You’ve got to try this one little trick for a week.
It’s easy, I swear.
You don’t have to give up chocolate or caffeine. No, no, nothing like that.
It’s just a few words. But it can have a big effect.
Just a few words will help us start to crush gender stereotypes.
What’s the big deal with gender norms?
Some people think the movement to rid gender stereotypes is baloney. But reports say girls as young as 7 years-old actually change their behavior because of gender stereotypes. It makes them feel less confident, anxious, and angry.
The World Health Organization and Johns Hopkins just released a study that that shows girls all around the world learn that girls are weak and boys are strong.
“Perhaps most damaging to girls: From about the time they enter puberty, they learn their primary asset is their body and that it must be kept safe. Failure to do so, girls learn, is their own fault.” (Huffington Post)
It naturally follows that girls withdraw from certain activities to keep themselves safe. Probably in order to avoid boys.
In all countries studied, friendships and play between boys and girls dropped dramatically between the ages of 10 and 14.
The Increasing Separation of Boys and Girls
As boys and girls enter adolescence, they increasingly learn they can’t co-exist together peacefully. An 11 year-old boy from Hanoi lamented having to give up his best friend, a girl. “It’s not fair,” he said.
Where friendships once thrived, now a veil of romance and sexuality threatens to cloud them. Yes, puberty does change things. But we teach boys and girls that they are SO different, that too much interaction between the two can be dangerous.
This can lead boys to normalize aggression and violence toward women, believing they are “naturally dominant.”
It’s a big problem to solve, isn’t it?
So let’s start small.
Our culture is eager to gender babies (yeah, I’m using “gender” as a verb) quite early. Expectant parents and people who know expectant parents think it’ll give us some insight into who this little human will be. SPOILER: it probably won’t.
But we’re human and we like to categorize. This is especially true for preschoolers. By age 3, they *usually* know if they are a boy or a girl, and by age 4 typically begin to judge these distinctions based on appearance, behaviors, and hair length.
They like to sort and classify animals, shapes, other people, and themselves. In fact, it’s a developmental skill. But when they begin to develop rigid rules about genders, it can inhibit their sense of self and what they believe is possible for them to achieve.
So what can you do?
Our mini e-book has 7 easy ways to raise children without stereotypes. Some call this gender-neutral parenting, while some think that’s impossible. But it IS possible to build a foundation for your children that helps them to believe they can wear what they want, do what they want, pursue passions they love, and achieve their dreams. No matter whether society has color-coded their dreams pink or blue.
One of those 7 easy ways is so simple that is almost seems ridiculous.
But try this.
When you reference other people, especially strangers, use “person” instead of man or woman. Say “child” or “kid” instead of boy or girl.
What, you say? That’s so not a big deal. I probably don’t even do that.
In the past year, I’ve made a conscious effort to do this with my little one. When we look outside and see a man going for a run, I say “look at that person running” or “there’s a runner” instead of “that man is running.”
When a new kid approaches us on the playground, I say “oh it looks like this kid wants to play with you” instead of “that nice little girl is coming over here.”
It’s a subtle shift. But it actually takes effort. We are verrrry socialized to identify a person immediately by their presumed sex.
The thing is, I can’t assume that individual’s gender if I’ve never met them. If I see a stranger with long hair, I can’t assume it’s a girl.
Chill out, we’re not erasing gender
Some people say, stop trying to erase gender or pretend it doesn’t exist. Stop confusing our children.
This is not an effort to pretend sex and gender don’t exist. But it’s an effort to think about gender as just one facet of a person’s makeup; not their entire identity.
Not everyone identifies as strictly male or female. Some don’t identify as either; some feel they’re somewhere in the middle.
How will this help?
It help us to see more of the similarities instead of only the differences.
It’s no longer socially appropriate to identify the race of an individual when it’s completely irrelevant. (This still happens, though, often fueled by internalized racism, and we certainly don’t live in a post-racial society.) Example: “I went to register my car and a nice black man helped me with the paperwork.” What’s the relevance of race here? It would seldom be identified for a white person, meaning the only distinction is a sense of “otherness” from the speaker.
So what, then, is the relevance of the person’s sex? Does it matter that the clerk was a man? Stories often require the use of pronouns, but notice how quick we are the point it out early.
Try it for a week
I know what you’re thinking: Geez, you just gave me homework about my language, and now you’re giving me homework again?
But this is easy, folks. Try to note each time you refer to someone as a man, woman, boy, or girl.
This isn’t a language test, but a way to develop our consciousness about the value we place on gender.
Let’s take stock of our similarities.
I can’t guarantee that your kid won’t go through a princess obsession phase or start yelling “boys only: get out!” If they do, it’s totally normal.
But if children can start to recognize their commonalities instead of “otherness,” they’ll be less likely to view each other as rigid stereotypes later in life. Rather than being dominant and submissive, they’ll just be partners in overturning the patriarchy.
Now that you have one tip, you won’t want to miss the rest of the strategies, which are just as easy!