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Saturday, June 13, 2009

Gender Stereotyping in Our Lives

Have you ever asked a toddler girl what her favorite color is?
Have you ever tried putting a pink polo shirt on a little boy(check out fashion section of any men's magazine!!)?
It's not that I am trying to say that there is something wrong with girls liking pink or boys wearing dark colors. What I am trying to ask you is if they have a choice.
It seems as if everything is already pre-programed for them to like.
Go to any toy store and you'll see what I am talking about. There are aisles of pink where the flock of girls is heading, and there are aisles of blue, green and in between where little boys pull their parents to. And if you noticed, they never choose a "wrong" aisle. Or is it wrong? Maybe our kids are missing on some invaluable experience?
The other day I was looking for Lego's for my daughter (don't even make me start on the topic of pink!). She outgrew those chunky ones so I wanted to get something kind of abstract not to forget that we still have some imagination left. I couldn't find anything for 5 year -olds that doesn't involve superheroes and battleships! And again! Even if you choose to make it specifically for boys and girls, what about the latter? Can you make something attractive to girls? I am not talking about everybody, but some of them are not that much into Star Wars! Do you, manufacturers, think that girls do not become engineers and architects? You decide that they shouldn't be interested in anything except for Disney Princesses? What is wrong with girls playing with a construction set and boys changing diapers on a baby doll?
I am trying as much as I can to avoid this gender stereotyping. My daughter has a tool set and is enjoying it very much "fixing" the stuff around the house. She asked for a construction set because her friend had one and i thought it was a great idea. Don't get me wrong! She absolutely loves Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty just like most of her peers. She does all the stereotypical girly stuff as well. But my point is that she is not limited in choices! She can play with what she wants, just like later on in life she can BE what she wants.
There are some slight changes we can do in every day life to avoid gender stereotyping and help our children to be better adjusted individuals. Here are some simple steps.

  1. Watch what your child plays with. Children do gravitate to gender stereotypical toys and activities. Your goal as a parent is to expose them to different types of play. Try offering opposite gender toys(the earlier the better!). Give a boy a baby doll - one day he'll become a father and nowadays a lot of fathers are staying at home and watching kids while mothers are working. Give your little girl a tool set like I did. She'll never develop a feeling that a woman always need a man to survive! She'll just go out there and fix it herself. If this is too dramatic for your household, you can try nonsexist toys such as blocks, art materials, board and card games.

  2. Don't zero in on girls' appearance! I get aggravated all the time when people say things like "she is so cute" or "I like your sunglasses". It sends the wrong message that women are expected to look good and nothing else. Praise your daughters for their actions, good behavior, helping a friend, cleaning up, etc.

  3. Watch what you are saying to your child. I catch myself all the time! Do not say things like"boys don't cry" or "it's not ladylike to ... It might send a wrong message to your child who he/she is and what he/she can do.

  4. Be open-minded, never assume what your child enjoys doing. Knit with your son and change car oil with your daughter! You might be up for a surprise".

  5. Pay attention to stereotypes in books you are reading , TV shows you are watching, etc. Make sure your children are familiar with sensitive males and pro-active females.

  6. Talk about feelings with boys and about actions with girls. Boys are usually trained to be "tough", and girls are over-sensitive and passive.
Those are just the beginning steps for you to start. I think it is especially important nowadays to prepare our children to be aware of their opportunities. When you start paying attention to gender stereotyping you'll see a lot more nuances for yourself. You'll see what I mean.

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