Stereotyping gender roles for children is not uncommon. We have observed this in children’s clothing, toys, activities, and even targetted TV programmes. Gender stereotyping revolves around the notion that certain ideas and activities are better suited to a person based on their biological sex. Males are supposed to like masculine things and females are supposed to like feminine things. As with any other concept, the interpretation of what is masculine and what is feminine has evolved, but the active and passive divide has stayed on.
Stereotyping children is akin to imposing certain rules on them which, in turn, shape the paths they are likely to follow in their lives – opening up some avenues but closing down others. Consequently, it is not far removed to say that women getting lesser wages than men, or men getting belittled for showing emotion, is a result of age-old gender stereotyping and conditioning. Gender stereotyping serves no functional purpose and we, as a society, must acknowledge the need to recognise its existence and the need to dismantle it.
However, giving credit where it’s due, parents these days are increasingly and actively trying to break away from these stereotypes. There’s no reason to stereotype young children based on sex alone. Instead, children should be free to choose who they want to be and our job, as parents and members of society, is to empower them. The first step to raise children without engaging in gender bias is to start as early as possible.
Confused about where you should start? Here are a few tips that you, as a parent, can follow:
This means that there is no such thing as “girl toys” and “boy toys”. Trucks, dolls, legos, Meccano sets – are for all. Allow your children the opportunity to explore all the toys at the toys section. Don’t be quick to steer your daughter towards the dolls or your sons to the cars. Children must learn at an early age that there are no boundaries at playtime.
Create a suitable environment
This means that for starters, you should avoid all gender-stereotyped colour and theme associations around your children. Create an environment that would allow your child to learn and explore rather than imposing activities that are typically associated with their biological sex. Include plants, books, and ant-farms in their learning environments; thus helping them engage their energy creatively. This will help the child to adapt to changing norms from earlier on.
Freedom of expression
It may be fairly obvious but your child must be aware that they have the freedom to pursue any activity they find interesting. Do not make choices for your children based on their sex – your son may not want to learn football and your daughter need not want to learn to dance. Introduce your children to various activities and see what interests them. Keep in mind that in the pursuit to not conform to gender norms, you do not have to force your son into a tutu. Let your child know that they have a safe space to express themselves – whether it’s dressing-up or role-playing.
Share chores with your partner
Your children need to be led by example. As they grow, they must see that their parents are practising what they preach. Children have to see that gender does not define the roles you play at home. Do not assign yourself and your partner chores that are typically attached to your sex; instead, makes sure that both of you share chores. Gender stereotypes at home play a big role in shaping your child’s perspective of gender norms. You must lead the way in showing them that biological sex does not determine what your chores, interests or ambitions are. You can use this opportunity to teach your children about sexism. Help them recognise that bias exists and that the larger society differentiates based on sex; however, let them know that they are free to choose who they want to be and that stereotypes are not a reflection of their abilities but of the culture.
Introduce them to role models
Introduce your children to role models like male chefs, female mechanics, etc. This will allow them to learn about people who have challenged gender stereotypes and express themselves better.
Don’t eliminate the gender entirely
Your aim as a parent is not to erase gender completely, but to eliminate gender norms. By ensuring that gender is not a limiting factor, your child will see the irrelevance of gender norms. Teach them about gender equality instead.
(Edited by Kanishk)