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Help me to understand gender stereotyping

(29 Posts)
ArriettyMatilda Sun 18-Oct-15 06:50:07

I've been thinking for a while now about the gender stereotypes forced on our children. It seems to me that, as an adult, gender plays a part in your identity. There are certain issues that do affect men and woman differently (for example puberty or use of contraception). As a woman I never shop in the men's section for clothes, perfume, razors etc, although being female doesn't stop me enjoying different types of films or different foods. I also feel pressure as a woman to shave my legs and I'd feel like I hadn't made an effort if I didn't put make up on for a party. I wouldn't choose a girls name for a boy but but a unisex name is fine. Nevertheless I don't believe that there is anything I couldn't do based on my gender (other than the obvious things one does with gendered body parts). And gender is just one part of many in my identity.

So on one hand being female or male seems to be a part in an adult's identity. But children should just be children? Am I right in thinking pink toys are considered bad because when girls are told pink is their colour they believe they must only play with pink toys, which are usually the more gentle female stereotype toys and may mean they avoid other types of toys. Is there a problem with a construction kit being pink, for example, as long as a child is exposed to a range of other colour toys? Or is is pink only bad of everything a girl owns is pink before she can even make that choice for herself. I really admire the work of let clothes be clothes and let toys be toys, as I do believe companies should be challenged regarding their efforts to impress certain messages on to girls only or boys only. Especially message regarding looks as I believe this should not be important for girls or boys. And that certain toys are for each gender, when they can be played with by all.

Please feel free to pick apart my post and challenge my language and understanding. Is there anything more that I need to be aware of? I'd like to be a enlightened and I'd like to help my child be who they want to be without worrying about gender stereotypes. What can I do to facilitate this and how can I challenge gender stereotypes?

VashtaNerada Sun 18-Oct-15 07:14:58

I think it's important to recognise that many of the gender stereotypes we see (& reinforce ourselves) start in childhood. It's not that men and women are actually all that different, it's that we grow up being told that there is one way to be male and one way to be female.
IMO the problem with pink is that it's used as a tool to reinforce this idea of difference and promote stereotypes about what it means to be female.

VashtaNerada Sun 18-Oct-15 07:15:57

Actually another problem with pink is that it's used to discourage boys from things too.

ArriettyMatilda Sun 18-Oct-15 11:08:42

I suppose its the way pink has taken over then, especially in the toy world. Its either pink or multi coloured it seems. There are a lot of pink clothes too but at least there are other colours to choose from even in the girls section. Though I wish there were just children's sections in both clothes and toys, their body shapes are so similar are a young age. My understanding is that it is to make money, despite what manufacturers say about boys and girls having different preferences or playing in a different way. How much of that is self fulfilling prophecy because of that way girls and boys are talked to and treated differently. Two sections means people are sucked into buying more for second children who are a different gender. Could it be considered the same as separating toys or clothes for children of a different religion or race? I would like to know how we can change this and impact on stereotypes in adults too.

WhenSheWasBadSheWasHorrid Sun 18-Oct-15 12:24:22

I had loads of gender neutral stuff for dd. When she hit 2 she started choosing "girly" options for herself.

I'm trying to challenge any negative stereotypes about gender (eg girls are bad at maths). But I just don't have the energy to fight pink stuff or princess stuff (dd is nearly 5).

If given the option my dd will always play with a girl instead of a boy. She will always pick the "girly" stuff over the "boyish" stuff.
I'm trying to make sure she knows she can be as girly as she likes and still good at maths and sport etc

LurcioAgain Sun 18-Oct-15 13:05:07

Oddly enough I do buy men's razors - you get a much better quality of razor for the same money (eg bic sell their cheap disposable ones in orange for men and pink for women - literally the only difference is the colour of the plastic -yet the pink ones cost twice as much. Not that I'd recommend razors that cheap. .. they're horrid. But this pattern seemsto reperepeated).

Speaking solely for myself gender as in socially constructed roles has always been something I've found oppressive largely because the stuff that interests me (hobbies, work) is mostly stuff society labels as male.

At the same time though I sometimes "play the game" and quite enjoy doing so but I'm always aware of it as a performance. In my case it never feels like something intrinsic to me if that makes sense (I do in contrast feel aspects of my body are fairly central to me - having been pregnant and so on).

