As a Kindergarten teacher, my job and my students’ interests really made me aware of gender roles, biases, and stereotypes that children are blatantly and inadvertently exposed to from the minute they are born. I had boy scholars who liked pink and dressing up in a Dorothy/ Wizard of Oz dress in the house corner. And girl scholars who liked building with blocks and zooming cars in the car center.
We all fall victim to the pink/blue stereotype at one point or another in our lives. When we hear of an expectant mother, we get all giddy and bubbly, rushing out to buy pink clothes for girls, blue ones for boys. We decorate our kids’ rooms in sex-delineated colors or other gender conforming details like flowers or race cars or Disney princesses. It’s a big marketing scheme by Babies R Us and every other American family friendly company, because babies are naturally cuddly and lovely. Why wouldn’t we want all pastels and police cars to subliminally point out the ‘correct’ way to be a girtl or a boy, while our children are sleeping, living, and growing up in that bedroom? But the question I pose is: why do we?
When I became pregnant, I purposely found out we were having a girl for several reasons. One, I really wanted to know right away. Two, we had a large extended family on both sides, and I just thought it would be easier for people to know what sex to buy for when making purchases. And three: it made it easier to decorate her bedroom. Which, by the way, we painted YELLOW… and did a farm theme. Not very girly, I know.
I am not a fancy Crate and Barrel “pink is for girls and blue is for boys” type of Mom. I’m more like a “pink and blue is for everyone” type of Mom. I’m the mom who tried early on to expose my daughter to all kinds of great things for both “boys” and “girls”. I didn’t want my daughter to be pegged as a “girl”, but rather as a person who accepts and enjoys all things, regardless if our society labels things for “boys” or “girls”. As far as I can see, it’s working. And I’m proud of that fact.
I sang Carole King and patriotic songs to my daughter as a baby. Her first book that she ever really loved on her own before she was even a year old was a Blues Clues book. She still loves the color blue to this day. We read books and sand songs every day. Stories like Big Blue Truck, Goodnight Moon, Peter Rabbit, and George and Martha were commonplace and enjoyed multiple times. As she got older, she loved the Greek Myths, and more recently, she enjoys Nancy Drew, Heidi Hecklebeck, and Judy Moody, and this summer, we are reading Harry Potter together.
As a toddler, she played with dinosaurs (given to us by her aunt who raised two boys) and blocks as well as baby dolls and all of their accessories. She still has a bazillion stuffed animals that she sleeps with at night, including her Layla and her taggy blanket , which she received in the early months of her life.
When she was in preschool, a co-worker of mine was getting rid of an old McDonald’s play stand, complete with an apron, a pretend headset, and food. She LOVED to dress up and take our orders, writing things down and fixing the trays of food. She played that game for years, and especially when family members came over! It was a joy to see her take control and transform into Diana or Melissa. Her best friend at the time was a boy, and yet, she still enjoyed painting at the easel and dressing up in the house corner at school, which we typically think as “girl” activities. And her favorite television show at the time? Caillou, the one about the whiney bald boy who had to learn life lessons like sharing and being kind to friends. Yep. We sat through hours of that annoying show.
My husband would teach her “boy” things, like soccer and football. When she turned 8, we got her a basketball hoop that we put together after 4 hours of frustration. Her favorite outfits continue to be yoga pants and sneakers with a little sweat jacket for the winter and lined sport shorts and tank tops for the summer. She does like to get dolled up and have her nails done for special occasions or holidays, but she often sides with comfort instead of “looking pretty” for every day activities. I try to encourage wearing leggings and a cute skirt to school, or make requests to do her hair, longing for the days when she was younger and I could put her in cute little dresses and a hair clip, making her curls cascade on either side of her face. She refuses to be prettied up by me, adamant that a quick pony tail with not all the hair neatly combed in place is just fine. She is independent and confident in herself that she doesn’t need to showcase herself as ‘pretty’ every day to be happy. A clear defiant message both to me and the media, who finger point the way for women and girls to dress and make them selves up to look like Barbie dolls and not be comfortable in their own skin.
Her best friends are now girls, but even within the circle of her friends, she’s exposed to both ‘”boy” and “girl” themes. She takes dance and piano, but she also decided to play the saxophone at school this year, and she is the only girl in her grade level to do so. While many of her friends and even cousins were exposed to Star Wars years ago, she now LOVES it, and we are in the middle of planning an intergalactic 10th birthday party for her. It took a long time for my husband to convince her to watch it, since her favorite shows were and continue to be My Little Pony and Littlest Pet Shop, which are definitely geared towards a more feminine audience. To me, Star Wars seems like such a “boy” story, and yet, it has such universal themes for everyone. My own viewpoint about this classic story just shows how my own stereotypes have shaped my thinking, even though I try not to be stereotypical in what I expose my daughter to. And I am glad that both my husband and I are giving her the best of both sexes in her development.
When we paint the stark canvas of “boy” and “girl” in front of our children to study and model from, they develop a very static mindset that closes them off to avenues of learning and enjoyment. One of her cousins was asking me the other day about birthday gift ideas my daughter. I told her Barbie furniture for the doll house she created out of a bookshelf in her room and Pokémon cards. “Wow! Such a variety!” she texted.
Yes, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.
How do you teach your children to be a part of both sexes?
Yours in Lyme Adventures,