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Responses to gender stereotyping children

(38 Posts)
YoullLaughAboutItOneDay Fri 21-Sep-12 10:17:08

I am after a few ideas on how to handle gender stereotyping of my two daughters and I am hoping that this board is the right place to get some suggestions, not 'why does it bother you, it's fine' type stuff.

I have two daughters - 3 and 16 months. To take yesterday as an example, at playgroup DD2 was playing with a doll. Another mother was sitting next to her son, who was playing on a tractor. She says "Oh, just look at them, typical boy and typical girl." Later on I was having a chat with another mother about DD2's mad climbing (anything and everything, particularly if dangerous) and she said "Oh, just like having a boy then."

I haven't really responded to these comments, but I am conscious that particularly my three year old is old enough to really be picking up on these messages. DD2 too to an extent. I want them to feel free to be whoever they want and I am starting to feel more and more uncomfortable about them hearing this type of stuff without any correction from me. Likewise, I don't always want to start a feminist debate 20 times a day.

So, any ideas for reasonably gentle rebuttals that don't necessarily require my ten minute rant on Delusions of Gender?

strandednomore Fri 21-Sep-12 10:27:34

You know, you could do a study on my two daughters. As far as I know, I have brought them up pretty well the same. The oldest (now 7) is a total "tom boy" - won't wear dresses or skirts, is the only girl in her year to wear shorts in the summer and trousers all through the winter, loves to climb, play sports, is into science, maths, "facts", will only read books that are "smelly and stinky", hates anything girly or pink, her best friend is a boy. Although she does have feminine characteristics if that makes sense - she is quite caring and nurturing, loves role play, school games etc. Then her sister, 4, is as "girly" as they come - loves all things pink and princessy, very creative, loves to sing and dance....I understand what you are saying as they do pick up on things and I worry about how things are going to go for my eldest but I think they will be what they will be whatever you do. Not sure that's any help!

KRITIQ Fri 21-Sep-12 10:42:24

Perhaps the best way is to just respond in a matter of fact way.

For example with the first comment about "typical boy and typical girl," perhaps say one or two of the following sentences, "Actually, she also loves playing with tractors and tool sets. If I had a son, I would hope he would play with tea sets and dolls. I think it's so important children have the opportunity to be what they want to be and not be pushed into doing things adults think they SHOULD because they are boys or girls. I think it's so important that boys get a chance to be nurturing and caring and girls get a chance to be active and make things so they will be more rounded adults."

With the second scenario, try something similar, maybe like, "Oh, when I was a child, I was very active, more active even than my brother and I'm glad my daughter is so she'll be likely to remain fit, healthy and happy about her body. I'm quite concerned about so many girls being reluctant to do sport because they feel bad about how they look, so I want to encourage her to be active and healthy all I can," or even a slightly more sharp, short and sweet, "No, I just have a healthy, happy, active daughter."

Basically, it's not accusing the other parent of being "wrong," but stating what YOU feel to be the truth and why. That's less likely to be confrontational and most likely to be seen as "food for thought" rather than an insult.

However, that's not saying that other parents won't SEE your comments as an insult to them. They will firmly believe their views are right, are common sense, are natural, and you are the cranky one, trying to upset the apple cart with all your hippified, feminist claptrap about boys and girls not being all that different, not born "hard wired" to be princesses or pirates, choose the blue toy or the pink, etc. They will have invested alot in this "it's only natural for boys and girls to be different," crap, not just for their children, but perhaps in their own relationships.

So, be prepared to not be popular, but at least you'll keep your dignity and integrity. And, you never know when some of your pearls of wisdom might strike a chord, might make them think just that little bit differently about things, might lead them to do something a bit differently. It's always worth a try, and you'll keep more of your sanity than if you nod and smile as though you agree with them. Good luck!

EmmelineGoulden Fri 21-Sep-12 11:14:13

If I'm right in thinking your main purpose in responding is so that your daughter overhears a rebuttal to the stereotyping then you need something equally short and simple to comment back. A long explanation won't stick in your daughters head and may come across as less sincere.

I normally try to say something like "Typical? Hardly!" with a big smile and then maybe (out of the other parent's hearing) something like "your cousin B never plays with trucks does he DD?"

But I also think you need to accept that she will hear this stereotyping a lot and you need to do most of the work outside of these interactions with others. Mainly by giving her the confidence to hold her own against peer pressure when she wants to, lots of positive reinforcement for anything she's interested in and wide, non-gender specific, experience. Then, when she's older, the insight to understand how our society creates and polices gender norms.

PunkInDublic Fri 21-Sep-12 12:28:40

I think Emmeline nailed it.

My DS had a lovely dolly for a while. You need a firm stare and a growl for situations like that. I just used to say "He's playing at being Daddy" when anyone said anything. Sad how often people mentioned it though.

