superior men, fighting over religion and trading cards rather than violence, human dignity and safety for all. If only we could all be men then there’d be no need for feminism at all.

Growing up involves finding out that many of the things you believed to be true are in fact total bollocks. By the time I was ten, I’d already stopped believing in God, Father Christmas and Grange Hill. The latter in particular came as a huge relief, since I’d spent a good part of my time at Junior School panicking about arriving at Big School without sufficient scams up my sleeve to fend off Gripper Stebson and Imelda Whatshername (not Staunton nor Marcos, although morally much closer to the latter, especially after that fibreglass incident). Anyhow, I no longer believed in any of that, but there was one strange belief to which I still clung with all my might: the belief that my grandfather founded and owned Kentucky Fried Chicken.

No one ever told me this. It wasn’t one of those jokes that your dad makes, and that you carry on believing long after he’s forgotten ever having made it (for me that was when he claimed he’d played Puck alongside Sir John Gielgud in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I still believed that one at age 30). The KFC myth was something I developed all on my own. It wasn’t completely mad, though. Allow me to present the evidence:

  1. my grandad bought a café before I was born
  2. he looked quite a lot like Colonel Sanders in the red and white logo
  3. his name was Ken (I therefore presumed his secret middle name must be Tucky)
  4. he’d been estranged from the family since I was six, which was why none of us were now benefiting from his ownership of a multinational chain

I’ll be honest: written down it does start to look a bit flimsy. But still, I was utterly convinced that the first KFC had been opened somewhere north of Wigan, and that the special recipe seasoning took shape in the shadows of England’s dark satanic mills. And to be fair, we didn’t have the internet back then – thus how could I possibly check? I could have asked my grandma, but it was a sensitive area. She didn’t have much money, and probably resented the loss of the KFC millions (especially as I suspected that she’d been the one to develop the seasoning. She’s dead good at cooking, my nan). I can’t remember when I stopped believing any of this. I think it dawned on me slowly, and sadly. Somehow, I knew Zinger Burgers just weren’t in my blood.

Now that I’m a mum I get to witness my children believing all kinds of bollocks (and to give them Werther’s Originals, in case you were expecting that as the ending to this sentence). For instance, they think that life is fair, and that the house we live in is reasonably okay and not some environmental health disaster zone. Yesterday we visited Peppa Pig World and I discovered that they even think Peppa Pig is real (“why were they only people in costumes, Mummy? Was Peppa Pig busy today?”). They can be right ignoramuses, my little ones. What I find really interesting, though, is that they also believe things which are true, but which they will have to stop believing, or so it is expected.

This crossed my mind because last week my youngest turned three and I received a “what to expect at this age” email from Mumsnet. It was lovely of them to send this and I am grateful (they even went to the trouble of making it sound generic so that I wouldn’t be embarrassed by how much effort they’d made just for us!). Most of it was really interesting – not too much pressure regarding the dreaded “milestones” – but one sentence in particular jumped out at me: “he knows what sex he is but not necessarily that he will always be a boy”. What does that actually mean? Surely my son won’t necessarily always be male, at least not in terms of how we construct it? Won’t he have the choice? And if not, if he presumes he has this choice now, at what point are we going to take it away from him? Or will a realisation of “maleness” come naturally to him (in a way that clearly it doesn’t to all those who are initially raised as boys)? What do Mumsnet know about my son that I don’t? (I should warn them, you have to be very careful before suggesting my son will have fewer choices than other boys; give him some ELC building blocks and let me tell you, he’s handy.)

Extending this further, there are quite a lot of things that my sons don’t question but which, come the appropriate time, they will be encouraged to think of as patent pants (my partner’s phrase, not mine; always makes me think of shiny leather underwear). Here are just a few of them:

  • Peppa Pig figurines, Lego Star Wars characters and Mummy’s old Barbie are all “dolls”, and one is no better than any other
  • Daddy doing the washing up is not a political statement
  • Mummy goes to work to earn money (as opposed to “Mummy farms me out to strangers because she doesn’t love me”)
  • Pink really is Youngest’s favourite colour
  • They might never get married, or have children, or girlfriends, or boyfriends, and none of these things would necessarily be sad
  • Fat is just a descriptive word, which doesn’t have to be loaded with any moral implications
  • The way they look is fine
  • The way everyone else looks is fine
  • Princess Leia is the hero of Star Wars (“even though”, comments Eldest, “she doesn’t always wear as many buttons”. An interesting response to the bikini scene).

I’m not going to be the one to tell them that any of these are untrue. They will learn, though. Of that I have little doubt. And what can I do to counteract it? Very little, especially when I consider the extent to which I conduct my own life to fit in with things which I don’t, upon further examination, really believe at all.

So what reasonable beliefs are you waiting to have knocked out of your own children? How long do you think they’ve got left? Please address all responses to me, Glosswitch, ex-KFC heiress.

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