5 Tips on Fighting Gender Stereotypes and Raising Empowered Children.

This post was written as a contribution to the Boys vs. Girls Blog Carnival.  The participating bloggers are sharing their experiences, ideas, and opinions on why gender roles should be avoided in parenting and teaching practices.

Boys play with cars, trains, and tools. Girls play with dolls, dress-up, and princesses. For many parents this rings true but what happens when your boy wants to play with dolls or your daughter is more interested in playing with cars? For some parents this may make them feel uncomfortable. I think we must ask ourselves why it makes us uncomfortable. While I do think that there are inherent differences between boys and girls, I do not think they are as large as we tend to think and that they are in the ways in which we have come to think. Society has assigned certain stereotypes and roles to each gender that are often arbitrary and superficial. As parents we must question these stereotypes and roles and ask if they are in the best interest of our child. Many of these stereotypes can be harmful and limiting to our children.

To view the stereotypes taught to little girls one must only look through a toy catalog or turn on the TV. Girls are often taught that their appearance is what matters most – that they must be pretty, stylish, and even “sexy”. There are plenty examples to illustrate this: Bratz dolls, or the even creepier Bratz babies, or  the “sexy” makeovers of beloved cartoon characters like Dora the Explorer or Strawberry Shortcake, to see the ideas being marketed to little girls. To see the disturbing effects that these harmful stereotypes and ideals create you can view statistics such as these. In a survey of girls 9 and 10 years old, 40% have tried to lose weight, according to an ongoing study funded by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Girls and women are bombarded by unrealistic expectations of beauty and it starts at a very young age. If girls learn that their self worth is tied to superficial things such as their appearance they are never going to be able to achieve their potential and may suffer from low self esteem, depression, or an eating disorder.

bratz babies (1)

 

Another stereotype, that I am actually hesitant to address, is that of domestic role playing toys for girls. The reason I am hesitant to bring this up is because I think these types of toys are mostly good. Young children have great interest in role playing which includes playing with baby dolls, kitchens, and cleaning. My problem with these types of toys is the way that they are marketed. The first is they exclude boys. In our society boys are taught that being a “man” means shunning anything seen as feminine and this includes child care and housework. This means that little boys are missing out of the great benefit of this type of role playing. Most little boys grow up to be fathers and child care and housework should not be something that is taught to be beneath them. For little girls they are expected to play with these types of toys at the exclusion of other toys  because of the stereotypes that they are “girl” toys. Things like blocks are often seen as boy toys, while girls are expected to “play house” which puts girls at a disadvantage because blocks have so many developmental benefits. This is just one example.  When it comes to “boy toys and girl toys”, we must really ask ourselves why is a particular toy gendered? Does this stereotype put a limitations on my child? My daughter loves baby dolls more than any other kind of toy. That is fine! Good even. However, she also has cars, trains, and she loves dinosaurs and airplanes. The point is not to not let them play with a particular toy but instead to make sure that they have exposure to all kinds of toys and not limited based on their gender.

 

gender stereotypes

 

 

5 Tips for Empowering Boys and Girls

 

  • Buy and expose your child to gender neutral toys or toys of all kinds as much as possible. Also do not be rigid on what you allow your child to play with. For boys, let them play with baby dolls. For girls, let them play with cars. Not only let them but encourage it!
  • If you find yourself uncomfortable with your child playing with a particular toy, ask yourself why that is and try not to let your own hangups prevent your child from their natural curiosity and exploration.
  • Read books, watch TV shows, and movies that portray positive and uplifting portrayals of gender. A Mighty Girl is a great resource for girls.
  • Talk with your child about stereotypes. One thing I learned since becoming a parent is you can’t shield your child from negative things nor should you want to. Being exposed to these types of things serve as great teachable moments. If you see a boy or girl being portrayed in a stereotypical or negative way, talk about it. On the flip side, of you see a positive portrayal be sure to point it out. These don’t need to be long discussions. They could be just simple statements like “Wow, she sure is courageous” or “He sure is a very nice friend”.
  • Be an example and role model. There is no replacement for modeling the type of person you want your child to be. Teach your daughter how to be a strong, kind, confident woman by being one yourself! Teach your son to be kind, compassionate, and  strong by demonstrating those qualities. Be careful about what you say about others and about expressing criticism.
Look here to read submissions by the other carnival
bloggers

Gender Cliches Debunked

Andie Jaye of Crayon Freckles is a momma to a preschool boy and teen girl, looks at cliches held about genders and offers an alternate view to them.

Parenting and Gender Biases

Maggy, mum of a boy (5) and girl (3) discusses on Life At The Zoo her observations about how each of her
children do have many characteristics associated with their gender. However
stresses that children should be given equal opportunities to explore, play and
discover and is frequently surprised by each child really enjoys non gender
specific activities – this is particularly noticeable during the arts and crafts
activities they do over on
Red Ted Art.
The Monko at Taming the Goblin asks “What is the difference between girls and boys at the age of three? And why do we
care?”
Brittany fromLove, Play, Learn shares how to help your child grow up happy
and emotionally well adjusted by cutting through gender stereotypes and bias in
children’s toys, media, and society. She shares easy and practical tips and
ideas for raising happy and confident girls and boys.Children and Gender Roles

Gina, from Connecting Family & Seoul, and her sister share the importance of allowing children to explore multiple gender roles.  Also provided are examples and ideas for such exploration through pretend play and general play.

Boys, Barbies, and Broken Necks

Erin from Royal Baloo writes on why ignoring gender stereotypes will give your child a leg up.

Gender Stereotypes in Society

Gender stereotypes are everywhere, among friends, colleagues, at stores and pretty much anywhere else in life. Alex, from Glittering Muffins and father to Nico {an energetic three and a half year old} looks at how difficult it can be to keep an open mind.


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Comments

  1. says

    great tips, One thing I find difficult is books that portray a strong female character where the male characters aren’t then portrayed as the baddies. Its as if women/girls can only be shown as string and independent if men/boys are shown as weak or bad. I’ll have to check out the Mighty girl site and see if I can find any.
    I’m pinning this to the Sunday Parenting Party pinterest board

    • Brittany says

      I totally agree with you. Boys and men should not have to be made villains to prove that girls can be strong and independent. Often times when talking about gender stereotypes and empowering children, we tend to focus solely on girls. While I think it is very important to do so, I think that there are harmful stereotypes and expectations for boys as well. I feel very strongly about empowering young girls but I think that to do so is not to teach them that boys are the enemy but instead highlight the good in boys and girls.

  2. says

    ahh… the sexy movement for little girls and tweens drives me nuts… it seems it’s just getting worse. and teaching girls that their worth depends on their appearance. and you hit the nail on the head about excluding boys out of activities that teach them lifelong lessons… pinning this!

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