Help your Children Break Free from Gender Stereotypes

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(In response to a reader’s comment, this post discusses ways in which parents can help their children moving away from internalizing dangerous and limiting gender stereotypes. Read on!)

Gender stereotypes hurt both men and women. Boys might curb their emotions and girls their opinions in order to be accepted socially. Back in the 1960s Margaret Mead -famous anthropologist, a researcher passionate about observing gendered behaviour in tribal communities around the world (see her book: Male and Female) – noted how gender stereotypes effectively limited people’s freedom and expression, perpetuating wrong assumptions such as: boys should be brave and strong while girls should be reticent and delicate; boys are active and strive for dominance while girls are passive and submissive. The list goes on and on, with qualities and characteristics rigidly assigned to one gender or the other so that a man/boy should express masculinities traits (to the exclusion of feminine ones), while a woman/girl should express feminine qualities (to the exclusion of masculine ones).

This is commonly referred to in the literature as gender polarisation. Gender stereotypes are constantly perpetuated within movies, TV programs, advertising, songs’ lyrics: so much that we all become convinced this attribution of qualities are natural and incorrigible, when in fact is far from it! Research shows that masculine and feminine attributes generally co-exist in each woman/girl and man/boy. Regardless of gender, there is an infinite variation and mixing of these attributes in each individual, with most men/boys displaying more masculine qualities and most women/girls displaying more of the feminine ones. But in most cases it’s still difficult to assess which of these attributes are defined/created by NATURE (biological) and which ones by NURTURE (socialisation): a mix of the two is probably the correct answer.

In my research, the main factors which seemed to greatly influence girls’ choices regarding ways to express femininity were within the family; for example, the relationship with their siblings (with girls having a close bond with an older brother being less stereotypical in their gender expression) and how gender roles would be enacted within the family (in other words, whether their parents would endorse gender stereotypes or not, and how rigidly these stereotypes would be endorsed). Girls living in families with a more flexible gender roles orientation would not only express a less stereotypical femininity, but would interpret and respond to sexualized or stereotypical representations of girlhood in adverts and media differently. This means that the values and practices within the family can really act as a protective shield against the constant media pressure surrounding our girls and boys.

So, how can parents help both girls and boys break through gender stereotypes? Here are some suggestions (and I warmly invite my readers to showcase their own ideas):

1. Research proved that children learn behaviour from their parents so a parent’s example will always play a key role in how they will envisage and enact gender. Ideally, try to make sure there is a balance maintained in the distribution of the house chores: fathers should engage on a daily basis with childcare and household duties (and I mean kitchen, laundry and ironing duties, not DIY!). This can often be a challenge in itself, due to many men having been raised by old-generation’s mothers who would cook, wash, iron and make their bed without them lifting a finger: in these unfortunate cases they have learned by habituation not to pay attentions to household chores or children and they would often think is the right thing to do. Nowadays, most men who care about their family, will be prepared to listen to logical arguments about gender equality and equal opportunities, but more importantly they may be interested in their children being modern and finding a loving partner, so – provided they are not complete misogynist – they should be able to adapt and accept their fair share of house/kitchen duties. Decision-making should also be a shared activity, with an equal amount of “power” and dialogue between the couple, especially with regard to managing children education/discipline and household’s expenses. When children see that both parents are equally involved with decision-making and household chores, they will naturally learn that both girls and boys can and should do things.

2. Make your children play with toys that help expand gender boundaries. Although is true that children tend to gravitate to gender-specific toys (i.e. boys playing with cars and action figures, while girls with dolls and decorations) we still don’t know how much this behaviour is genuinely guided by their interest or learned through socialisation (example: “I am a boy so I will play with boys stuff”). For this reason, I’d recommend having at least some gender-neutral or “gender-stretcher” toys in the house, to give the chance to a child to experiment with other type of play should he/she wish to. In my research most girls benefiting from sharing play time with an older brother were less stereotypical in their gender expression. Parents who buy a different range of toys and let the children follow their curiosity will encourage their children to think outside the ‘gender box’.  My son for instance love to make cards and practices weekly gymnastic: 2 traditionally girls-oriented activities which he truly enjoys, along his other more male-oriented sports, like football or tennis. The trick is to understand what children genuinely like to try or do and to make them aware that there are not specific tasks which should be assigned to a gender or another. If parents make children aware that their gender expression is not limited by strict rules, then they will feel able to go beyond the mechanic/natural repeating of behaviour that they see around them, including in the media (i.e. “no mummy, that is for boys!”). More importantly, they will not feel that there is something naturally wrong with them if they feel enthused by particular gender-specific activities or toys usually not associated with their sex.