AGoldenOrange Fri 21-Sep-12 12:31:47

Oh, just look at them, typical boy and typical girl. What children playing with childrens toys?

Oh, just like having a boy then." No, just being a toddler.

nickeldaisical Fri 21-Sep-12 12:32:37

"I wasn't aware that she had grown a penis in order to climb"

"i'm wearing blue today. I checked I had my penis before I did"

"We don't do gender stereotyping"

"and why can't girls climb? <solid stare>"

MousyMouse Fri 21-Sep-12 12:44:32

I have a boy and a girl and try to keep things 'neutral'.
now that ds is in school, he asks a lot 'is this for boys or girls' my standard answer is 'it's for both'.
for (relatively girly) dd we have a clothes rule: pink clothes are not allowed to be frilly. dc can wear what they want as long as it's weather appropriate.

YoullLaughAboutItOneDay Fri 21-Sep-12 12:49:11

Thanks all.

Emmeline - I think that's right. My main purpose is consistency. I don't want my DD's to see me being one person in private and another in public. At home we are pretty careful about reinforcing anything they show an interest in, etc. "Typical, hardly" is a good one to have at the back of my mind. The climbing one happens a lot and I find it a bit easier - I often say something like "No, she's the next Jessica Ennis" or "No, it's more like having a chimpanzee" (as DD2 swings from something inappropriate). It's the "Ah, typical girl" thing that totally stumps me.

Nickel - those first two are what I often want to say, but these are often women I do actually get on with other than this big area, and I don't want to be the scary lady people avoid at playgroup. I am a SAHM at the moment and I need adults who will talk to me! I could probably do the last one with a confused face though.

KRITIQ - Those are the sorts of responses I often give if I'm talking in an adult group I totally agree.

YoullLaughAboutItOneDay Fri 21-Sep-12 12:51:10

Mousy - we are starting to get a bit of the 'for boys' thing too. Not directly from DD1, but she will say "X says i am not allowed to play with this because it is a boy's toy". My standard response is, "well X is wrong. Toys are for all children, not some for boys and some for girls".

nickeldaisical Fri 21-Sep-12 12:54:15

"why is it typical girl?"

yes, questions like that with a completely baffled face normally silence people! grin

OneMoreChap Fri 21-Sep-12 13:39:20

Really, really hard.
I got rebuked by a mum for showing my daughter the best way of climbing trees.

She's now an accomplished rock climber.
sad at "typical girl"

YoullLaughAboutItOneDay Fri 21-Sep-12 13:44:15

How sad OneMore. I'd have been asking if DD1 could join in. Sadly that, throwing and reverse parking are areas where I conform strongly with gender stereotypes. I've never thought to ask DH whether he can climb a tree - maybe it is an area where we are deficient!

Lottapianos Mon 24-Sep-12 12:29:14

First of all, WELL DONE TO YOU OP for recognising this gender stereotyping for the hogwash that it is. I work with parents and young children and I wish more parents were like you!

As I'm sure you know, many people are extremely invested in the whole idea of boys and girls being inherently different and may not take kindly to you telling them the truth otherwise. I would probably go with the baffled look that nickel suggested or a 'ooh why's that?' with a hard smile. Give people enough rope to hang themselves, then give an example of how DD actually loves to play with trains too, or male cousin so-and-so just loves dressing dollies and then maybe a 'all children are just so different, arent' they?' with the hard smile again. But everyone has to find their own personal style with this sort of thing. I love your 'she's the next Jessica Ennis' comment grin

I think you've got some really good responses. this is something I really struggle with as many of my friends and most of my family makes comments like this all the time, my mum in particular insists that boys and girls are 'just different'. I usually remind them of how the DSs did the same sort of thing when they were the age DD is (usually they are commenting negatively about a behaviour that was either ignored with DSs or jsut provoked an eye-roll and 'boys!' type comment).
Luckily a couple of good friends also try to parent in a gender neutral a way as possible so we get together and exchange ideas.

digerd Mon 24-Sep-12 16:33:16

Don't be worried or annoyed about these things. There have always been "tom-boys" as they were affectionatlely called. Of course she will pick up on it, and she will deal with it in her own way. My sister was and still is very competitive, and at 3 years old, she climbed a lampost, as they were in the late 1940s with a bar at the top, as she had noticed that all the boys did that, and in her words, if they can do it so can I, and she did. When she was even younger, she bragged to a girl 2 years older than her, that she could do a backward somersault out of the bedroom window , which she did too. She did fracture her skull, but that healed and parents put locks on the windows. She could outrun all the boys at kisschase, so slowed down so she could be caught as she loved kissing boys. Also won arm wrestling boys, but soon gave that up as did her no favours with them - very canny. But on the otherhand she was very aware of her need to be the prettiest girl in her class, which she was too. Your daughter will be how she turns out to be and hope that is what she wants to be but her class mates usually will have some influence on her more than the parents in this matter. Just let her enjoy her childhood.

