The in-your-face sexism is easy to see, and for the most part easy to speak out against. It is the subtle, barely noticeable, should-I-even-say-something sexism and gender stereotyping that is harmful, and far more likely to directly touch our children. The subtle sexism is everywhere in childhood, and once you see it, you can’t unsee it. But you can speak out against it, and teach your kids to do so, too.
Here are some great examples sent to me this weekend from our Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies Facebook Community:
“At Payless Shoes today the saleslady was giving out stickers. I heard her ask several girls if they liked princesses, and boys if they liked cars. So I was pleased when she asked my 4-yr-old daughter if she wanted Hello Kitty, and then surprised when my daughter walked away with the sticker, very upset. Turns out she wanted spiderman, but that wasn’t a “girl” choice. So of course, we went right back up to the counter for spiderman.” -Sarah B
“ So earlier today I was at my little brother’s birthday party at a kid’s gym (I’m 20 and he just turned 7. I know, big age gap) and I was watching the kids get their goodie bags. My mom and I had packed them with fairly generic things (slinkys, stickers, toy lizards/frogs, gooey hands that stick to the wall, etc) and no bag was meant for any particular person. There were pink, blue, and purple bags.
I didn’t see them all being handed out, but what I DID see was a girl going up to the gym employee, asking for a blue bag, and the worker telling her no, she could have the pink one. Looking around the room, I don’t think a single girl got a blue bag. If that wasn’t bad enough, I heard one of my brother’s friends complaining to another friend about getting a purple bag. I interjected myself into the conversation and asked the boy what was wrong with the purple bag. He explained to me with disgust that purple was a “girl color”. I quickly replied “Well that sounds silly. How can one color be for a boy or a girl? Everyone likes colors.” He stopped for a second and pondered that, like he had honestly never heard anything like that before.
Being a college student, I don’t really have a ton of day-to-day interaction with kids. But it’s days like today that remind me why the work you do is so important. The funny thing is, when the kids opened their bags up, they were all having a blast playing together with the frogs and flinging their sticky hands around the room. Not a single one cared anymore about what color their bag was. I guess kids will be kids. We just need to learn to step back and let them.” -Ellisa B
While at a community event this weekend, I ran into a good friend who told me what she had observed in the children’s area at a craft table: A father and son were about to start the craft that the children chose, either a crown or a shield. The boy wanted to make a crown. The father said no, crowns were for girls, and the boy would make a shield. The boy then tried to choose a pink crayon to start decorating it, and the father said no, pink was for girls, and switched out the crayon for another color.
At this same event, this happened to my family:
The lady volunteer announced who each of us would be, telling Benny he was a knight, Amelia a princess. Amelia’s shoulders fell.
“I wanted to be a knight.” -Amelia
“Girls weren’t knights. You can be a princess because you’re too young to be a lady in waiting.” -Volunteer
“I think she’s suggesting you go inside and rewrite history, Smalls.” -Me
Thankfully, when I posted this story on the facbook page, several commentors left names of women like Joan of Arc, Boudica, Grace O’Malley, Nicola de la Haye, and the children’s series Jane and the Dragon so that I have evidence to show her to the contrary.
In this post, my colleague Dr. Jennifer Shewmaker does a great job showing how really easy it is to get kids thinking critically about their media! Click HERE.
We also need to get kids challenging the stereotypes they face day to day, usually completely unintentionally by the other person. But therein lays the problem — the sexism is so engrained it is invisible.