3. Expose children to books and movies that stretch gender stereotypes and discuss with them the prevalence of stereotypes in the media to help them become critical consumers of media products. It is ridiculous that many books out there, even modern books, still refer to almost all characters – animals/monsters/ghost/ or whatever weird creatures of fantasy – by the pronoun “he”. Writers or book editors seem to forget that animals or any other characters should come in two genders: you should talk about this with your son or daughter so that they can start to see the bias too! Try to balance and counteract their exposure to gender sterotypes by offering different perspectives through the material you watched or read with them. For example, look for books with boys in gentle, caring or peaceful roles and with girls in leading and active roles. Let boys have a look at decorating or cook books to see if they are interested. Buy books about science, tricks or sports for girls too. Have a look at a wonderful resource database to find counter-stereotypical material of all kind (books, movies, clothes and more) which I’ve suggested in one of my earlier posts: amightygirl.com

4. Let boys develop a sense of style and beauty by letting them wear nice and colourful things. Boys’ clothes tend to be very monotonous in colour and themes from quite a young age compared to girls clothes. I noticed that in the boys’ aisle all clothes are usually blue/grey/brown and of course black! I might find the odd t-shirt with some red, orange or yellow only with a bit of luck. I think it’s nice to try to add some colour and sparkle into boys’ wardrobes. Otherwise boys tend to grow up with the impression that “beautiful things are for girls”, which is an incredibly stupid and depressing thing! The reality is that children are masters at getting clues from their environment so they will often notice from the world around them (mainly school and media) that girls are into beautiful stuff while boys should not care about it. For the most artistic children, this idea could deter them from what they really like. As a mother I try to find a way to make my boy understand that there is nothing inherently “girly” in decorations or beautiful things, but the media around him seem to suggest him different things.

5. Try to make boys understand that they are much more similar to girls than not. And make girls understand what they share with boys. Despite what the media want to make us believe, boys and girls are not two different planets. We are all human, gender is only one attribute. Most media products and marketing play on the polarisation of gender: “Women from Venus and Men from Mars”, but emphasising the similarities between boys and girls instead of the contrasts is one of best way to make children grow free of gender stereotypes. Allow gender-bender or gender-swap role play and dressing-up: children absolutely love trying different costumes – they don’t have to be typical costumes for boys and “girly” costumes for girls. If children want, let them impersonating the other gender. Keep some gender-varied costumes in a box for both boys and girls  to play dressing-up, as it’s one of the most rewarding and educational activity a child can do.

6. As the emphasis for girls is so much on their look and appearance, try to counter-act media and society’s pressure in that direction by complimenting their personality, brain, abilities instead of focusing on beauty. The pressure to look beautiful on them is so ubiquitous that you, as a parent, don’t need to reinforce it! This does not mean you don’t tell them every day how gorgeous they are (I never skip a day!!) But beyond you reaffirming their gorgeousness, it is important that they do understand and value themselves in other terms too from a very young age, or they will start internalising those messages and seeing themselves only or mostly as eye-candies for the boys: a difficult process to reverse and one which will create anxiety and absorb much energy when they reach adolescence! Encourage girls to pursue sports, be bold if they wish to and never ever confine them only to typically ‘girly’ activities: instead, let them experiment with some boys-oriented activities and games if they wish to!

7. Most importantly, perhaps: treat children as individuals – not as boys or girls – allowing them to express their own opinions and emotions, helping them challenging the assumptions behind gender polarisation. In this way they will feel encouraged to pursue their own genuine interests, instead of denying who they are and being restricted to society and media clichés. 😉

34 thoughts on “Help your Children Break Free from Gender Stereotypes

  1. Love this post! I work in childcare and one of my kids is a super active person who wants to be a spy in the military. This child loves to climb trees and play rough. This child also enjoys art, making those rubber-band bracelets, and gymnastics. Boy or girl? What do you think? It doesn’t really matter! This child is well-rounded and loves all of his/her activities.