EmmelineGoulden Mon 24-Sep-12 16:41:29

digerd, your poor sister sad That sounds like a lot of pressure to conform to things that didn't matter to her so she could be accepted doing (some of) the things she liked.

digerd Mon 24-Sep-12 16:49:31

ps, and just smile at people making remarks and say," she's got so much energy hasn't she, will probably be an olympic athlete"

YoullLaughAboutItOneDay Mon 24-Sep-12 16:51:25

They still are called tomboys Digerd, and not always affectionately. My purpose in all of this is exactly to let DD enjoy her childhood, and the idea that there has to be a special word for her if she wants to child a tree (or indeed a lamppost!) makes me sad. Why can't she just be a girl climbing a tree?

YoullLaughAboutItOneDay Mon 24-Sep-12 16:52:30

Yes, totally agree with your PS Digred.

Also, just read my post back, I wasn't criticising you or your post. I was following on the point, as I have heard people call DD1 a tomboy, and not in a nice way. Hope that was clear.

blackcurrants Mon 24-Sep-12 16:59:48

I get a lot of 'typical boy!' comments about my v.v.v.v.v.v.v.active and headstrong DS, and if I know the person well I engage with it a lot ("I don't know if it's typical because he's a boy, really, I mean, he loves pushing his doll in the little buggy and he's extremely nurturing and caring, aren't these all just typical things that typical toddlers do? And he loves music and drawing so much I imagine if he were a girl people would say those were 'typical girl' things about him, but they're all parts of his personality") and if I don't I say "Oh, typical toddler, really, don't you think?" with a breezy laugh.

I also love the baffled "wait, why can't girls climb?" or "But you don't need to be a boy to be strong and active, do you?" type responses, because you can question something in a polite/confused way that makes people actually engage their brains before opening their mouths.

I feel for you, OP - we're an all-boy household here but Dsis has 3 girls and gets a lot of 'typical girl!' comments about her oldest, and 'what a tomboy!' comments about her middle, and she just points out that (1) there's no such thing as typical anygender, otherwise her 3 DDs would be the same with the same interests, and they're not. (2) Her daughters couldn't be any more different if they were different genders too.
It probably helps that she and I both have crisp "teacher voices" that we use when we find people silly. That's how I pitch it to DS at the moment, people who have rigid expectations of how boys or girls behave are being silly.

It's hard work, but it's a righteous fight!

digerd Mon 24-Sep-12 17:14:18

EmmelineGoulden. My sister is 65 now and recently admitted to me that everything she excelled in she did just to show off. She remembers climbing up the lampost, but when I asked her how on earth she did it - no other girls, including me had any interest in doing that, she has no memory of that, just that she couldn't get down, and I heard mum shrieking when she saw her up there. She also remembers doing her backward somersault and that was showing off too. She appeared in a dance show at 58, doing tap, modern stage and street jazz, and told me she was the best in the show and she was as I was in the audience.!!!!! She could still do cartwheels and the splits, and other ballet exercises that not even the 15 year-olds could do, she told me. And she showed me 2 of them in the pub and I was gobsmacked at the brilliance of her execution. She left the dance school a year ago when new girls joined that she couldn't compete with and could no longer be the best.

There must be a word for her . I told her she'd had a very good innings and shouldn't be so downhearted, but she has now become a member of the bit of a grumpy old woman brigade.

digerd Mon 24-Sep-12 17:40:58

When I was very young we lived in Yorkshire, and the term tom-boy was an admiring one, being very girlie was more taken as being weak and feable, or was that my older brother's influence on me, as i do remember him saying that girls were " scaredy cats". Oh, perhaps that's why my sister was as she was??

blackcurrants Mon 24-Sep-12 18:30:17

digerd I imagine that's probably it. "Tomboy" was a term of admiration in my family (mother loved boys, wanted all boys, hated wusses and whiners), but let's face it, when you give someone the status of "honorary Boy" you are telling them that being a girl is somehow inferior.

Can you imagine a black child being called a "tom-white" or something? Like, whoop, you're so exceptional to have risen above the inferiority of your birth and become almost as good as a white person naturally is! Well done you for overcoming your naturally crap blackness and being more like a white person!

It'd be considered extremely, extremely offensive.

Tomboy has always been meant with affection when I've heard it, but if you think about it, it's hellishly denigrating to girls.

grimbletart Mon 24-Sep-12 18:46:04

Also won arm wrestling boys, but soon gave that up as did her no favours with them - very canny.

That comment is interesting. It plays into something that makes me feel very stabby (sorry Digerd) i.e. the notion that strong girls have to pretend to be weak to play to male ego or to think they must change in order to "catch" a male.

We shall know we are 10 per cent towards equality when girls and women no longer feel the need to pretend to be feeble.

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