Parents gender stereotype their children before their baby is even born. If it is going to be a boy the room is painted blue and has airplanes, if it is a girl it is pink with princesses. Ironically Gender Spectrum report that at the beginning of the 19th century the opposite was true and blue was considered more feminine while pink was considered a masculine colour. It wasn’t until after the First World War that the colour stereotyping switched to what it is today. From the age of three children become aware of their gender usually through the environment created by their parents. In recent years there has been a big movement away from gender stereotyping. In this article we will look at how children are defined by their gender from a young age and what parents can do to stop this.
No Bullying state that the four most common gender stereotypes are: personality traits, domestic behaviours, occupations, and physical appearance. Typically men are supposed to be strong and make money while females should have jobs like teachers and nurses and are expected to provide children. These ideas are unconsciously planted into children’s brains from a young age. Girls are encouraged to be creative while boys are pushed to be sporty. There is nothing wrong with encouraging either, but it is telling that boys aren’t pushed to be involved with activities such as baking or sewing and girls aren’t pushed to play sports. These stereotypes continue in school with boys exclusively trained to play football and girls exclusively made to play netball. This segregation at an early age could also explain why sports played my men are much more profitable and watched than sport played by females.
Walk into a toyshop and there is a clear line between the boys and girls section. Gender stereotypes are forced on children through the toys they play with and programs they watch. The Independent states that adverts for children’s toys are sexist and reinforce “narrow and limiting” gender stereotypes. They point out that adverts for boys feature weapons, cars and action figures, and also show the children acting aggressively emphasising power and control. Yet girls in adverts for dolls are shown to be more docile and concerned with nurturing. The paper also pointed out that unless the girls were dancing they were noticeably less active than the boys.
Both male and female toys demonstrate negative stereotypes. Barbie and Action Man are two classic examples of this. Barbie is slim, beautiful, and promotes a rich material lifestyle, while Action Man is muscular and is normally shown as being sporty and adventurous. It is a clear distinction of what is widely believed each gender is expected to aspire to. Lots of female toys also feature domestic items such as cooking sets, or sewing sets, while boy toys feature policemen, or survival kits. This is only one part of gender stereotyping but it shows the root of equality problems later on in life.
Parents need to try and combat this from an early age. The best way to do this is through activities as a family and to encourage children to engage with things that are not considered to be their gender’s normal “thing”. For example playing football with their daughter or encouraging their son to take part in being creative through activities like baking. In a blog post entitled ‘Dress Up Days,’ gender neutral clothes retailer Tootsa suggests that when dressing up, boys enjoy a variety of characters while girls tend to just play one role: a princess. They recommend that one way to break this is to encourage children to dress in gender-neutral costumes such as vampires or animals.
Gender stereotypes will follow boys and girls throughout their entire lives. What they do at school, how they are expected to work, and how they are expected to live their lives will all be judged. Why? Because from the moment they are born these stereotypes are forced on them. Children can’t stop this but parents can and it is up to them to be conscious of how the colour of the bedroom wall is the first step to gender stereotyping.
About the author:
AllAboutJ is a mum first and writer second. She believes that being a good and open parent is the key to a child’s successful upbringing. She likes to challenge the stereotypes on bringing up a child. She wants her children not be brought up with the widest range of experiences so that they will lead a tolerant and exciting life. Watch out for her own blog soon!