    • I hate to admit this, but I was naturally inclined to say “boy”. This is particularly strange because I work in counterintelligence. Though I myself, as a woman, have accomplished the same career aspirations as your young, excited, and adventurous child, I still could not see past the fact that this field is male dominated and boys/men are encouraged to be part of it (at the expense of girls/women who are in fact a great addition to it, but may find themselves to be a disquieting minority when choosing to stay in it). You are correct though, gender does not matter. It should not matter. The main point is to encourage a child to follow his/her natural interests and love for things.

  2. My opinion on this topic is that I believe children should be allowed to pursue interests or hobbies that they desire but I would not go out of my way to get my son to play with “girl” toys. While it is good to try to remove the gender stereotypes for children, I believe it also could be detrimental to the child (especially boys). For the most part you want your children to fit in and be “normal”. Whether this is right or wrong, there are not many boys with dollhouses in their rooms. I’d feel very sorry for the boy who does have a dollhouse and tries having male friends from school over the house.

    • Michelle, the article was not suggesting to “push” boys to play with dollhouse or similar, but to allow them to play with these toys should they wish to. I had a similar concern expressed by a friend of mine the other day while we were discussing this article. She explained that sometimes she would worry that her son would get bullied at school if she let him indulge in his love for girls-oriented toys or activities. “I want my son to fit in, not to be a freak who nobody want to play with!”. This problem is more commonly reported by parents of boys, as girls are usually allowed to cross gender boundaries and be “tomboy”.
      I do understand the dilemma some parents face when a boy is consistently showing interest for girl-oriented activities/toys/clothes, but I would like to make you reflect on the fact that a parent’s being against it and try to “reform” him and be like the other boys would most probably eventually backfire, as it will have the effect of making the boy think that there is something wrong with his own natural interests/attitudes. Some boy born more feminine than others – there is also a growing evidence of the phenomenon of gender-bender and transgender children. These children are made to feel bad about themselves when in reality is our society’s idea of gender roles strictly assigned to one sex or another that is wrong. If parents start to challenge these stereotypes, be more flexible and talk to children about them, kids will be aware of society’s expectations without thinking that there is something wrong with the way they are. When a child is very young, parents can start reading books explaining and breaking down the many myths about gender in simple and funny ways. To come back to your example: I would not feel sorry for a boy allowed to have a dollhouse in his room IF THAT MAKES HIM HAPPY; if his friends come to visit him it would be always easy to put the toy away or invent an excuse (saying that the dollhouse is from a girl/cousin who comes to play with it). In this way the boy would know that there nothing wrong with the activity in itself or with himself.
      As a parent, the best strategy to grow happy, confident children is to gently allow the child to express his/her own preferences without constantly reinforcing gender stereotypes: perhaps try to reach a balance between different activities and types of play 😉

      • I’m probably just not educated enough on this topic but I honestly don’t think gender stereotypes are that big of an issue in society. A strong-minded, confident, individual does whatever he/she wants regardless of what society thinks. My brother is becoming a nurse even though he has said his friends tease him about becoming a male nurse. And my parents made no effort to reduce gender stereotypes when we were growing up. He just has thick skin and can take a joke. An insecure person might succumb to the pressure and become something more “acceptable” for a male. It’s a very complicated issue with no one right or wrong answer.

        • Michelle, I do not think this is a matter of education, but I was raised in an environment where gender roles were fluid and less defined. Of course, in different segments of society men and women have been placed into boxes but it is not culturally accepted everywhere. I would venture to believe that it may not be that big of an issue, we are just hearing an abundance of it. When was the last time you heard collective stories on individuals debunking stereotypes?
          I applaud your brother for taking on his dreams on his own terms. I wish him the best and he will learn (if he doesn’t already) to tune out the noise!

          • Well here is just one example of a group of African American males trying to debunk stereotypes about them. I thought it was a pretty good video (even though it doesn’t have to do with gender stereotypes per se).

  3. Growing up, my house wasn’t very gender-neutral. My bothers took karate after school and I had chores. When we were teenagers, my brothers got cool gifts at Christmas – music, movies, car stuff. I got clothes. Now that we’re adults. things are reversed. I’ve traveled the world. They’ve settled down to have children. I rock climb and they have family BBQs.

