In recent years, a lot of parents around the world have become more aware of sexism in the way we treat young children.
If you’re not familiar with the issue, The Huffington Post articulated it more effectively than I
ever could, specifically by taking a look at some ridiculous messages on kids’ clothing. Basically, boys are pointed toward achievement and heroics, whereas girls are directed to be pretty, or catch the eye of heroic boys. Similar issues exist in how we play with young children and the toys we provide them with too.
I don’t want my daughter wearing a shirt that labels her as “Training to be Batman’s Wife!”
Some people shrug off these kinds of problems: surely kids aren’t influenced all that heavily by our choice of shirts and toys? And does it really matter if they are?
Personally, I don’t want my daughter wearing a shirt that labels her as “Training to be Batman’s Wife!” Would Batman make a wonderful son-in-law? Maybe so! But just as I’d like my daughter to believe she can be Batman (as opposed to merely married to him), I don’t want my son growing up with narrow, outdated or idealistic notions of what it means to be a man.
It’s why I’ve tried to raise my children in an environment as free as possible from gender stereotypes. In my case, this begins with clothes. I don’t mind pink for girls and blue for boys particularly. For what it’s worth, an old report by Reuters cited research claiming that girls and boys really do inherently prefer different colours. For me, it’s about messages and even designs that won’t shape their interests according to gender.
In this regard, I identify strongly with the founder of Tootsa, Kate Pietrasik. She’s a mother with a fashion background who decided to do something about sexist kids’ clothing. Her own line now offers a number of fun unisex fashion themes that both boys and girls can enjoy (such as animal designs and patterns), but better yet she seems to have inspired other mothers and even designers to seek out neutral options.
I try and foster activities and interests uninfluenced by gender specific marketing
The same general concept applies to toys, room decorations, party themes, and any number of other things you’ll face as a parent. But my main goal has been to question my children about their preferences for this toy or that colour and to try and foster activities and interests uninfluenced by gender specific marketing. Why do they like the princess rather than the knight? And what are the reasons behind their choices?
Where my own kids (a girl of seven and a boy of five) are concerned, I haven’t seen any behaviour that goes drastically against the grain as a result of gender neutral parenting. But I am pleased that my daughter aspires to be a writer rather than a princess and that my son is as happy in purple as he is in blue.
It can be hard to escape our ingrained tendency to gender stereotype and avoid the inevitable marketing clichés, but by being conscious of gender messaging and how this affects the way our children perceive themselves and the world around them, I believe parents can begin to guide their children to true independence and individualism.
Monica Lowry is a freelance writer/work-from-home mum who lives in Atlanta, Georgia. She loves writing and reading, and spending as much time as possible with her husband and kids.
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