A Father’s take on Gender Stereotypes

(This is a comment on my post on Gender Stereoptypes. It is written by a father and he makes such great arguments, I thought it is worth being a post of its own. Here is the link to the author’s blog: Covered by the Dust. Thank you for sharing your views with us.)

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My wife and I worry over gender stereotyping with our daughter… especially before she was born. Everything we bought was gender neutral, but I look over to my 8 month old now and she’s dressed in pink. Ok its leggings and a t-shirt rather than a dress, but still typically ‘girly’. The clothes were a gift

So why did we relax about it and put these clothes on her? Well we came to realise that to impose gender neutrality is still imposition. As Tabitha grows she’ll know she’s a girl as will the world, by hiding her gender the world will not suddenly treat her in a non-gendered fashion… in fact it’ll become more amplified. We don’t buy Tabitha dolls and we never bought our older son an action man. But our boy does have a lot of ‘boyish’ things… he was into Ben 10 so he has some Ben 10 stuff. We try hard not to re-enforce gender stereotypes but nor will we legislate completely what they have… so we dont deny our son a toy on the basis of it being too girly or too boyish. As it turns out our son isn’t at all sporty, he likes to write stories and draw and do a number of things that other boys around him think him strange for, but importantly he doesn’t feel uncomfortable in his skin because as parents we’ve never made it a ‘thing’. So what if a boy wears a bow in a hair and prefers a hand bag to a rucksack… it’d be a mistake to judge against that because of stereotypes… but I do think that it is possible to take it too far the other way and make everything loaded and have meaning as a gendered thing or activity… when to kids it doesn’t even enter their heads, but they can pick up on it from us. I think its just as bad to bring a kid up as being hyper aware of gender through denial as it is to force them into traditional gender roles. Kids should be allowed to be kids, and what kid doesn’t want to clop around in their mums high heels… its funny!

People always mistake tabitha for a boy… even on days when she’s in pink. Thats because physically babies look the same whatever their sex. The social signifiers of hair length isn’t in play yet I suppose but more to the point it says to me that gender isn’t even something at play till much later, any gender worry is totally the imposition of adults.

What I hope to do with both my children as they grow is model and explain how to be the best they can. I hope to demonstrate how to be a good person but also to my son I hope to show how to be a good man, by which I mean that I want him to understand that societal gender disparity is a construct and I want him not to contribute to it. Same with Tabitha.

I certainly think that the story of Sasha and many others like him has noble aims but I’m not sure that it doesn’t contribute to the problem of a child’s gender, treatment and later sexuality being something constructed by outside forces… its just a different set of forces.

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7 thoughts on “A Father’s take on Gender Stereotypes

  1. You mentioned the most important point: Gender stereotypes are an adult construction. Adults impose their/ society’s ideas of gender on their kids. Just as it is wrong not to allow a boy to play with Barbie or wear pink clothes, it would be wrong to forbid a girl from playing with Barbie or wearing pink clothes. Both measures would be inhibit the children from expressing themselves.
    In the case of the Princess Boy, the mother wrote the book “My Princess Boy” to portray the hurt, she and her son felt as a result of how some people treated them. But the success of her book shows that there are other like minded people out there. While one person might not have the strength to change public opinion, if more people joined in on the action, it could become a movement, Eventually a movement could become the norm and our outdated stereotypes would be updated. That is my optimistic view on this topic. 🙂

  2. jimlockey1 says:

    Ok, so this is now just the two of us talking back and forth, but I wanted to lend my agreement to your summation…

    I would mention that I think I would struggle if Tabitha got into barbies because of the particular gender stereotype they show… same with my step-son and his boys toys… he has ben 10 as I mentioned but we dont let him have toy guns, not because they are stereoptypically ‘boys toys’ but because we dont want to promote violence. — There is a line in the sand with these things but for the most part I dont want them to feel that there is something ‘off limits’ because they happened to be born a boy, or a girl.

    Thanks for making a post out of my comment, and other readers be sure to check out Irene’s previous post about gender typing for its context.

  3. I think due to the insidious nature of society’s imposed gender identifiers, we have an obligation to push back harder and not be passive observers, so I disagree with this.

    Yes adults made gender constructs but children are sponges and deserve us to actively construct and de-construct the truth as it really is, your daughter will make 70 cents on the dollar your son makes, if they identify as a different gender they will be tormented and ostracised.

    Why not actively push against the oppression instead of blithely allowing ‘societal norms’ to shape them?

    It’s our responsibility to let them not believe the hype.

    as a butch lesbian, i’m ‘very’ passionate about this subject because every time i leave the comfort of my own home, I’m subjected to rudeness and ignorance.

    I’m not about to just grow my hair long and stop shopping in the men’s department because someone else thinks this is somehow abhorrent.

    Heterosexual cis gender people can just ‘ignore’ it and it’ll go away, but wait until your child, your niece/nephew or friend of your child is part of the LGBT community then see how benign gender roles really are.

    respectfully, ciaran

    • Hi Ciaran,

      I understand where you are coming from. It is a perspective I did not consider at all. Thanks you for adding your perspective. It goes to show how little we differentiate between sex and gender. I am sorry that you are discriminated because of who you are.

      By the way, it drives me crazy that I get paid lesser, although I do the same job and am more qualified than some male colleagues. In Germany the salary gap between men and women is quite large. Politicians talk about introducing a minimum female quota for women in higher ranking positions in firms. But I don’t think that it is the solution to this kind of discrimination.

      Sticking the head in the sand never resolved problems. I guess we might need to distinguish between allowing a child to find out their own preferences and explaining to the child what is right and wrong. But even the concept right and wrong is highly subjective. There would always be parents, who would pass their intolerance of the LGBT community onto their children.

      What is the role of schools in this case? They could provide a neutral playing field for children of all genders. After all, peer pressure can be huge and children could sponge up negativity there, although their parents might be teaching them tolerance and acceptance.

      As you can see, this is a complex topic and I do not think it is possible to discuss it fully in a blog. But it would be a success, if those who read these posts and comments, reflect on their personal stance on gender stereotypes and do their part to achieving gender equality.

      Take care.

      Cheers! Irene

      • Wow, I liked your well-thought out response Irene 🙂

        It is definitely a long and large discussion that people in universities devote lots of time and resources to discussing…it’s nice to hear other sides to it, beside my own yells of righteous indignation.

        It’s excellent to hear Germany is looking into doing something about wage disparity between male and female employees. The Harper government of Canada right now is conservative and awful when it comes to social responsibility, so we’re a long way off!

        Thanks for the opportunity to have such an informative chat!

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