Giving Gender Stereotypes The Boot

Recently Luke and I were in town and he asked me if he could get a pair of pink sandals. Without hesitation I agreed and the hunt began for the perfect pair of pink flip flops. Luke is 3 and his favourite colour is indisputably pink – it has been for some time now. I have never encouraged or discouraged this preference. Why? Because frankly, pink is a great colour and I commend his great taste. Sometimes I wonder how long Luke will be afforded the luxury by society to love pink. I am all too aware at some point, for some reason, he will be made feel it’s not OK for a boy to love pink. When does the time come that I will no longer be able to shield him from the inevitable gender stereotyping he will face throughout his childhood? Gender stereotypes seem to be an unfortunate part of growing up, but do they have to be?

An Early Education

My mother always taught me I could do anything, irrespective of my gender. You could say my awareness and intolerance of this phenomenon started at a young age. At the age of 10, I joined the boys hurling team in school. At 12 I called my 6th class teacher ‘sexist’ when he suggested mixed gender teams during PE wasn’t a good idea (that went down well as you can imagine). Spice Girls ‘girl power’ had a lot to answer for during that era of my life and frankly was an incredibly positive early lesson on empowering girls to be what ever the hell they wanted to be. Though girl power still pulses through my veins, as a boymom, I’m all too aware that gender stereotyping is a two way street. Just as girls are pigeon holed, little boys suffer the same fate, much to my irritation at times.

It Begins at Birth

It’s hard not to allow the subtle nuances of gender stereotyping that creep in from birth irk you. It starts with the traditional pink and blue outfits and blankets and continues on throughout childhood and indeed adult life. Though tradition plays a part, there comes a time when your bright eyed 3 or 4 year old will invariably be corrected or discouraged from playing with a toy or choosing a colour based on their gender. It may be the kind lady in the toy shop who corrects your son on his choice of bouncy ball. Or the man in the bike shop who tells him pink bikes are for girls. Often in jest and rarely with ill intent, these comments, suggestions and corrections from the outside world, are shaping my tiny humans in a way that makes me deeply uncomfortable. Just as a little girl should never feel limited in what she can choose to play, boys should be free to gravitate towards toys, clothes and colours that fill them with happiness and contentment.

Boycot The Norm

So what do I do about it? Well from the get go, in our house, anything goes. There is no such thing as a boy’s toy, a girl’s toy, girls colours or boys colours. When we play pretend sometimes I’m the fireman and Daddy is a fairy. We have fire stations, dolls, kitchens and garages in our playroom. We have buggies, teddies, tea sets and monster trucks. Sometimes the boys pick gender neutral colours when it comes to clothes and sometimes they don’t. The point being the rule is, there are no rules.

In fairness to my husband, he knows better than not to go with me on this. Much like myself he can objectively see that the kids should get the chance to make choices and play, wear or like whatever the heck they want. Us interfering with what our boys instinctively gravitate towards when it comes to play is only hampering their natural ability to be creative and brilliant (also often hilarious!). So some days it’s tutus and twirls and the next it’s wrestling and boxing gloves.

As a girl who has accepted her fate as being eternally outnumbered by boys, this is important to me. It’s important for my boys to know that gender should never restrict a person in their choices. Girls are not better than boys. Boys are not better than girls.

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