Gendering Our Children

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.

broom2broom1

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.

Further Reading:

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.

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5 responses

  1. Sarah Mazerolle
    Hey Jason!
    I thoroughly enjoyed reading your perspective as a father on gendering, great to see your perspective and experiences. While I was growing up I had an opposite lifestyle to you where both my parents worked but my father worked outside and cooked, cleaned, and gardened while my mother was not the nurturing type and was also pretty handy with a wrench, so I was exposed to a male doing “female” stereotypical things as well as traditional female/male roles when visiting friends or my sisters who had the lifestyle of “male bread winners” and “female nurturers”. My parents did not necessarily worry about me being gendered, but it just happened to be that I received an equal mixture of being raised by men and women (uncles, aunts, brothers and sisters) and being raised by a man who was unafraid of doing non stereotypical things so I did not feel a male-female divide as much as other children.
    I believe it is definitely a great move for anyone to try to raise their children neutral but at times it does not work, someone will always buy a pink or blue toy at some point. My godchildren, one female and one male, were raised in a neutral environment and I am even guilty of buying gendered toys, it’s just less of a thought process you know? Fortunately for them, their parents encourage them to play with each other’s toys even if it is gendered so they get a mix. In my personal opinion however I believe a more effective way of trying not to gender would be to give children a mixture as they grow up, a father teaching their son about flowers, or a mom bringing her daughter to a football game, and always letting children know that whatever they choose to do it is okay. I feel that style helped me as I grew up because I have some male-typical traits as well as female-typical and I do not feel awkward haha!
    Marketing tactics however, I believe are absolutely messed up. The broom your daughter has that says “Just like moms”, really upsets me because why should there be a gender divide on a broom? And WHY should a broom be considered a toy at all, it’s a cleaning tool, get off the toy shelves!
    Commercials for diapers or cleaning products that always depict women as the ones who care or clean, or beer commercials who depict men as beer drinkers. Well my father cleaned more than my mom, and I love a good beer so marketers maybe need to be made aware of how awful it is to promote gender expectations. There was an incident where a group of fathers got upset with Huggies I believe for not depicting fathers as caretakers to their children, and Huggies apologized and began to promote dad’s as caregivers. Perhaps we need to express ourselves to these companies?
    I don’t know, but I believe as long as children are able to do what makes them happy they can identify to whatever gender they like but also have the freedom of acting in any way they like.
    End rant haha!

  2. Jason – great post!
    First of all, I think something like this is a great topic, one reason being that everyone has had an experience related to this. Whether they grew up in a family like yours with their mother being the “dominant role” for cleaning, cooking, etc., or if they grew up in a home like Sarah’s, where roles tended to be reversed, one way or another, we all had some type of influence on this subject in our lives. Second, I’d like to say that for me, a female (as cheesy as this sounds), it means a lot to me that a male would have this point of view and take such a stand on an issue like this.

    With my experiences growing up, I was fortunate to have a fairly “gender neutral” household to be welcomed into. Both my mom and dad spent time cooking and cleaning, and both my mom and dad spent time doing things like mowing the lawn and other yard work. I am the youngest of four children, and we all had chores that included what might have been seen as “male” or “female” jobs (this included my two older sisters and my brother – the oldest). Despite this, my older siblings especially were showered with toys that were “gendered”. In some cases, similar to the cleaning set your daughter received, they were from extended family members or friends, but I’m sure some were bought by my parents. Even though my parents clearly made the effort to make sure household chores were everyone’s responsibility, isn’t it interesting that they still were concerned with “boy” and “girl” toys? I have no doubt that they meant no harm by this, as I’m sure many people don’t – it’s just what we naturally tend to do.

    Since I was the last child, I received the least amount of new toys. This meant that I could choose to play with whatever I want – we had girl, boy, and neutral toys. For some reason, I tended to draw more enjoyment from toys that were less “girly”. Yes, I played with the kitchen sets and the occasional doll, but mostly I loved playing with my brother’s old toys – tool sets, dinky cars, lego and hockey cards. I’m definitely thankful that I was given this opportunity to make the choices myself.

    It’s interesting how quickly we will go and buy a pink dress for a new baby girl, or plaid shirt for a baby boy, but then when we look at our society as a whole and wonder why we find it so difficult to find gender neutral toys, or even a mini broom that doesn’t say “just like mom’s” on it. As a society, will we ever break free from binding our children to the traditional colors, toys and activities that are tied to their gender? Who knows. But can we do our best to make that change for our own children and the generation to come? Absolutely.

  3. Alex Haiart
    Great write up Jason! I found this blog post very interesting.
    You are absolutely right. From second we know the sex of our unborn child(or newborn), we automatically think of gender roles and stereotypes that our children will grow up with. From the colour of our walls to the toys we play with and clothes we wear, we are socialized by all of societies agents to play, talk and behave a certain way that runs with our gender.
    As mentioned in class, I come from a family of four boys. This being said, I was not exposed to much “feminine” socialization products. Playing involved building blocks and sporting equipment. I never had a sister where I got to play with her dolls or kitchen-set. Do I feel as if I missed out on a “full childhood”? Not at all.
    My upbringing has not made me incentive or women or feel as if they need special treatment. Instead, I believe it has made me feel as if gender should not be a huge deal. I was never socialized to learn about being “feminine”, thus giving me the opportunity to learn and make my own ideology and theory about gender.
    Again, great post Jason.

  4. I agree, Jason, there was a time when Dad brought home the bacon and Mom cooked it. Our role models in the home and on TV confirmed it. Then women began to find work and get jobs to increase the family income. It was a tough sell to those strong rugged males to do the laundry, prepare a meal, or do other ‘women’s work’. Are we making progress? Our class discussion encourages us to look at the changes and continue to bring balance to our world. Don’t you just love the dad who seems to see both genders of equal value? He doesn’t want his children classified girl or boy stereotypes. Role models (parents, teachers and siblings) lay the foundation for our children. Will this century see all roadblocks removed?
    – Ashley O.

  5. Jason, I agree completely with your post! I can’t believe that toy got passed the inspection. I know I am putting a stereotype on males right now, but when I was in high school, a lot of guys would make comments to females saying “get back in the kitchen, or go clean something, that’s what you guys do best”. I know most of the time they are saying it as a joke, but most girls take offense to this and do not find it funny. (And I don’t mean all guys think like that). It seems that when I see people having children in today’s society, they are all concerned about the pink and the blue; just like you stated. It is good to know that there are some parents out there that are aware the the multiple gender issues and are allowing their kids to pick and choose how they are going to learn about gender while growing up!
    Great post!
    Sarah Holt

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