Human beings love to put labels simply because it makes things easy. If it’s a girl she will love romantic fairy tales while a boy would enjoy stories of heroism and action. A girl is more nurturing by nature and therefore should be encouraged to pursue professions in humanity and teaching. But a boy is aggressive, strong and logical and therefore should aspire to be a pilot, engineer or scientist. In our quest to simplify things we fail to see children as individuals with different interests and aptitudes without the shadow of gender stereotypes.
As parents we are the first ones to expose our children to the social norms of the world. Some norms may be important but some social concepts like “role of a girl” and “the role of a boy” are obstacles in the path of your child’s achievement and fulfilment. What if as parents we forget for once what our social norms dictate and expose our child to every form of make-believe games and toys? What if it allowed your child to choose and not be bound by pre-determined social roles? Would that not grant a certain freedom to your child for all times to come?
How to get rid of gender stereotype:
The right toys?
Give neutral toys such as Legos and Lincoln logs to develop your child’s (girl or boy) spatial intelligence. Remember, no matter how unprejudiced you may be, your child has already collected data on gender stereotypes from other sources unknown to you. So if your son insists on a sword buy him a sword and a kitchen set. Tell him it is fun to play with both. Inform him that there are men who are wonderful cooks while there are women who are skilled at the art of swordplay.
Discuss stereotypes in books and advertisement
Often, ads and books depict men in the role of provider or the accomplished while a woman is always a damsel in distress or projected in a nurturing role. Discuss these visuals with your children. Tell them women are and can choose to be working professionals, sportswomen or even politicians while men can choose to be more caring and nurturing towards their children and be great at household chores. Tell them it’s OK to be either way.
Mix it up
By the age of five, children become clearly aware of their own gender and prefer to play with their own gender. My son once said I don’t want to play with girls. He said girls only want to play with dolls and cook. He wanted to play star wars with his light sabre. So I just told him to take turns playing each other’s games. He was delighted to discover a new game a girl introduced him to. Even the girls he played with took interest in his star wars make-believe. You can plan mixed-gender playdates to discourage gender prejudice in your child.
Encourage non-stereotype behaviour
Ask your son to help you in some cooking such as filling in the muffin moulds or decorating canapés for the guests. Tell your girl that she can be her father’s helper as he does some carpentry or plumbing job. Expose both genders to all kinds of tasks. Our societal norms limit a boy’s range of emotion and his ability to feel, think or behave openly without the fear of judgement. Girls are expected to be delicate and nurturing hampering their ambitions. So don’t say boys don’t cry. Don’t say girls should always think of others first.
Stereotypes are not just influencing the choices in profession but also physical health. Media and stories promote women to look a certain way or men to behave in a masculine way. Imagine your daughter growing up to emulate or confirm to the unattainable standards of beauty dictated by media? Or think of your son being violent or insensitive because he believes that’s the behaviour that will affirm his status as a man? A belief in stereotypes emerges from a weak sense of self. The struggle to constantly affirm to a stereotype can cause anxiety and low self-esteem. Teach your child self-acceptance and no prejudice will sway him/her even as an adult. And you will be a happy parent knowing your child is happy with who he/she is.