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Children and Gender Stereotyping- Jennifer Spilsted


By savanna - Posted on 25 February 2011

From the moment we are born into the world we are classified as either male or female. In most western societies female babies are assigned pink or pastel clothing to signify femaleness, and male babies are given bolder, brighter outfits to show maleness right from the beginning. The ways children are raised has a strong influence on a child’s developing gender ideas through various positive and negative reinforcements.

Parents, often without realizing, act as models that encourage certain behaviours, activities and types of play for children that correspond with the child’s sex. For example, girls’ behaviours are often reinforced to be gentle and caring, and are usually given dolls and stuffed animals to play with. Boys, on the other hand, are encouraged to be strong and independent and are encouraged to play sports. This early divide creates different behaviours in individuals depending on whether they are treated as a male or female; stereotypes that may guide a person’s actions throughout their lifetime.

These generalizations about gender may potentially prove to be barriers to individual success, and limit certain social freedoms. For example, men are often discouraged to show emotions, which constructed social regulations imply could be a sign of weakness. This pressure to conform to the ‘strong’ man stereotype could also discourage men from seeking help (such as counselling) when needing. On the other hand, women and girls may doubt their math and science abilities based on social stereotypes (a self-fulfilling prophesy).

How is it then that parents can raise children free of gender stereotyped influences and expectations? From an early age this can be done by:

-encouraging children to play with toys or activities out of interest (i.e. boys being free to play with dolls or dress-up without judgement)

-avoiding gendered language or specifying gender when possible

-express love and support for your child’s self-expression

-encourage group interaction between children of different genders

-parents can also try to offer non-stereotyped models for their children, and point out gender biases that lead to inequality

These steps towards gender neutral environment can be as small as breaking down rigid gender roles: parents can try switching up gendered chores, or avoiding exposure to media that promotes gender stereotyping. When parents push towards gender neutral environments, children can feel free to express themselves, be exposed to a variety of life experiences, and avoid (or be aware of) pushing gender stereotypes onto others.

Gender is a construction of self-identity that is continual throughout our development; our biological makeup does not always dictate whether or not our gender internally feels like the right match. Forming gender identity often involves making sense of strict social rules and norms that undermine the natural skills, abilities and behaviours unique to us all.

Recently, the today show featured a family raising a child outside of stereotyping rules. Cheryl Kilodavis, the child’s mother, has published the book “My Princess Boy” with the hopes of creating awareness about supporting children’s authentic self. Here’s the youtube clip of the today show interview:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8DnbjtXDlv0&feature=related

What do you think? How can we advocate to a more equal, safe society in our own lives?