By Amy Johnson, MSW
Parents—beware of complacency around gender roles. A study of middle school students found that their teachers believed their middle school students accepted the rights of women to hold nontraditional jobs in the workplace---much more than the students actually did. In fact, the study found that stereotypical attitudes about gender roles have not changed much.
This means we all have work to do, starting with how we talk to the youngest among us. Do you ooh and ahh over how cute little baby girls are? Are you sure to mention how strong a baby boy looks? When preschoolers are playing, are there ample gender-neutral toys around, such as playdough, blocks, crayons and blank paper, legos and art supplies? Do you inquire about a young girls reading selection or athletics, or merely compliment her outfit? Do you ask a young boy about his clothes or friends, or immediately begin to engage him in some sort of physical activity?
While gender identity remains controversial, with research supporting both socialization and prenatal hormonal factors as influences, this is only one piece of the puzzle. Whether or not a child or adult identifies as male or female, those around them can help define what is acceptable for either of those roles.
Despite women’s rights in the ‘70s and the men’s movement in the ‘90s, our culture remains fairly divided along gender lines. Progress has been made, yet there is more to do. Take steps today to make sure your girls know they can be strong, independent thinkers, and your boys can be sensitive, caring friends—without it costing them anything, especially your love and approval. We all benefit when there is less judgment in our homes, schools, and communities.
For ideas on gender neutral toys and activities:
For more information on how toys reinforce stereotypes:
Books about play and gender: