Gender Equality: How to Foster Gender Equality with Your Child at Home
Integrated Learning Strategies is excited to feature gender equality with guest blogger Aimee King. While many of the recommendations below are great for children and parents, some accommodations or exceptions may be made for children with learning challenges and learning disabilities. Integrated Learning Strategies (ILS) is a learning and academic center. As a reminder, ILS is not a health care provider and none of our materials or services provide a diagnosis or treatment of a specific condition or learning challenge you may see in your child or student. If you seek a diagnosis or treatment for your child or student, please contact a trained professional who can provide an evaluation of the child.
A subject as serious as gender equality may not always seem particularly relevant for parents raising young children. There are more pressing concerns to deal with and more tangible things to teach each and every day. With that said, however, it’s also true that a lot of the basic habits and tendencies we tend to have toward young children can actually have the effect of subconsciously reinforcing stereotypes about gender roles. And for that reason it’s important for parents to take an active role in teaching their children that how they play and what they wear doesn’t define who they’re going to be.
You may have heard this basic argument before: we slot boys and girls into different categories, boys with action figures and blue clothing and girls with dolls and pink, and after that they’re likelier to fall into traditional thinking about sexist stereotypes. But that argument is a little bit simplistic, not to mention largely inaccurate. The truth is that boys and girls actually do tend to have some inherent preferences for things that have been labeled as stereotypes over the years – it’s just how we respond to and deal with these preferences that can begin to become a problem.
Addressing this idea, an article by Cracked actually got to the point in a wonderfully thorough fashion. In that article various bits of primate research were cited as evidence that children’s brains are different depending on gender, and that it may well be that, for instance, boys are drawn to cars and trucks (and specifically mechanical motion) whereas girls are drawn to dolls (and biological motion). For this reason, some of the common boy and girl toy offerings actually make perfect sense, and cater to natural preferences. However, as the Cracked article goes on to explain, these natural preferences are limited, and what toy manufacturers do with them goes well beyond what may be appropriate. Action, violence, and combat themes are used to appeal to boys, whereas domestic tasks and appearance management are marketed to girls.
This isn’t to say that no boy should have a NERF gun or a G.I. Joe, or that no girl should be able to comb a doll’s hair or play with a domestic playhouse. It’s merely a caution to parents to do some research about how far natural preferences extend, and be mindful of your child’s interests rather than a toy company’s marketing scheme. In other words, parents should do their best not to assume that a child wants a given toy based on gender targeting. Furthermore, if your children do prefer toys that fall into stereotypical territory, it’s a good idea to instill the idea that they’re just toys, and not indications of real world activity that’s expected.
A similar situation exists with regard to clothing for children. There’s actually been a great deal of debate in recent years about whether or not boys and girls are hardwired to prefer blue and pink. Some studies suggest that girls do prefer pink, but that this isn’t clear until age two or three (which indicates we do influence the preferences when they’re still babies). However, a study written up in Time Magazine indicated that there are hints of legitimate color preferences in men and women. For the most part, people tend to prefer blue shades to warmer colors in general. But men tend to lean toward blues with green hues, whereas women prefer reddish hues indicating more of a preference for purple and pink. This could show an inherent preference rather than a constructed one, given that women aren’t simply opting for pink outright.
But as with toys, companies in charge of kids’ clothing tend to go well beyond pink vs. green in establishing differences between genders. There have been numerous instances of clothing designers implying sexist messages in clothing, commonly with regard to gender roles and interests. Boys’ clothes often preach heroics, strength, and intelligence, whereas girls’ options are often about beauty and personal appeal. Because of this, it’s important for parents to pay close attention to the messages behind kids’ clothing, as well as to offer children more appropriate alternatives. The collection at Tootsa was designed by a British mother named Kate Pietrasik who’d had enough with the kind of gender stereotypes just mentioned and wanted to offer more neutral messages and designs. This is a good example of how to transition from acceptable differences like pink and green into fun options that don’t reinforce potentially harmful ideas about gender roles.
Ultimately, the idea is to be aware about where natural preferences stop and expectations due to marketing begin. You can’t always know for sure where this line is, and it may even differ from one child to another. But it’s best to allow your children to follow their natural inclinations where clothing and toys are concerned, and teach them along the way that marketing shouldn’t dictate those preferences. It’s all in the interest of helping them develop as individuals, rather than completely supporting or resisting common stereotypes.
Integrated Learning Strategies is a Utah-based center dedicated to helping mainstream children and children with learning challenges achieve academic success. Our services provide kids with non-traditional tutoring programs within the Davis County, Kaysville, Layton, Syracuse, Farmington, and Centerville areas. Areas to find Integrated Learning Strategies include: Reading tutors in Kaysville, Math tutors in Kaysville, Common Core Tutors in Kaysville, Tutors in Utah, Utah Tutoring Programs
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