by Jason Cress
Growing up, my father worked outside the home and my mother stayed at home. She did 95 percent of the cooking and cleaning around the house. I thought this was a typical household. From the movies and television shows I watched as a child, that is how family life was depicted. Women were made for cleaning and cooking and the men were the bread winners. I think we can all attest to this crazy thought. Do not get me wrong, I appreciate everything my mom did for me; however, I think part of her wanted something else in life.
I would like to think that society has done a 360 since then and those gender roles are no longer the norm. Alas…. humankind has failed me and I think we are no different today than 30-40 years ago. I think, as a society, we want to believe we are better than 30-40 years ago.
Case in point: For a Christmas gift, someone bought my daughter a pink cleaning set. It consisted of a small dust pan, a pretend vacuum, and a pink broom. Immediately I wanted to give the gift back. During my wife’s pregnancy, we decided we did not want to know the sex of the child. My reasoning was I did not want to gender my child. I wanted to avoid the pink onesies or the blue jumpers. I wanted to have neutral colours and an environment where colour choice was not a representation of gender association. I knew the pink or blue clothing was going to eventually come, but I wanted to prolong it. I also did not want an object that depicted a gender role associated with a colour. I decided not to give the gift back or throw it in the garbage. I mean, there was no ill will on the givers part. And really, it was a play toy.
Upon closer inspection of this toy, I noticed a sticker on the broom. On the sticker it said, “Just Like Mom’s” I am not even a women and I was offended. I can only imagine what women would feel after seeing this. (I have included a picture with this post. I would love to hear everyone’s opinion of this photo). I wonder what a women during the second wave of feminism would have thought receiving this toy? Maybe I have blinders on, but I would like to think we are trying to teach our children that men and women are equal. Our actions as parents and educators shape the thoughts and beliefs of our children and lay the foundations on how they perceive men and women.
The gender we assign our children at birth will match the gender they most closely associate themselves to be. There are occasions where the child will struggle to identify themselves with the assigned gender. For the most part though, parents hit the nail on the head (Ehrensaft, 2012). This ranges from the name given, the toque knitted by a family member, to the way in which people interact with the child. Moving forward, gender identity theory suggests that children will develop an understanding of their gender identity through observation and eventually imitate (Myers, 2008). As a parent, everything my daughter is exposed to at this age is within my control. While my daughter has not developed her reading abilities yet, I am sure she will soon and will understand the words on the broom. She has even begun to imitate my wife when she sweeps the floor. As my wife is cleaning up, my daughter will grab her broom and do the same. On the flip side, when I clean up, she does not pick up the broom and sweep. She is 2 ½ years old and is already identifying that pink, cleaning, and mommy are all related.
But a bigger question is how did this “toy” get past final inspection from the design team? Did a male team design this? I can with upmost certainty say that a female design team did not design this broom set. As a responsible parent trying to raise my child in a gender neutral environment, should I find out where the gift was purchased from and send the retailor an email?
I feel so strong about this issue because I want my daughters to grow up in a world where they are not segregated based on their sex or which gender they associate themselves with. I want to know that whichever profession they select, it will be based on free will and not society’s predetermined selection. I want my daughters to have the career that my mom was not able to have.
Am I a bad parent for not taking this “toy” away? Who knows? I think if I worry about every single gender stereotype or issue that arises, I will never sleep. Plus, I like the broom. It is great for getting the dust and dirt from the corners.
Ehrensaft, D. (2012). From gender identity disorder to gender identity creativity: True gender self child therapy. Journal of Homosexuality, 59(3), 337-356.
Myers, D. (2008). Exploring psychology, New York, Worth Publications.