    Oddly enough, one of my brothers who used to be so open about things has grown into being less tolerant about gender differences and political ideology. He has 6 kids, 5 boys and 1 girl. He used to be the brother that I could count on to teach me how to change a tire or use a drill or play Mortal Kombat. Now when I see him with his little girl, it’s completely flipped. He would be horrified if I took his little girl to a karate class instead of a dance class. In his eyes, she’s going to be a cheerleader and her brothers are all fit for the football team. How do you help bring a reluctant father stuck in some very conventional thinking along with breaking through gender stereotypes?

    • I think having an open conversation with your bother about your feelings would be great. You can never force anyone to change, but honestly sharing your feelings, may help him notice that something that he may have been oblivious to. Tell him how it made you feel to be included in “boy” things growing up. I’ll bet he never realized how it made you feel. I think it’s a wonderful compliment to him. Who doesn’t enjoy a compliment? In my experience some men don’t realize they are being sexist. They seem to think that girls only like cheerleading and dance. Tell your brother how wonderful he is and encourage him to be more open mined about his daughter. Good Luck!

    • I would also advise speaking with your brother. Parents have a tendency to define the quality of life for their children as a way to not only protect their children but themselves. I have been witness to parents outwardly berating another parent who allowed their son to attend zumba class with his older sister. In practice, what is the big deal. Is there really a harm in boys dancing freely to Latin music? Or is it the fact that women (or young girls) should be sexually expressive in gyrating their hips only. Since we all know that is what young girls want to do (insert sarcasm!).

      I also think we need to lead by example. Taking a child to a karate demonstration and seeing her interest and not necessarily assuming that she would be disinterested is key. As a child I was put into dance class and later cheerleading because that is what little girls in my area did. As I got older and attended an all female high school I realized that our lack of sports, math, and science programs were due to the fact that we were not encouraged as children to play or participate and not due to a lack of funding! It is time to change this.

  4. I really enjoyed this article. 😉 I am new to the site and I LOVED the image at the beginning. It made me think about stereotypes before I even read anything. I grew up in a fairly open home. I will be ever grateful for my father who never treated me like a “girl”. My dad was skilled at auto repair and home repair and he always made sure to include me. I remember spending time with him in the garage, fixing cars. He let me hold the wrench or other tools for him. When I got older he bought me an old truck and helped me to fix it up and paint it so I could drive it. It gave me such a sense of pride and self confidence. He could have easily dismissed me from the garage because of my gender, but because he didn’t and because of that we have an unshakable bond. I think this is such an important topic, thanks for the article.

  5. Great ideas! I think the key here for parents is 1) awareness and 2) allowance. First, just being aware of how we encourage/discourage gender stereotypes is half the battle. Second, the main principle behind all of this is allowing children to be who they are without pushing them in a certain direction. Giving them the choice to be individuals will (I hope!) make them into the healthy society members of tomorrow!

  6. My husband used to have a HUGE fit when I would allow my son to play with barbies and baby dolls. But when my daughter would play with my son’s trucks and play in the mud, nobody would say a thing. But I allowed them both to play with what they wanted to play with. I refused to let it be an issue. Now my son is almost 19, was a wrestler that went to states, and is 6’7″ tall. So playing with dolls didn’t cause him to be less than what his father wanted for him, or harm him in any way. I’m proud of both of my kids.

    The only thing that playing in the mud with trucks did for my daughter is to giver her the ability to not care if she gets dirty when she’s having fun with my grandson.

    • That is precisely why I don’t think these gender stereotypes are that big of a deal. Whether a boy grows up playing with trucks naturally, dolls naturally, or with trucks by steering him away from dolls….it isn’t going to matter when he’s 18-20 years old. And I do not think anything is ever going to change the stereotypes out there. It will never be “cool” or “ok” for guys to play with dolls in my opinion. A large majority of guys will always want to be “manly” and a large majority of women will want to be “girly” and “feminine”. And I don’t think that is a bad thing or something that really needs fixing.

