“GIRLS can’t drive boats.”

I thought I’d misheard.

My four-year-old son, ironically playing a game of Barbies with his siblings, was objecting in the strongest possible terms to the Barbie being put at the wheel of the pink Barbie boat.

“She can’t drive it,” he said.

“Why not?”                      

“Girls can’t drive boats.”

That very day, my three children had been subjected to a history lesson on women’s suffrage in the car while we all bemoaned the fact that not enough girls played football, or cricket, or rugby. I’ll admit, sometimes I’m a bit vitriolic.

My two boys and my daughter stayed up especially to watch women’s football just a few weeks ago. To them there’s no difference between the sexes – they just like watching the game. They don’t have any preconceived ideas about it and I hope it stays that way.

Where, then, had the smallest one got this impression? Poor child, he didn’t know what had hit him as his big sister and I went through him like a dose of salts, quizzing him to find out what other Donald Trump-isms he was going to come out with.

His older brother knew better than to say anything. He just stayed quiet, occasionally agreeing quietly with us – although I think this could have been in part to keep us from turning on him.

While we had a laugh about it, part of it is teaching him right from wrong and send him out into the world with the right attitude. Setting an example about equality of the sexes is just as important with boys as it is with girls. And being careful not to go too far with the point, reassuring him that boys are great too.

But then I looked at the plastic pieces of tat they were playing with, the blonde-haired, unrealistically-proportioned Barbie dolls. While Mattel might have introduced “curvy Barbie” and “petite Barbie”, etc, they’re still shallow as a puddle in a heatwave. Bring in Nobel prize-winning scientist Barbie, Builder Barbie, or President Barbie, and we might getting somewhere.

There are just so many messages to our children that go under the radar, from so many quarters, that it’s difficult to bat them all off.

“Mum’s go to Iceland” (message: Mum does the shopping – god  forbid Dad should do it); the swimsuit-clad, diet-obsessed, dermal-fillered women on the cover of every magazine, (message: you’re only worth something as a woman if you’re skinny and have no wrinkles) to the national press analysing Theresa May’s cleavage during the budget speech, (message: you might be an incredibly successful if unpopular politician, but we’ll ignore all that because you’re over 50 and your rack’s on display); it’s all filtering into our subconscious.

On top of that, the Republicans in the USA have chosen the biggest misogynist in the Western world as their potential Presidential candidate – the man whose only tweak to a beauty pageant would be making the skirts shorter. While our Prime Minister’s wife is vilified for neglecting to paint her toenails.

I actually don’t even know where to start with filtering all that out.

But my son got the 21st-century equivalent of 100 lines.

On a shaky five second video on my phone, he was prompted into saying: “Girls can drive boats. Girls are as good as boys.” He’s watched the video about 17,000 times since, giggling at himself. If nothing else works, maybe the broken record method will.