Crafty Blogs

Friday, 5 February 2010

Creativity for Boys

I feel the need to get on my soapbox again - it doesn't happen very often, but increasingly, as the mother of 2 boys, I feel the need to defend their right to be creative, though it seems a little ridiculous that I should feel that way.  Over the Christmas holidays, we took a family visit to the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester (MOSI).  It's a wonderful free resource, full of steam engines, trains, planes, cars and other bits of technology, and they also have an interactive hands on science gallery specially for kids.  Being the holiday period it was busy, with lots of boys and girls.  While we were there they set up a creative activity to make a decorative snowflake or other decoration, which basically involved lots of glue, scissors and glitter.  As I approached it, my husband said to me 'we've found the girls' table' - and he was right, it was surrounded by about 20 small girls and their mothers, with not a male in sight.  Fortunately this did not put my son off, and he happily approached and got involved, but there were plenty of other boys around in the gallery, and there didn't seem to be anything inherently female about the activity.

All this got me thinking.  I have already noticed that there seem to be many more creative activity kits out there aimed at girls than there are at boys, and while there is nothing stopping me buying them for a boy, the packaging might put a boy off from using it if he feels it is too girly (boys are often sensitive to these things).  In nursery, creativity does not seem to be gender specific, but once they get a little older it seems that boys, if they are creatively minded, are steered towards model building and science and engineering style projects.  My son once indicated he wanted to learn to knit and sew, and my husband's humorous response to this, was to utter words to the effect of 'over my dead body' - now he wasn't serious, but the comment was made.  If he still wants to learn (he hasn't mentioned it recently) I'll be happy to show him.  Even some of the activity kits which aren't so obviously feminine in nature, are often packaged in a girly way.  The overall impression I get from all this, and which niggles away uncomfortably in the back of my mind is that we are not really encouraging boys to be creative in the way that we encourage girls, and that this is largely an unconscious attitude - the worst kind, because we aren't even aware of it.

Now I should say at this point, that I am talking very much in general terms.  I know there are some artistic and crafty kits out there aimed at boys, and that art materials are not gender specific, it's just that there seem to be more for girls, and I have yet to see an introductory sewing kit aimed at boys, or even one that is genuinely gender neutral.

This is not a recent thing - when I was at art college many years ago now, 75% of students on the course were female - and that was for Fine Art - not an especially female subject you'd have thought.  I'm not sure if it would still be the same today, but I suspect it is.  In contrast, if you looked at the most successful visual fine artists of today, I think you'd find that a disproportionately high number would be male.  Maybe that just mirrors lots of other disciplines, where the same thing seems to happen, and is a whole other topic.  It seems that there is a 'science is for boys, arts subjects are for girls' attitude coming into play - an attitude that starts quite early.  So, in the light of all this I think it is important for me to do what I can to encourage artistic creativity in my boys, in whatever form it takes.

Right, I shall get off my soap box now.  I have no doubt that some of you will think I am talking complete and utter rubbish here, and maybe I am, indeed I hope so, for the sake of male creativity in its widest form!


  1. I totally agree with you on this and this is possibly why I do lots of craft with my boys. I think it is great fun and they seem to miss out on a lot due to the fact that people stereotype boys.

    We are off to MINA over the half term and I am hoping we don't encounter a girls table.

    As you know I craft and do arty stuff a lot with the boys and long may it continue.

  2. I'd never noticed it so openly but I think you're absolutely right. Certainly when Joob was at preschool all the threading, beads etc were girlish. He's very artistic and always drawing, or planning an art project. So, in a shamless piece of self promotion, please take a look at our site. We've got lots of arts and crafts & other preschool activities, aimed specifically at boys. I made sure of that! Armineh@tuptuptoys

  3. I think you've got a real point here. All the craft packaging I see in shops tends to be aimed at girls- girl models on the packets, lots of pink, beads, glittery things, etc etc. Apart from things like Hamas beads (is that what they're called- you know those things you stick into a white trellis and iron)I don't see much on the market that is gender non specific. I used to like doing crafty things with my son (now 10). Even at organised events at National Trust Houses and museums, the tables have been mostly filled with girls. Luckily he still likes art and being creative (he's done a huge mural after seeing the Bayeaux Tapestry- inspired by all the killing) but he could have so easily been put off. I think he'd draw the line at being taught to knit though, which is a shame.

    Why do companies/manufacturers do this? Why do they pigeonhole them so young?

  4. Oh good, I'm glad people agree - it doesn't seem to be noticed in general, and you do start to wonder if you're just being paranoid. For boys who are artistic or creative, they almost have to develop that interest in spite of the lack of encouragement from manufacturers, whereas girls have it thrust at them, whether they're creative or not.

    Deerbaby - I'd love to see that mural - don't suppose you fancy submitting it to the Artful Kids Flickr group do you??

    In the meantime - we'll all have to keep encouraging our own boys!

  5. I think there's so much benefit in all children being encouraged to be crafty and creative, boys and girls. We do lots of crafts at home (and on the nurturestore blog) but I try and avoid kits. We use stuff that's in the recycling bin or other basic craft materials like card, tissue paper etc. instead of a kit prescribing what we should be doing with them. I've got 2 girls but don't like things which are packaged in (what the manufacturer thinks of as) a 'girl' style. I think you're right that shops try and push separate girl and boy toys/actvities but as a parent we should resist this. In my work with Early Years children I try to be 'gender neutral' - everyone can play with the dolls and the trains, however they like.

  6. Spot on! MY boys love darwing and colouring etc and would love to do other stuff but they are put off by pink as am I. Also as a mother of boys I find that I don't even know where to start with art for them as everything seems to be for girls ...any tips gratefully received but pelase note I am NOT very good at arts and crafts myself so feel doubly encumbered!

  7. I have one daughter (the eldest) and three boys, one of which is still a baby. Out of all of them the most instinctively creative is my middle son, he is left handed also, which apparently is common in creative types.

    The older three all attend a weekly art course at our local gallery, and there is only one other boy on it. There is nothing feminine about the gallery, the course content and the instructors are male and female.

    For Christmas he wanted craft kits and I really struggled in our local shops to find things that weren't pink or purple! In the end I made my own collection of items but it took a lot of internet shopping to put together.

    I've also gone out my way to find resources that will inspire them that again, aren't aimed at girls. I agree entirely - there is a market out there for creative boys!

  8. @Cathy - I agree with you about kits, I only buy them as gifts myself, but I think sometimes for those who are not especially creative themselves it makes life easier when everything is put together for you - though you certainly pay for it!

    @Kellyi - I'm glad your son hasn't been put off! I'm left handed too, as of course was Leonardo da Vinci, so we're in good company!

  9. If I can take a photo of the mural I will - it's huge. Might have to be a triptych.

    I'm left handed too - all the best people are.