    • You make a good point as I have noticed it is usually the Dads that create a fuss about their sons playing with socially stated feminine toys. More so than the mothers (although I have actually heard a mother stating that “my son isn’t playing with a girl’s toy!”). I think this may be because as women we know how much we would value men being able to do some of the chores that are gendered as women’s chores. My husband does do some of these chores because I was lucky enough to have a good Mother in law.
      Maybe it is because of how the older generations were brought up that they struggle to fight against the stereotypes. Yet again, women were brought up with those stereotypes and we break that mould a lot easier than men seem to, on a whole. Of course, there are men who don’t mind what their son plays with but it is still not the typical norm for a man to accept his son to dress up as a princess or play with Barbies.
      Hopefully the fact that we notice the need for our children not to have their play restricted because of their gender will do its own job in eradicating the old mindset.
      Girls don’t have to be nurses and boys don’t have to be soldiers.

  7. I have two boys and one girl. They played with each other’s toys, my daughter took part in more sports than my sons, my youngest son was the one who (since very young) WANTED to help with cleaning, and learning to properly set a table for entertaining and things like that (when I grew up, it was only the girls who did this) and I could go on with various examples. I never would say anything like “no! That’s for girls” or “no that’s for boys”. I just let them be kids and learn all they wanted to learn. Thankfully their father was the same way. If you (as a parent) don’t make a big deal about it then there shouldn’t be any problems. Because it really IS no big deal. It only becomes a big deal when you act like there’s something wrong with it. They’ve grown up perfectly fine, and don’t feel self-conscious, or like they’re doing something wrong at every turn… even if they happen to do something typically seen in the opposite sex. And if someone does comment on it… they don’t get defensive about it – normally it’s just a “gosh, you’re ignorant!” smile.

  8. I am a 34 year old mother of 4 children. I have 3 daughters aged 12, 9 and 7 and 1 little boy aged 3 years old. It would be a lie to say I treat them all the same, as how would that be fair? I treat them all as individuals but based on their personalities and needs, not on their gender. Why should one’s life be moulded by what gender you are?
    Firstly I will state that I agree with how strongly the gender polarizing happens and seeing as we are talking about social views, I will have to stick with social generalizations of an area, rather than individuals.
    Individuals can think how ever they like but the same as with stereotypes for female and males, we have social impressions of certain areas.
    Living in the Mid-North of England, where “men are men and women do as they are told!” ( sorry, I jest but I seriously have heard a Yorkshireman say that), I find it is more of a social pressure for boys to be strong and stick to the expectations of their gender or else they may turn out to be “Nancy boys”. Girls seem to be taking the headway in changing their expectant pressure but only superficially. Girls are fine to wear tracksuits, have tattoos but so many still end up doing what is expected of them. They end up in a relationship, having children and staying at home.
    I find the idea that we have to do things a certain way for our gender completely preposterous. As a parent I never tell my children they can not do something because they are a girl or boy. I have however had to live with comments for doing so. I let my son push his sister’s pink toy pram. My father in law stated I would turn him gay, to which a whole other debate opened up. 1) Do I care if my son ends up Gay? No! 2) You can’t “turn” someone anything, they either are homosexual or they are not. Sexual preference is not related to social expectations that I know of.3) As I stated, play is learning and all he is being taught is how to be a good parent. Is it such a crime that role playing activities such as parenting might give him the skills to be a good father? I think not!
    Even worse was the number of times when my 7 year old took her Disney dresses and put a Minnie mouse dress on him so she could play princesses with someone. He liked it and I let him. It taught him how to make friends by engaging in activities the other person wanted.
    My daughters have played football and been on the boy’s football team, made dens in the wood and gone searching for newts.
    ALL children at an age safely appropriate will be taught to iron, wash laundry, cook, clean etc. These are not gendered roles as some would have us believe but life skills.
    My daughters are allowed to have dreams, aspirations and achieve and my son was not born just to grow up and pay the bills for a woman who can help herself.
    I want to give my children the skills to be balanced adults, I’m raising future adults and to do that, they need to eradicate bigoted gendered restrictions.
    Sorry for the long post but hope you enjoy my input. I’d love to hear people’s views on how I think. Whether you think I am wrong or right, I don’t mind.

