When I was a freshman, I worked on the yearbook. Our yearbook advisor, Ms. Olson was an interesting woman to say the least. She taught freshman english and although I did not have her as an instructor; I spent many hours in her classroom after school working on the yearbook. During the year, we learned that she was expecting a girl. One day, she overheard us talking about something that must have had gender stereotypes associated with it because she went on a soap box about how she would never, no not ever, supply her child with gender specific toys. She would offer an environment with only gender neutral toys.She wanted to raise a strong daughter, with high self-esteem and she felt “girl” toys would not be representative of what she wanted her daughter to become.
At the time I remember thinking, whoa woman I think you are reading way too much into things. Plus you will probably cave when your 4-year-old daughter decides to ask Santa for a Barbie. I just didn’t understand what the big deal was about.
Now, twenty some odd years later and I get her frustration. My children are constantly labeling items, whether it be toys, colors, or clothing, as girl or boy. I have tried to teach them that there is no girl or boy anything; there are only things; plain and simple.
However, it is difficult to escape stereotypes when our schools, media, and outside world are so full of them. My long-haired, ten-year old son is often the recipient of questions about his hairstyle or worse mistaken for a girl. My daughter already receives the comments about how helpful she must be and what a good mom she will make some day. My youngest is called “ALL BOY” a great deal and his twin gets raised eyebrows over his Sofia the First birthday presents, as well as his tutu and Sofia the shirt wearing escapades.
The difficult part for me is that long hair is what my older son loves because he wants to be like Steven Tyler – in that he wants to be a über cool rock star. My daughter may or may not become a mom and she shouldn’t be pressured by society to fit into that gender role if she doesn’t want to. Just because my youngest son loves to tackle and wrestle shouldn’t require him to be a specific gender; instead those should just be activities that he enjoys. And his twin brother should be able to wear whatever he likes and play with whatever he likes without having anyone make snide comments or ask critical questions. Even young children ask him why he carries around a doll. That is something they are taught to believe boys shouldn’t do and it isn’t inherent. Not one ounce of them expressing themselves in these ways is hurting anyone else (even the tackling; it usually doesn’t involve any injuries and no one outside of the family is tackled – he isn’t a random tackler).
The items below are items you will find in our house and these are often labeled by my own children to which I am constantly telling them that none of these items are boy or girl things, they are just things…plain and simple.
The good news is that these are who the toys actually belong to in our family; so maybe I am making a little headway.
I am hoping that this lesson will continue to sink in with my kids.
My hope is that as a people we can just accept each other as human and realize that each human has likes and dislikes. I know our brains want to group things together and classify things, but we need to work on this and be more open and accepting of one another.
I believe working together we can erode the gender stereotypes that exist. In an article, from a book in progress by Noah Brand and Ozy Frantz, titled, What About the Men? Why Our Gender System Sucks for Men, Too. The authors write:
Only when we slay the hydra, only when we liberate people of all genders from unfair and regressive gender roles, will we be able to liberate people of any gender from those roles.
It sounds overwhelming, but one step at a time working in unison I believe the human race can do anything. And working together to eradicate the world of gender stereotypes wouldn’t be such a bad thing.
Take this video as a sample of the far-reaching effects of gender stereotypes and why changing these ideas is more important that one may think:
Empowering one another to be our best selves should be our goal; not using a gender as a derogatory idea. Or even further, to hold someone in ill regard if they are not meeting the social norm of what a “man”. “woman”, “boy” or “girl” is SUPPOSED TO BE LIKE – we need to remember that no one is supposed to be like anything but themselves, PERIOD.
My yearbook advisor wasn’t completely off her rocker like I once thought; she had a valid point and I sure hope she never caved and that she succeeded in helping her children eradicate gender stereotypes from their minds.
Here’s hoping to a world that is more open and accepting,