Carrying on from the previous post on gender stereotypes, this one is more about how gender stereotypes could negatively affect children, the possible long term effects that gender stereotyping could have and about how parents could do their bit in negating the effects of gender stereotypes or better still, how parents can do their bit towards minimising these stereotypes from setting in. I use the term “minimising” because to say that parents can prevent gender stereotypes from setting in, would be a tad too much. Children are growing up in a world that is fast changing – they are exposed to different media sources and have many more points of reference like other adults they come into contact with, their teachers and peers at school, and the general populace – all of whom do their bit in moulding young minds and psyches.
Clothes – Where the colour divide is the most obvious. Why this divide started is pretty much simple. It is a lot easier for business houses and garment companies to sell more if they individualise a particular product. In this case, they tagged a gender to a particular colour. Thus began the ‘pink for girls and blue for boys’ brigade. Nowadays, stores make it easier on parents by having different aisles – in some places the aisles themselves are coded pink and blue. Parents-to-be now go shopping for baby products before the baby is born. Generally, human tendency dictates that it is much easier to go with the flow than swim against the current. So yes, the ‘colour divide’ is alive and kicking (pardon the pun) even today. For that matter, the trend has now extended to diapers- we have colour coded diapers, pink and blue!
Does it help for children to see their mums dress in blacks and blues (colours which are essentially considered masculine) and their dads dress in pinks and hot pinks (colours which are socially considered feminine) ? I would think so. At home, my wardrobe hardly has any pinks. To be specific, I have one pink blouse. There are greens and an abundance of blues and blacks in my wardrobe while my husband has no qualms wearing pink shirts or hot pink T-shirts. To be honest, they look darn good on him. Has this had an effect on the kids ? I do think so. I don’t find Macadamia and Pecan pandering to the colour coding because right from a young age, they have not been exposed to gender stereotypes in clothing (on the home front).
When we went shopping to buy Pecan his first badminton racket a few years back, the only one available in the Junior size had a whole streak of purple with pink running through it. He had absolutely no problems with it. He too carries off his orange T-shirts with elan now while Macadamia goes nowhere near the colour pink. When this colour preference is taken out of the equation, one realizes how much more of choice there is, when it comes to shopping.
Toys, DVDs – are something children hold close to their hearts. Toys are things they shower their affection on, vent their creativity on, pit their wits against, build other things…the list is endless. Toys do, albeit in a covert way, send out messages loud and clear about the kind of behaviour that society expects from boys and girls.
Boys are normally given toys that indicate towards ‘rough and tough’ behaviour, thus condoning aggression or aggressive tendencies in males right from an early age. Girls, on the other hand, are given dolls for the most part and this cements dainty, delicate images in their minds. Over a period of time, they begin to accept these stereotypes as norms. The dolls aimed at girls are usually slim and petite and this becomes a standard, a yardstick of sorts for girls to compare themselves with. As a result, most girls entering their tween and teen years end up unhappy with the way they look because the ideal image of a girl in their minds is one of the dolls that they used to play with
I do believe that all kids (boys and girls) should have plush toys to play with because what plush toys do is evoke empathy in children. Empathy is a very important factor for a child to grow up with. Also, every child needs a Lego set. Simply because it improves lateral thinking, spatial and motor abilities.
The role of toys, simply put, is to introduce a wide range of experiences to the little people we call children. Just as it would be better to make a choice of toys based on the child’s aptitudes and interests, shops the world over too could do their bit in helping with reducing stereotypes. What they could provide their consumers with is more of a choice when it comes to toys – not just the ones socially labelled ‘pink’ or ‘blue’.
Chores around the house – It does help if children see parents share chores equally and not in a gender biased manner. My husband is an excellent cook and on weekends, he invariably cooks us lunch and dinner. There are times when I hammer nails into walls or fix broken things. I guess this has helped a lot in jobs being labelled in the minds of Macadamia and Pecan. They do not as much as bat an eyelid when they see dad in the kitchen, donning the chef’s hat nor there are any smirks if they see me shinnying up a chair to fix a bulb or crouched to fix a leaky tap or a washing machine pipe or some such. In our house, it is perfectly normal. In fact, Pecan is demonstrating a very strong interest in cooking and of late, is turning into the sous chef at home. More power, I say !
When it comes to assigning chores too, the kids get pretty much a mixed bag. Macadamia doesn’t always get the ‘dusting and cleaning and cooking’ whilst Pecan doesn’t always get the ‘fixing stuff and carrying heavy stuff’ chores. They are perfectly comfortable with all the chores around the house- right from doing the dishes to dusting to fetching something from the tool kit to gardening to cooking.
These are just a few of the things that impact children the most, given the fact that they come across it on a continuous basis. I’m not saying that parents should simply ignore gender differences altogether, just that a bit more thought really goes a long way when it comes to making decisions about how we raise our children.
Macadamia once asked me about how it was, for me, to grow out of the gender stereotypes I was originally raised with, as a child. I remember saying to her-
“It is a process when one mentally evolves. Your gender does stay with you – it is essentially the same but your gender does not altogether define who you are and what you can be. Think of yourself as a book, if you may. A book is a sum total of many pages put together. All those pages together, give a book its character, its charm, its personality and its appeal. Similarly, gender is simply one of the pages in the whole book that is YOU”
Gauri Venkitaraman dons many hats – a wife, a mom, a teacher and many more. Working as a full-time English teacher in HongKong, Gauri also raises and nurtures two terrors, affectionately known as The Nutty Siblings a.k.a Macadamia, a teen and Pecan, the ten-year old who behaves like he is fifteen. Gauri’s family means the world to her. Life is a lively roller coaster ride and we, as a family, aim to enjoy the ride together. http://tiny-tidbits.blogspot.hk/ is where Gauri pens down her thoughts and musings, in an attempt to preserve memories for posterity.