  9. Francesca I just want to say this is truly a nice and helpful blog and work is really needed in this area: something should be done for boys too I think it’s not just a girl’s problem for sure! Anyway, I am happy that you shared this info with us. Please keep us informed and I’ll definetly stay tuned 😉

  10. Honestly, I think that much of the time, boys do naturally lean towards certain activities and skills, and girls lean towards other ones. On the other hand, there are so many “exceptions” to this that I don’t think of it as a rule, but a tendency. I, a girl, am better at math than my brother. He is better at languages than I am. I have a sister who changed her career ideal from chef to neuroscientist to businessperson. She’s been encouraged in all of these…

    I grew up as a bit of a tomboy and now am “girlier” in some ways, but I don’t have any problem with that. The problem happens when people act like one gender has more value than the other or when a person needs to avoid a certain activity because of his or her gender.

  11. Here in the UK I’ve been following a brilliant Twitter feed @lettoysbetoys It urges retailers not to section toys into boys sections and girls sections. It also addresses the toy companies themselves who, for example, make a ‘boys doctor uniform’ but a ‘girls nurses uniform’ and boys colouring books which have footballs and rockets and girls colouring books with fairies and ponies. I just thought this was relevant to mention here. I think it’s a great campaign which deserves attention. It is so important that we don’t enforce these stereotypes which can be so limiting to both sides.

  12. Cartoons seem to have one of the worst influences on the young generation. Almost all cartoons (see all Disney princess movies, with the exception of the latest Frozen where at least both princesses are strong, self-reliant characters) feature girls as sensible, helpless creatures that have to be saved by strong, powerful men figures. TV series aren’t that great either! My nephew recently asked me why most TV dads are literally dimwits (Dexter’s laboratory, Fairly odd parents, The amazing world of Gumball and so on) while moms are smart, sensible, take care of their kids and do most of the work. Indeed, why?

  13. This was a good read. I am doing a project at College about gender stereotypes and I hadn’t thought of how to break gender roles in regards to children. The post made me reflect on the fact that it’s a process which starts from very young age; I’ve only really thought about it as it relates to adults and young adults in my direct experience. You also made some great suggestions. I don’t have any kids yet, but I’ll be sure to keep these suggestions in mind when I do. Thanks for this great post, I copied some of your writing for my project, I hope you won’t mind! 😉

  14. Hi Francesca, forgot to add that I’m writing a research paper for my college exam on this very subject (breaking gender stereotypes). Are there any journal articles or books that you could recommend? Thanks!

  15. I just bought an I Love Lucy collector’s doll and my Mom said to me “I think that this is the first Barbie that I have ever seen you get excited about”. When I was young I loved playing guns, climbing trees, teenage mutant ninja turtles and race cars. I also loved going to jazz and ballet class. I was lucky to have a family who supported me in every interest I had no matter what stereotype it would have put me in. I wore filly dresses sometimes and the other times I wore ragged dirty sweatpants that were easy to play in and get dirty. Loved the post 🙂

  16. In our family anybody can do anything and that’s just the way it is and always has been. We don’t believe in stereotypes but we are still faced with them every day. My daughter loves hockey and she is very good so we signed her up for a local children’s league and the receptionist at the arena handed us the paperwork for youth tandem skating assuming she was a figure skater. If we are going to change these stereotypes, we need to all be on board.

  17. As my grandson is growing up I am seeing more and more of this display in the schools. The boys are taking on dance and the girls are taking on soccer and hockey. There is a gender stereotype breakthrough going on and I believe it will slowly develop, whether I will see it in my lifetime, that is yet to be told but it is happening.

    It hasn’t reached the point of young men playing with girl toys as of yet that I have seen but there are toys being developed that both sexes can enjoy, it is not gender specific.

  18. These are some great suggestions! I certainly will use some when I have children. I plan on raising my kids in a household where I work and help at home some, and my husband works and also helps at home. They can wear whatever they want and play with whatever they want. I want my children to not develop any gender stereotypes from me, and I want to fix what they get from outside sources!

  19. This is a very helpful post! I don’t know if I want kids, but if I do end up having them, these are things I will definitely keep in mind. By raising kids under the mindset that they can live what they like and act how they act, you’re encouraging their happiness later on. I’m sure that children who grow up in families where stereotypical gender roles are set in place have a hard time being themselves in comparison to kids who are raised to be who they are regardless of who that is.

  20. Because my age and experience may affect my opinion, I’ll let you know I’m a married mother of eight in my early 40s. I’m encouraged by the many comments and the post about parents encouraging children to pursue their interests, regardless of the gender stereotype of those activities. We’re on the same page. Still, differences were so incredibly obvious in our children from early on.

    When my son was born, we already had four girls. We had baby dolls, matchbox cars, Legos, building blocks, dress-up, and stuffed animals in the house already. While he would carry baby dolls around, he would bang their heads into things like a hammer instead of nurturing the baby. He totally did NOT witness that from us! And since he didn’t ever go to daycare or stay with a babysitter, he didn’t get that from society either. It was wired into his little boy brain–must hammer! He used his own head as a hammer, too. None of our girls did this.

    Also, one of our girls often took on the male part in role-playing games and was a definite tomboy. She is quick to be Daddy’s right-hand girl and is quite strong. As a teen today, she dolls up her hair, wears a skirt, nurtures the younger children, and wants to have lots of babies and stay home and tend them.

    Like previous commenters stated, I treat all my children differently according to their individual differences. Still, there are stereotypes today that we mold our children into from time to time. For example, because we travel the country full-time, we meet quite a few people. Many times children want my kids to join in with their activities, such as soccer. Sometimes boys (never girls outside of our own) come and ask if our kids (particularly our son) want to play football. He always wants to play, but he was so terrible that my son instructed him in football so that he could “fit in” with the other boys. This was not forced, however, since he was anxious to learn, and, while he has not done it with the same level of intense interest as he did with our boy, my husband has taught the girls to play, too. They’re really not as interested. He taught my son quickly so he would fit in with the other boys, which is interesting, since we don’t worry about fitting in, being rather counter-cultural.

    I grew up with five brothers. I had the farm chores, while they had the indoor computer jobs involved in my dad’s veterinary business. When we had time off, they were on the video games and I was on the horse or helping deliver a calf or riding tractors with Grandpa. I was in all the sports–they were in some. We all had dolls and stuffed animals. Today, they all work and their wives all stay home and take care of the kids and/or the hubby, aaaaannnnndddd I stay home and take care of the kids and hubby as well. Despite my being more of a tomboy as a child, I swapped to the other side as soon as that first baby kicked me. Was this society? No, since society and my college degree were screaming WORKFORCE!

    There’s something imperatively stimulating and undeniably miraculous about the differences between men and women. I help my children celebrate their differences as well as teach them to overcome stereotypes and realize the similarities. Plus, my girls can use tools and my boy can cook at nine years old.

    Forcing kids into something they aren’t isn’t the way to go, but resisting their natural tendencies to be what the stereotypes say they should be isn’t good either. Let’s just raise them–loved, happy, moral, and beautiful in their differences and similarities.

    Great article! Thank you!

  21. I really like this article but for me it is not complete. I don’t yet have children, but since I am a teacher that works 7 days a week with children I think I am competent enought to comment.
    My problem is that people now don’t have enough time to really take care of their children and educate them. Today this is the job of the kindergarten and primary school teacher. And here we have a problem. In Bulgaria, where I live and work, most of the teachers are old-fashioned. They just find it easier to teache that blue is for boys and pink is for girls. Another problem here is that people in general are rarely able to let their children choose freely. They are so impatient and afraid that their own child would be ”wrong in some way” that they provide him or her with a limited choice. For example, they tell their daughther that she can sign in whathever sport she wants to, but then if she asks to play boxing they say NO.

  22. This was a great blog article to read. So many kids these days are exploring more of the “opposite sex” hobbies. My own cousin who is a twelve year old boy has found that he likes knitting with our grandma, and at first I believe his older sister did make fun of him, but he’s actually really good. Who know’s may be a future fashion designer. Then I have another cousin who is a 17 year old girl who loves cars and is wanting to go to mechanic school. She’s already rebuilt a car from the ground up. These days ANYTHING is possible for kids, and all we have to do is keep encouraging them.

  23. I love your research about this specific topic, on gender polarisation. It’s great to read about what difference we can make by teaching kids about their gender. I think that if really the behavior of parents is involved on how their kids will grow up then it’s really going to be a real challenge (as for my own experience it seems that most people are still firmly convinced of rigid differences in terms of attitudes, behaviour and roles between the sexes).

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