November 3, 2014
It is easy to assume that because male stereotypes are frequently described in positive terms, such as strong, fast, brave and courageous, that it is only girls who need to be reminded that they can choose to pursue whatever interests and careers that they desire. Unfortunately, there are still underlying behaviour rules that tell boys that being caring, nurturing and empathetic is the domain of girls and if they display these character traits they are weak and cowardly. Creative pursuits or choosing “girl” colours or “girl” toys is opening yourself up for ridicule. We often subconsciously, reinforce the idea that being masculine is being rough, loud, forceful and aggressive.
We need to more widely recognise the harmful effect of gender stereotypes on BOYS and the resulting implications for girls if we continue to accept these ‘masculine’ behaviours from boys. As a parent, it is my job to instil values in my children – regardless of their gender. I try to model and encourage my children to care about and have tolerance for others, especially those who are different to them. I expect that they will be kind, respectful and supportive friends and as future boyfriends, partners or husbands.
I got overwhelmingly supportive responses when I posed the question “Is it okay for boys to play with dolls?” on my facebook page, but I also got “I don’t understand why this is even an issue?”
Really? While it is fantastic that parents encourage their kids to “be themselves”, but to dismiss it as a non-issue?? Tell me what you see when you walk into ANY toy store or browse a toy catalogue? Why is it that we blindly accept the way toy retailers and marketers layout their stores and catalogues explicitly tell our children that pink and purple is for girls ONLY and boys can ONLY play dress ups if they are a superhero, pirate or evil character?
I make no apology, as a Mum of three boys – this just doesn’t sit with me. Do I notice this more than families with both genders? Maybe….however, I think it would still concern me if I had 3 girls or a combination of both. What having three boys has taught me most, is that every child is their own unique person. Different personalities, different interests, different temperaments. One of my boys loves dress ups and acting out scenes with toy characters from movies, he also loves dancing and baking. The baby loves BALLS. They’ve also been passionate about: garbage trucks, guitar, trucks and trailers, nail polish, space, craft, football, drawing, volcanoes, singing, dinosaurs and cricket. They love craft, dancing, singing, music too, however, regrettably their creative pursuits are increasingly perceived as “girl” interests.
I applaud Emma Watson for speaking out about gender stereotypes (watch it here: Emma Watson UN speech) and she has motivated me to step forward too, after all “If not me, who? If not now, when?” Now this is a topic I feel strongly about, but often feel I pressured to curb my enthusiasm in fear of inadvertently offending someone.
Of course it is okay for girls to wear pink,
dress up as princesses and fairies, play with dolls and draw flowers and sing and dance. It is also okay for girls to wear blue or green or orange, play dress ups as male characters and have interests in trucks, superheroes, construction and science.
Of course it is okay for boys to wear blue,
dress up as superheroes, build, construct, experiment and draw garbage trucks, BUT it is EQUALLY okay for boys to wear PINK or green or orange or purple, dress up as princesses and fairies, play with dolls, have tea parties, sing and dance and have interests in gardening, cooking, sewing, craft, reading and music. Gender neutral play is about EXPANDING their choices.
I believe we have to start with our kids, but how do we get the message across when they are bombarded with colour-coded gendered marketing from toy retailers? What cultural messages are being imprinted on our kids?
I think we need to better educate parents and teachers. How often are kids segregated by gender at school? How many teachers sit kids “boy girl boy girl”? Or partner them with the opposite gender to walk in lines around the school? Why is this so? How often do we assume it is the boys being noisy or doing the wrong thing? I acknowledge that are innate differences between the sexes, however, cultural and societal “norms” have a significant impact on gender roles for both children and adults.
Building awareness of the way our culture talks about and to girls and the impact this has on their attitudes is essential. Thanks to the feminist movement, it is now far more acceptable for girls to have careers in science and senior management. Generally, parents support this and videos such as the “like a girl” campaign, help to continue to support girls to achieve. It is fantastic to see that girls now more readily climb trees, build inventions and play footy along side boys, and rightly so,
but what about the boys?
Prior to the ability to read and the peer pressure that evolves as children progress through the school system, ALL of my boys and in fact, most boys and girls I have known, have at some point had an interest that doesn’t “fit” the gender norms. This tells me that this behaviour is learned and our kids are getting the message loud and clear “you need to conform”. It seems that no matter their individual personalities or how open and encouraging their parents are, children notice and take on board these societal “rules”. All children should feel safe and encouraged to explore new interests – build, invent, experiment and create.
Just yesterday I was shopping for a 6th birthday present in a local toy store, I was specifically asked “Is it for a boy or a girl?” I responded that I didn’t feel it was relevant, however, I caved and answered “boy”. I was immediately shown a range of Nerf guns and weapon-like toys. How about clothing choices? Obviously girls and boys need different styles to fit properly, but what saddens me is that often three quarters of the layout in a store is girl clothing. The small corner for boys clothing appears to be an after thought. Boy clothes are so repetitive – something other than the stock standard t-shirt and shorts PLEASE! You wouldn’t believe how excited I got when Bonds brought out leggings for baby BOYS last year! Woohoo! I’m told (by my trusted 10 year old source) that coloured (PURPLE to be specific) shirts, jeans, shorts and shoes are very fashionable for primary school aged BOYS. Sadly, the shop assistants I have approached while out looking, I surmise (by their confused expressions) don’t have boys in this age group.
I want my boys to make choices based on their enjoyment and not refuse to try something out of hand because there is an attitude that “boys don’t do that, that’s for girls”. Of course, peer pressure comes into play, but their peers must be developing these misconceptions from somewhere? Let’s not box our kids in. Tell me what you do to encourage your kids to explore a range of interests? Do you have a suggestion to help better educate parents, teachers, kids or retailers? Comment below or post on my facebook page
It is OKAY to encourage boys to be gentle and nurturing – in fact, it is VITAL for raising supportive future husbands and involved Dads.
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