When Gender Stereotypes Do Not Allow You To See

Every time I hear a gender stereotype said, I challenge it. I’m “that” person in the room. Hearing those words are like nails on a chalkboard to me. (For you whippersnappers, it would be like losing your wifi.) Those stereotypes alter our beliefs and how we allow our children to interact in the world. I am raising a boy and a girl, and their gender is not their most salient quality about their person.

The other day my friend’s son was standing on top of the high monkey bars. “Get down, you’ll hurt yourself!” she hollered to him. And then turned to me and said, “Boys!” I cocked my head to the side and made no attempt to hide my smirk as I pointed out to her my daughter was standing right next to her son. “Don’t break anything on the way down!” I hollered to my daughter as she jumped off. I turned to my friend and said, “Girls!” In reality, it was just two kids being kids, giving their mothers heart attacks as they launched their bodies off the play equipment from seven feet in the air.

And when a mom I know was going on and on about her sons bringing her gross things from the yard and how hard it is to raise boys, I directed her attention to my daughter and her girlfriend who were marching around the field with branches raised in the air like parade banners, cicada shells hanging off their ears and lips. I told her it was the same thing for moms of girls. In reality, kids will be kids and some have a propensity for bringing you bugs, snakes, frogs, and spiders. And the occasional dead bird.

And this morning, when someone at school mentioned how glad they were the kids got some playtime in the morning before they went into class. “These boys really need it”, she said. I looked around at girls running and playing tag in the field, another group of girls spinning in circles, and my daughter and her friends jumping around and squawking like chickens. “The girls do too, by the looks of it.”

In all of these instances the girls were doing EXACTLY the same things the boys were, but it was literally invisible to the people observing the situation because it didn’t align with their stereotypes.

In the twenty-some years I’ve been working with kids I have yet to have this belief discredited: When we limit our children, we limit our children.

Comments

  1. Yes. Thank you. I have two boys, and they are high-energy, but no more than girls I know (and no more than my mother said I was). I believe there are some gender differences, but not in energy and boldness and risk-taking.

  2. Once another mother tried to tell me her 3yp boy did bigger poos then my 3yo girl. I loved that I was defending the size of my child’s poo in order to ensure gender stereotypes were no perpetuated. “Well, my husband often calls me into the bathroom in amazement at the size of her poo – so I don’t think it is a boy thing.” was my actually response. I never thought I would have a conversation like that.

    As the mother of two girls (1 and 3) I am frustrated at how often I am told boys are harder and rowdier. As if my girls never spend half an hour jumping on the lounge before bed too.

  3. I’d love to know how you would explain to your daughter why boys and men can go bare chest in public most any time and place while girls and women have to keep theirs covered because somehow women being topless is seen as “indecent exposure”.

    • HI Kessie –
      We talk about that a lot because at seven years old Amelia hasn’t really developed a sense of personal modesty yet, and wanting to keep her body covered. She says she doesn’t have “boobs yet so it doesn’t matter”. I do not argue with that and at our pool or the beach, she is allowed to go topless. (When she is fourteen we’ll probably have a different set of rules.) For us, nudity and the human body are not shameful things.

      That said, I am raising my children in a culture that believes once a girl reaches puberty and begin to develop breasts those breasts should be private. If we were vacationing in the south of France I would have no problem being topless on the beach. In America, that would be scandalous. I’m teaching Amelia the difference of why, and how to make decisions based on the culture you are in. She knows that for teen and adult women breasts are seen as a sexual part of their body and that in our family, we keep our private parts covered. The obvious exception to this is when a woman is breastfeeding her child. And then we talk about why women have breasts (feeding babies) vs how society views them.

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