main banner

Is There Too Much Gender Stereotyping For Kids?

Is There Too Much Gender Stereotyping For Kids?

In recent years, there has been increasing call for brands to move away from traditional stereotypes of blue and pink. In Sweden, a number of gender-neutral pre-schools have opened, which use the non-specific personal pronoun 'hen' rather than 'han' (he) or 'hon' (she); and allow children to play with any toys they want, regardless of gender.

There are even a few cases where parents are specifically keeping their child's sex private, using a neutral name, and dressing them in both boys and girls clothing.

Meanwhile, there is growing popularity (particularly in America) for 'Gender Reveal Parties' for expectant parents; and most shops still divide their toys and clothing into clearly marked Boys and Girls sections.

So is it time to give up some of the gender stereotypes for our kids, or is too much worry about freedom of expression and political correctness, demonising femininity and masculinity?

Where did the division of pink and blue come from?

Historically, babies were dressed in white (which could be bleached regularly before the advent of easy to wash fabrics, and modern washing machines.) An article in 1918 suggested that ideally boys should be dressed in pink, and girls blue; but more often it could be based on hair colour (blue for blondes) or eye colour (pink for brown eyes.) Also, according to Professor Jo B. Paoletti from the University of Maryland; up to the late 1800s, children up to the age of six or eight would wear dresses, regardless of gender; which was particularly useful for nappy changing and potty training.

It was only in the 1940s that fashions in Europe and America moved toward blue for boys and pink for girls, as women returned to the home after the war. Popularity for this waned again in the 60s and 70s during the Women's Liberation movement; but returned (apparently to stay) in the 1980s, with the development of pre-natal testing, which led to a trend for parents to decorate in the 'appropriate' colours.

Why do we do it in the first place?

Very few people would really care whether they were having a boy or a girl. But isn't there still a temptation to dress babies in a way that makes their sex instantly recognisable, as if this is the first step in working out who they are? And despite certainly not caring what anyone else is having, it's strangely hard not to ask if it's a boy or a girl. Why do we need to know? Not a clue!

If you looked at kids tshirts today, here's what you'd learn: Girls like to play with dolls, kitchen equipment, and anything pink and sparkly. Boys like trucks, dinosaurs, soldiers, and mud. Girls t-shirts talk about being sweet, happy princesses; Boys t-shirts talk about being brave, smart, and strong. There was even uproar recently when Marvel released kids tshirts for boys that said 'Be A Hero', while the girl's version said 'I Need A Hero.'

Why might it be good to allow children more choice?

The idea behind being more gender-neutral (allowing children to play with whatever toys they like, and giving them freedom to dress in clothes that might seem masculine or feminine), is that it encourages freedom of expression; and broad interests. Children can find their own identity, while being more open and aware to the choices of others. Studies show that having more freedom of choice encourages confidence, and creates children who will be more comfortable as leaders, later in life.

Dr Elizabeth Sweet, from the University of California, explains: "Studies have found that gendered toys do shape children's play preferences and styles. Because gendered toys limit the range of skills and attributes that both boys and girls can explore through play, they may prevent children from developing their full range of interests, preferences, and talents."

Read next: Raising the 21st Century Child

What are the arguments against being gender neutral?

There is certainly argument for turning away from over-prescriptive stereotypes; but by completely blocking out traditional views of gender, parents may actually vilify masculinity or femininity, causing confusion and shame toward identites that children might naturally fit into, even without social conditioning.

Advocates of gender neutral parenting have also been accused of pushing their own political ideologies, rather than acting in the interests of their child: After all, many children are free to choose what they like to wear or play with, without a prescriptive (and often well publicised) determination to remain strictly neutral.

Finally, much of society is gendered in some way. Staying entirely 'gender neutral' may lead parents to shelter their children too much; not allowing them to learn about different genders, and how everyone fits into society. This isn't to say everyone is strictly one gender or the other; but gender neutrality should broaden children's understanding, not confine them to one idealistic view without awareness of the whole.

How Can We Be More Balanced?

Though there are certainly plenty of tom-boys and girly girls out there; it may be the message, rather than the colours of kids products, that seem too prescriptive. Looking at a neat row of toys or clothing, it's easy to see how outdated it seems for only boys to be smart, and only girls to be kind; or only boys to like engineering, and girls to like cooking and sweeping the floor.

Step one, is to ignore the signs for Boys and Girls, and choose things based on how cool they are. Recommended brands are Zara, Tobias &The Bear, Polarn O.Pyret, and Next (depending on their latest season) often offer good ranges.

Encourage a range of toys and books; especially at an early age before they have requests! Make the most of libraries and local charity shops, and encourage occasional toy swaps with their friends (one at a time!) so they can try things out without it costing a fortune.

What are you children's favourite clothes and toys? Are you aware of how these relate to gender stereotypes? How much do you think traditional views of 'boys' and 'girls' affect children as they grow up? We'd love to hear.

Read Next: How To Be A Good Role Model For Your Kids


About the Author

Emily is a Writer, Editor, Blogger, and our new Digital Content Intern. She has three awesome nieces, and has accidentally worn the same outfit as them on at least one occasion. Emily likes making things, including hand-drawn cards, and a darn good chocolate cake; and she still sounds very English, despite living in Dublin for the last eight years. More insight into the workings of her brain can be found on dancingcakesandsilence.blogspot.com.

Comments

Please login to leave a comment.