JasperDamerel Sun 18-Oct-15 13:37:41

I'm someone who has pretty stereotypically "feminine" interests and appearance but I still buy plenty of stuff from the men's department in shops (razors, shaving stuff, hankies, scarves, hats, bags, sometimes jumpers) and tend to wear mostly gender neutral shoes (Dr Martens).

DD lived pink sparkly stuff when she was two and three. So did DS. DD is now 9, and is starting to choose more clothes from the boys wear section because she likes quite simple designs which are hard to find in high street clothes for older girls.

Sadik Sun 18-Oct-15 13:58:00

It's one of those things that really, really did my head in when dd was little. I didn't want her to feel that she had to wear pink, should be choosing the home corner with the girls not the construction corner with the boys BUT at the same time it's so easy to fall over into implying that 'girly' things are bad therefore girls themselves are lesser and it's better to be 'like a boy'. It's a minefield . . . Much easier now she's a teenager and well able to pick apart gender stereotypes for herself!

I guess all we can do is keep talking about it - point out that X or Y or Z is just a social convention and in different times/places the stereotypes would be different (eg pink being the boys' colour, pale blue for a girl), make it clear that s/he should be able to choose whichever activity they fancy that day, and not feel stuck in one or the other.

I also think once they're a bit older it's really helpful to talk about stereotype threat etc - how if boys are told that on the average boys are worse at reading, it will actually affect how good they are at it, that sort of thing.

ALassUnparalleled Sun 18-Oct-15 14:01:07

I really admire the work of let clothes be clothes and let toys be toys

I agree. "Pink Stinks" on the other hand irritates me a lot. My first response is "in your opinion, which,by the way, I did not ask for or am interested in ".

Oh and I don't need anyone to point out what the real message behind it is. I'm merely pointing out the campaign name , for me comes across as smug and patronising. It isn't as snappy but it could have been called "Pink Stinks and Blue does Too" or something similar.

OutsSelf Sun 18-Oct-15 14:14:00

Hmmm, I think some of the differences you describe are sex rather than gender differences. Things that arise out of your biology, like puberty or childbearing are sex differences. To my mind, gender is a series of social.conventions and a social hierarchy, which is used as an explanation for sex based oppression.

It's hard to know how to manage that knowledge in relation to your kids tho. I have a boy and a girl, and our rule is if anyone can wear pink, everyone can wear pink ditto dresses/ construction kit. We try to acknowledge that people may try and organise them according to their biology but really try to underscore that biology isn't destiny and to treat people as if it were is discriminatory. In age appropriate language of course - they are 2 & 4 grin

JeanneDeMontbaston Mon 19-Oct-15 07:30:06

I don't like that things like razors, or expectations about shaving, are gendered.

I know they are - I do feel that pressure to shave my legs and I know men don't. But I think that's pretty crap. I don't like the idea that I feel less attractive when I've not removed hair, while men don't have that pressure to spend out on razors and take time shaving.

I'd like to think if we get better at not stereotyping children we'll gradually get better at rejecting pointless stereotypes for adults too.

WhenSheWasBadSheWasHorrid Mon 19-Oct-15 07:57:23

men don't have that pressure to spend out on razors and take time shaving

Yes they do, just not their legs. Lots of men shave everyday, if you have a beard that often takes more grooming time than shaving.

I'll admit I don't tend to put my legs on show without shaving them. But I live in trousers most days.
Dh spends more time with a razor than me.

Lemonfizzypop Mon 19-Oct-15 08:06:14

Having a beard isn't socially unacceptable though When..having hairy legs is!

NotCitrus Mon 19-Oct-15 08:07:48

I've ended up with a 3yo dd whose favourite colour is blue, chose big stompy boots for winter, and is more active than most of her friends (most of whom were boys until recently, but more because of ages of kids at nursery.) She also wants short hair and talks about Star Wars thanks to older brother etc. So despite a pink coat and a love of sparkle people keep assuming she's a boy and it really annoys her - and sometimes she thinks she's being a girl wrong, just like I did growing up.

I would like to point out that the Gruffalo Child is a girl gruffalo and therefore it shouldn't be so surprising to people to see a girl dressed as one. Grr!

I do wonder what is in people's heads when they want all their child's stuff to be pink/blue. Do they want to prove they can afford all that? Or are they worried that if they don't, the child might not perform to gender stereotypes? Why would that be so bad?

WhenSheWasBadSheWasHorrid Mon 19-Oct-15 08:09:57

lemon I just meant it still takes times to groom a beard. Socially men are expected to shave or have groomed facial hair.
An unkempt beard isn't very socially acceptable.

NotCitrus Mon 19-Oct-15 08:10:18

It's only showing hairy legs that is socially unacceptable though - if you don't wear short skirts, it's unlikely to cross your mind.
Armpit hair on women seems much more associated with disgust.

ThursdayLastWeek Mon 19-Oct-15 08:18:10

It's true from the otherwise too. Trying to dress my 2.5 yo DS in anything other than blue or navy is a nightmare.

Eyes rolled my grandparents at the purchasing of a tea set for him.

I try very very hard not to use gendered language when talking to or about my friends toddlers, not always successfully.
My son is always described as such a boy.

welshHairs Mon 19-Oct-15 08:30:27

My dd was described as a "proper girl" when she was about 5 months old. I thought, 'well she has a vagina if that's what you mean'. confused I was genuinely confused but often am so I just smiled and nodded.

I can never understand people who use the 'it's natural' line to argue for withholding gender divides in shops etc. Surely if it's natural for little girls to play with dolls and boys to play with cars then the signs and colours are redundent? Why not do away with them and sit back and laugh as you see how right you were because the little girls are all naturally drawn towards the dolls and the boys to cars?

This Saturday my dp's mum spent ages trying to get my dd interested in a doll and pram. She liked pushing the pram but had no interest in the doll. I found it strange that dp's mum was so invested in getting dd to play with the doll after she'd shown no interest.

welshHairs Mon 19-Oct-15 08:31:27

Keeping gender divides in shops, not withholding sorry!

JeanneDeMontbaston Mon 19-Oct-15 09:16:33

whenshe, I think we're talking cross-purposes?

While of course women do remove hair from their faces, and while of course there is a strong social stigma against hairy-faced women, women generally don't shave their entire faces or wear groomed beards. Men do. So no, men don't face that pressure I mentioned (to shave their legs).

You are describing how behaviours are split along gender lines, not how men and women do the same things and feel the same pressures.

OneofTHOSEWomen Tue 20-Oct-15 14:06:59

The pink/blue divide is quite frustrating. DD2 (3)is quite adamant that pink is for girls and blue for boys despite us, including dd1(5) telling her over and over again "all toys/colours are for everyone" I have no idea where it comes on at such a young age. All I can do is to keep challenging her ideas, dd1s attitude gives me some faith.

I think the pinkification of little girls toys and clothes is a bit of a re herring though, there are bigger problems out there I can see as a parent of girls. The subtle discrimination they face at school which sways girls away from STEM subjects and careers....body image issues.....pornification of culture........sighsad

ArriettyMatilda Tue 20-Oct-15 14:25:25

My dd is a toddler so that's probably why o focused on the pinkness of things. But I can see that discrimination is a massive issue in society. Today I have heard "a woman's work is never done". Also "bots and their trains" and some children may not like "rough boys" as if only boys like trains and as if it's acceptable for boys to be rough. What other stereotypes will I need to fight as dd gets older?

OneofTHOSEWomen Tue 20-Oct-15 16:15:21

This is worth a read. Delusions of Gender, Cordelia Fine.

almondpudding Tue 20-Oct-15 20:23:36

I think there are maybe two different points here that you've made OP...

1. Why is it okay to have a separate culture for men and women but not for boys and girls?

I suspect people think that we can't do anything about men and women having separate cultures because of socialisation. I haven't got another answer, and I don't find that one very satisfactory.

2. The notion, seen as very positive by many people, that 'boy' things and 'girl' things should be available to all children and are all equally valid.

I have disagreed with this on many previous threads, and I think you've touched on it with your non acceptance of boys being rough. Things that children are socialised into that are 'boy' things include violence, excessive competitiveness, tribal loyalties, aggression and dominance.

Those things are not equivalent to things that girls are socialised into as 'girl' things. These include compassion, nurturing, imagination (the much criticised sparkly unicorns), communication and aesthetics.

One of these cultures is a serious problem in our society. The other is not. Why people would think that all these things should be presented to children as things of equal value they can choose from is a mystery to me.

VashtaNerada Wed 21-Oct-15 06:58:51

There are definite dangers in encouraging aggression or competitiveness (extreme masculine stereotype) in any child - and there are dangers in telling children that looking good and being compliant is the most important thing (extreme female stereotype).
I would say the equivalent skills to nurturing or communication might be physical activity or scientific questioning. All those things are important for children.

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