Talking Gender Stereotypes With Kids – the one tip you need to know!
”Mummy, you can’t like Spiderman…you’re a girl! ” Having kids has really made me question several things I thought I understood. One of those things is equality. What’s shocked me most is how difficult it is to raise children who don’t stereotype. Who don’t automatically generalise. Now, my boys are only tiny humans at the moment, they’re just learning about the world and we still have a lot to teach them. I guess what the pre-kids me failed to realise was just how much ‘society’ influences their thoughts about things, even at such a young age.
The funny thing is, none of this should have surprised me given that I used to support schools to deliver Personal and Social Education to students. We started one teacher training day with a riddle:
“A father and son get in a car crash and are rushed to the hospital. The father dies. The boy is taken to the operating room and the surgeon says, “I can’t operate on this boy, because he’s my son.”
90% couldn’t work out how this was possible, despite knowing that we were there to discuss Equality and Diversity! This activity wasn’t about making them feel like bad people.It was about acknowledging that it’s human nature to generalise and that even the most open-minded of us do it. We need to accept this if we want to challenge it effectively.
We all use stereotypes, all the time, without knowing it. We have met the enemy of equality, and the enemy is us. Psychology Today
Little girls growing up in this world are bombarded with messages about the women they should aspire to be:
They can never be lead characters in their favourite shows.
They should talk about boys and make-up a lot.
They should obsess about their appearance.
They should definitely like pink!
They must play with dolls and tea sets.
Their bodies are purely for the pleasure of men.
They are wolf-whistled at and are supposed to like it.
They should stick to jobs like teaching, nursing or being a secretary.
They’ll never be called upon in an emergency.
They should only aspire to be mothers.
They must enjoy doing the household chores.
They should like cute kittens.
Some of these don’t look particularly offensive but most of them make being a woman appear a little…well…meh!
I’m not going to sit here and make out it’s totally awesome to be a guy. You know what…it’s pretty crappy for them too! I’m pretty concerned about the ‘men’ my boys are supposed to want to become:
They have to be strong, dominant and aggressive.
They can’t show emotion unless it’s anger.
They must play with cars, trains and superheroes.
They are mocked for being less capable of parenting and running a household.
They are all accused of devaluing and sexualsing women.
They can’t want to work with young kids…that’s just too wierd!
They’re basically limited to wearing four types of clothing to express themselves.
They are womanisers who will do anything for sex.
We’ve put so much energy into defining and defending our identity that we’ve forgotten we’re actually on the same team. We’re brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers..friends.
All this blame and anger that’s encouraged by some ‘feminists’ is making things worse. True feminism is about equality and free choice for everyone! Why punish all men for inequalities that happened a long time ago and why blame them all for inequalities that are happening now? Most of us want the best for our sons AND our daughters! So let’s stop blaming an entire group of people and let’s just agree that some people are idiots!
Whether we’re talking about gender, sexual orientation, race, nationality, disability…discrimination IS NOT OK.
So how do we talk about these inequalities with our kids. Do we forbid them from watching their favourite TV shows? Do we bombard them with facts about the amazing things ‘women’ have achieved. No!
Try this ONE simple thing that research suggests reduces stereotyping in young children:
Stop generalising…both positively and negatively! Use specific language rather than talking about social groups.
Hearing generalisations, even positive ones, contributes to the tendency to view the world through the lens of social srereotypes. It is the form of the sentence, not exactly what it says, that matters to young children. Combating Stereotypes
For example, if your child comments that ‘girls don’t like Spiderman’ ask him who he is thinking of that doesn’t like Spiderman. Then respond ‘Oh yes, your cousin Bella said she doesn’t like Spiderman’. This response shows him that you’re thinking of ‘Bella’ as an individual rather than just another ‘girl’ who will all have similar thoughts and feelings.
Sometimes children speak this way because they are testing out whether drawing a generalization is sensible. By bringing them back to the specific incident, we communicate to them that it is not. Combating Stereotypes
However well-meaning your intentions, avoid saying things like “girls can be anything they want to be’. Be more specific and say ‘you can be anything you want to be’.
Teach your child that they are an individual and are free to follow they’re own path…don’t let your child’s future be dictated by a social group!
Miller, Sally, et al. McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, www.mcsweeneys.net/articles/gender-bias-riddles.
Rhodes, Marjorie. The Conversation, The Conversation, 1 June 2018, theconversation.com/combatting-stereotypes-how-to-talk-to-your-children-71929.
Paul, Annie. Where Bias Begins, www.psychologytoday.com/intl/articles/199805/where-bias-begins-the-truth-about-stereotypes