Imagine parents bringing up their boy as a boy and a girl! One British couple has decided that all the gender stereotyping has gone far enough. They will let their boy play with dolls, play rugby or do whatever he wants. He can also wear a pink tutu, if he so wishes. The only problem here is that this boy will go through hell at school as he will be mocked and bullied when he does not fit in with boy stereotypes.
Now this is one extreme view of gender stereotyping. It’s also a selfish one as the parents are putting their political and social beliefs at the top of their agenda, rather than the boy’s welfare. But what can parents do to raise boys so that they have a more balanced and tolerant view of their own sex and their female counterparts? They should also be made aware that there are alternatives to the classic negative stereotypes. In this way they will not grow up sexist. They will make better partners and fathers. Here are 10 things parents should remember to tell their boys.
1. What a great boy you are
There is some very good advice in the book by Christia Spears Brown called Parenting Beyond Pink and Blue: How to Raise Your Kids Free of Gender Stereotypes. She recommends that parents should avoid always pointing out the gender differences, rather than the similarities. The problem here is that if parents always refer to their sons as boys, they are laying the seeds for gender stereotyping at a very early age. It is a better idea to call them ‘kids’ and also call him “What a smart kid” instead of “What a smart boy.”
2. Let’s invite only boys to your birthday party
If parents start on this trend, it will be difficult for boys to mingle and socialize with girls. Mixed birthday parties are perfectly natural and a preparation for having female friends. Encouraging mixed-gender playdates is also a good idea. Boys will be drawn to more creative games and girls will do more outdoor play. The same principle holds when parents are considering sending their sons to a boys only school.
3. Women have to stay home and look after the kids
When a boy comes home and tell you that all “Girls are stupid”, ask him why he thinks that and what exactly happened. If parents never question these early erroneous stereotypes, they can easily lead to prejudice and it will be difficult to eradicate. It is also a good idea to encourage kids in role play activities to let boys take the role of the stay at home dad who is looking after the kids. Remind them that there are lots of working moms. This helps to break the mould of gender stereotypes.
4. Touchy feely stuff is only for girls
Boys are usually not encouraged to touch each other in a playful and affectionate way because that is considered a girlish thing to do; unlike Italian kids who are taught from very early on to express their affection physically. I remember a British father warning his boy not to hug his Italian male playmates. “Just a handshake will do”, he told his son! Parents need to show that touch and physical affection is healthy and reassuring.
5. Boys don’t cry
Our society is so rigid that boys simply do not cry. There is no healthy outlet for their emotions. The fear of letting a boy cry is paramount to raising a “Mommy’s boy” and that is disapproved of in our sexist culture. Peer pressure also plays a big role in that boys have to be seen as tough and stoic. That is cool. It starts at the age of four or five and lasts right through to adolescence and even into adulthood. But this attitude does not build emotional resilience to fear, disappointment and pain at all. It actually stunts their emotional growth and it is a false bravado. Figures show that boys are at greater risk of suffering from depression and low self-esteem.
What can parents do? They can be much more supportive and show the boy that they will always be there when things get tough. This will encourage them to talk about their problems. There is nothing wrong with talking about fear and disappointment. Fathers can also tell their boys “Sometimes, I feel like crying too.”
6. Arts and crafts are only for girls
Boys can be creative. We may be limiting their potential by not letting them play at arts and crafts which are traditionally considered a female preserve. Girls and boys should be allowed to try all activities. I read recently about a male British journalist who was introduced to the wonderful world of butterflies by his father. He had to keep his collection top secret so that his male friends would never find out!
7. Men don’t have to cook
If household tasks are rigidly divided from early on, then boys will grow up with the idea that certain tasks are only for the men, such as repairing things and doing more manual jobs. Boys will therefore never learn to cook or even bother to do any household jobs. The best way is to be good role models where all the household jobs are shared and there are no fixed boundaries. Everybody, including the boys, has chores to do and the tasks are equally divided among the siblings.
8. Girls always look nice and cute
As boys get older, you can talk about how the sexes are always portrayed the same way on social media, video games and especially on TV commercials. This only reinforces the message of negative stereotyping. Talk about this and ask your boy if decorative and pretty females are truly representative of the real world. There may be some very clever girls in his class. Ask him to think about how men are frequently pictured as being in charge, competent and tough. Is this always true?
9. Don’t play with those girly toys
The Australian Greens party ran a successful campaign , called No Gender December, in the run up to Christmas and the mad dash for buying kids’ toys. The reason they did this was to prevent gender inequality setting in at an early age. Later on, this can lead to unequal pay for women and even domestic violence. It just makes sense to think of kids’ toys rather than girls’ or boys’ toys but this will take time. Watch the video here where one father encourages his boy to play with traditional girls’ toys. Buying kids toy blocks will help them develop spatial and math skills and nobody cares what color they are!
10. Boys have to protect the girls
Why does the Prince always have to rescue the Princess from the dragon? Finding stories and books which portray a less sexist view of the world is not easy. But the story by Robert Munsch and Michael Martchenko called The Paper Bag Princess is an excellent example where Princess Elizabeth rescues Prince Roland from the dragon. She also walks into the sunset by herself! But there are other ways we can raise awareness among boys that it is not always a pink /blue world. Show them examples of female astronauts, male nurses, female mechanics and male violinists.
Have you been able to make your boys aware that pink and blue worlds are extremely limiting? Let us know in the comments.
Featured photo credit: Everett – Ten Months/ Kevin Stanchfield via flickr.com