Paying attention? I’d be willing to bet that you are because these two words, when combined, create panic attacks and mass hysteria, especially when applied to children.
Gender stereotypes are something that I’ve personally never played into. As a little girl I was a bit of a tomboy who preferred pants to skirts, blue to pink, and climbing trees to tea parties, but I also liked baby dolls and My Little Pony. I grew up to become a woman working in a male dominated field, but I do so wearing red lipstick and nail polish. I guess you could say that I’m a feminine tomboy. Does that make sense? Sure it does. Move on already, geeze.
I just happened to turn out the way I am through neither the fault nor the effort of my parents or the other people in my life. My mom tried to get me to wear more girlie clothes, but I mostly vetoed her; my slew of male cousins tried to get me into things like fishing and shooting pellet guns, but I never really caught on to those things. I was pretty adamant that I liked what I liked, and to hell with the rest.
When I was a kid the topic of gender stereotypes didn’t really exist as far as I was concerned, but now that I have a child of my own, I see the argument in a much different light. It makes me raise a critical eyebrow.
People are absolutely nuts when it comes to the gender stereotype issue. Absolutely nuts.
There are two major groups that I can discern. The first are the people who cling to the gender stereotypes. These people believe that girls belong in pink skirts, and boys in blue pants. They believe that girls should play with dolls and boys with trucks. Girls should be gentle and sensitive, boys should be rough and tough. Girls grow up to be mothers who take care of the household, boys grow up to be the providers. To the minds of these people, any deviation from the norm is some kind of horrible character flaw. They’re terrified that allowing children to experience anything outside their gender’s “rulebook” will create ultra-feminists and flamboyant gays, which is a concept that, aside from being just ridiculously prejudiced and bigoted, couldn’t be any less based in actual fact.
Second, you have the other side who take it to the exact opposite extreme. These people think that kids who stick to concepts that are traditionally labeled to their gender makes them somehow socially backward. A little girl who dreams of being a princess is an embarrassment to “enlightened” women. A little boy who likes superheroes is automatically a typical testosterone-laden chauvinist. By choosing to embrace things that fall into the stereotypes we’ve grown up with for decades, these kids are thought to be some kind of terrible example of the rampant sexism in the world and people’s unwillingness to advance.
Does anyone beside me think that both of these types of people are a little looney?
You want to know what I think? (Well it doesn’t matter because it’s my blog and I’m going to tell you anyway!) I think that, for a change, we should just stand back and let the kids make their own decisions as to what to surround themselves with. Give them the opportunity and let them figure it out on their own what they like, instead of what you think they should like. I promise you that what toys he plays with does not decide whether your little boy is going to be a vicious brute or be sexually confused, and that your little girl is not going to become a vapid slut or develop unhealthy female body expectations just because she happens to like Barbie dolls.
I’ve said this before, but kids aren’t born understanding things like stereotypes and prejudice; they learn it because we inflict it upon them. The choices they make on their own are innocent, free of our perceived consequences. If a little girl likes trucks it’s not because she’s too masculine, nor does it mean she’s a strong, enlightened woman; it’s because trucks are fun toys. That’s it. End of discussion. If a little boy likes to play with tea sets it does not mean that he’s destined to be gay, nor does it mean that he’s advanced and in touch with his feminine side; it means that tea sets are fun toys. Honestly, that’s really all that goes through a child’s mind:
“Is it fun? No? Get that crap away from me!”
“Is it fun? Yes? Gimmi gimmi gimmi!”
Kids learn from us, and it’s our habit of focusing on gender stereotypes that is the real problem. By making a big deal out of it, one way or the other, we reinforce that this is an issue and it therefore becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Seriously, if we would just pretend that the issue doesn’t even exist and let kids figure out what they enjoy on their own, it’ll be much, much easier on everyone. I promise.
(And yes, before any smart-asses point it out, I realize that I am, by way of this blog post, “focusing on the issue”. You know what I mean; stop being purposely contradictory.)
My daughter is now 2 and a half. We’ve imposed nothing on her (except for, obviously, we’re the ones who have been buying her clothes), and she is one of the most well-rounded toddlers I know. She loves reading books and she loves running and jumping. She has tea parties and she has water gun fights. She loves her My Little Pony t-shirts and she loves her Ninja Turtles pajamas. She likes purple and pink, and blue and green. Her mother is on the other side of the country two weeks out of every four, and her father is a stay-at-home-dad, and you know what? It hasn’t affected her one bit…because why would it?
It’s time to stop pushing our kids to be the way we believe they should be and let them figure out who they want to be. Wouldn’t you have wanted that as a child, had you been given the choice? Please share your thoughts and comments!