Does Gender Stereotyping Play A Role In Your Parenting?
Even as we acknowledge that there is no difference between the abilities and interests of boys and girls, we continue to bombard our children with stereotypical gender messages. Why is that so?
By Dr Sulata Shenoy
Most of us have grown up being exposed to stereotypical examples of gender. So, it is not surprising that we tend to generalise. But, it is crucial that we change our perceptions and challenge these stereotypes to allow our children's personalities to develop and flourish. As our children grow, they should develop their own independent sense of self, which also includes their gender identity.
How gender stereotyping is promoted
Let us examine the seemingly harmless ways gender biases are promoted. Historically, in literature, the use of masculine pronouns in place of gender-neutral ones was regarded as non-sexist. The pronoun ‘he’ was predominant and ‘she’ was rarely used. But keep in mind that books contribute to how children understand what is expected of women and men, and shape the way they think about their own place in the world.
Today, in movies and TV shows, children are depicted in ways which affects what they are willing to learn, do and say, as well as how they respond.
Traditional references to roles and professions such as policeman, actor, poet, stewardess, chairman and homemaker is another way sexism creeps into our collective psyche. Invariably, the ‘policeman’ is thought of as a ‘man’ and ‘homemaker’ is a ‘woman’, and not a ‘person’ of either gender.
Who is affected by gender stereotyping
It is widely believed that gender stereotyping only affects girls, but this is not true. It applies equally to boys as well. Quite often we hear of boys being told to not cry like a girl or face their fears like a man. Boys are discouraged from experimenting with makeup or dressing as they like. And, if a boy does go ahead and does so, he is ridiculed — forcing him to conform to the 'usual' norms. Parents also try to 'correct' the boy to protect him from adverse comments.
Raising your child without gender stereotyping
It has been well-established that gender stereotyping can have an overwhelmingly negative impact on young children. It makes young boys and girls behave differently.
Therefore, as a parent, it is important for you to raise your children without gender stereotyping. Here are some tips to help you:
- Support choices: Do not discourage your children from playing with toys they prefer and or engaging in activities they want to. Let them do what interests them. At the same time, if your children show a natural preference for activities that are typically associated with their gender, allow them to go ahead. For example, a girl who loves to bake and a boy who loves motor vehicles need not be given 'different' things to diversify and prove that they are gender-neutral. But, make sure that you also offer them several cross-gender alternatives as well. Take care to not influence your children in a manner which reinforces gender stereotypes when it comes to choosing toys, clothes, activities, friends, subjects in school or career. Help them evaluate their abilities and talents, and encourage and respect their choices.
- Teach how to resist social/peer pressure: Many children make choices in school and beyond, based on what their friends are choosing, even if it is something they don't want. They follow others to get 'accepted' and become a part of the social circle. You can help your children remain true to themselves and make choices that make them happy instead of doing things to please others.
- Encourage positive traits: Regardless of your children's gender, encourage positive traits like fearlessness and nurturing ability. Remember, there are boys who are great at nurturing and girls who are good in mathematics and outdoor activities.
- Choose the right dress: Just because your child is a girl, you shouldn’t make her wear skirts or similar clothes all the time. You can also make her wear shorts or trousers when the situation demands. For your boy, do not avoid dressing him up in the so-called 'feminine' colours.
- Avoid sexist toys: Toys have a huge impact on how children understand and perceive the world. So, avoid buying toys for your child which promote sexist notions. You can also use your clout on social media to influence promoters of advertisements to include children of both genders equally.
To conclude, as parents and caretakers, we need to remind ourselves that our children look up to us to show them the right path. Therefore, take the lead and be proactive in removing centuries-old prejudices in order to empower future generations.
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Dr Sulata Shenoy