“Why is my son wearing a dress?!” I will never forget the look of sheer horror on the mother’s face as she walked into the preschool I worked at only to see her son playing dress-up in a princess outfit. What is it about gender roles and gender stereotypes that so quickly set us off and makes us nervous? Author Craig Pomranz and I explore just that in this episode of the podcast. We also talk a bit about the global gender gap, gender inequality, and ways to raise awareness about how gender stereotypes harm us as a society. To top it all off, we explore some practical ways to combat gender stereotypes as a family.
Be sure to give it a listen below and then keep reading for additional resources and information!
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Extras From the Podcast Episode
This is the link you need if you’d like to learn more about Boyish and the other two books being released in India. Last but not least, you definitely want to take the time to listen to the special song inspired by Made By Raffi.
Practical Ways to Promote Gender Equality at Home
At Families Embracing Diversity, we are always looking for practical solutions for parents who want a better world for their kids. So instead of just talking about how to combat gender stereotypes, we dove into some practical ways you can make a difference in your home and community.
Try Out New Roles
Pick a day of the week to explore new things as a family. Have everyone join in to cook dinner, fix the car, play baseball, or dance ballet. As Craig mentions in the podcast episode, you don’t have to do it forever. The point is just to try something new and see if you like it.
You could also use this day each week to explore other cultures, languages, traditions, etc. The possibilities are endless!
We all have emotions. They are normal and good. Yet, somewhere along the way, boys learn that showing emotional sensitivity is “girly”. Sadly, these stereotypes harm boys in very real ways. The often unconscious association with emotions and femininity, or even weakness, can lead to suppressed emotions, low self-esteem, strained relationships, and mental health issues.
Instead of plodding along in those entrenched beliefs and cultural normals, talk with your kids, especially your boys, about emotions. Label emotions. Let your kids see you deal with your feelings and give them the tools they need to navigate theirs.
Here are some resources for fostering emotional awareness in your family life:
Teach Kids to Calm Down offers a great explanation of how our emotions influence us and our kids. You can also access this helpful visual tool for emotional regulation in our resource library.
Mindful.org has some awesome tips for practicing mindfulness with kids and guided meditations.
PBS for Parents offers an amazing age-by-age guide to emotional development and some activities you can do together to foster emotional well-being.
Read Children’s Books That Promote Gender Diversity
There are so many great books that promote gender diversity. Please note that none of the books on this list address sexuality. I chose titles that specifically explore gender stereotypes and gender bias.
Made by Raffi by Craig Pomranz
This is a beautiful story about a boy who feels different than the other boys. While most boys are busy loudly rough-housing on the playground, Raffi is content knitting with his teacher. In the end, he finds fulfillment by going against the gender norms and just being himself. He also shows his classmates that “tom girls” are pretty cool too.
Pink is for Boys by Robb Pearlman
Just like all toys are for all kids, all colors are for all people too! This book empowers kids to feel free to express themselves in any color and combats the cultural norms that associate colors with gender.
I’m A Girl by Yasmeen Isamail
A young girl is frequently mistaken for a boy because she prefers baggy shorts, t-shirts and playing outdoors. One day she meets a boy who would rather play with dolls and dresses. The unlikely pair realize they have more in common than it would appear.
The Sissy Duckling by Harvey Fierstein and Henry Cole
This book is a great segway into the conversations about teasing we outline at the bottom of this post. The story challenges gender stereotypes but also shows that sometimes when you act outside of the gender expectations set by society, life isn’t always easy. This book will allow you to talk about the impact of words and role play our talk through how your child could react if he or she is ever in a similar situation.
If my book list doesn’t fit your kiddo’s age range, Lifting Limits has some great book recommendations that go against gender stereotypes for ages 2-11.
Welcoming Schools has a list of books for middle grades.
The New York Public Library offers a great list of options for teens.
Promote Gender Equality Through Play
Are dolls only for girls and cars only for boys? Of course not! All kids should be allowed to play with all kinds of toys, regardless of their gender. This allows them to explore different aspects of their personalities, develops empathy, and prepares them for life.
As Craig so eloquently said, limiting your child based on their gender not only limits learning but it limits us as people as well.
How to Ensure Your Child Plays With Toys that Promote Gender Equality
If your child is in childcare, he or she is already introduced to a variety of play materials. If not, have as many play dates with girls as you do with boys so that your child can experience diverse play options. You can also look for libraries and community centers that have play spaces.
If neither of those options are available to you and you need to add some toys that promote gender equality to your home, here are a few items that we generally label as “girl toys” or “boy toys” that are provide beneficial learning experiences for all children.
- Dolls- We all interact with small children and need to know how to properly hold, care for, and love smaller beings. Dolls are a great way for all kids to practice those skills.
- Cars- Most people will ride in a car at some point in their life. Many will also drive a car. Therefore, it is perfectly appropriate for boys and girls to play with toy cars. Plus the back and forth motion is a great way to teach cause and effect.
- Dishes and Kitchens- We all eat. Most of us need to know how to cook. So, yes your boys should play with the kitchen, fake foods and dish sets just as much as your girls.
- Dress up- Allowing kids to dress up in whatever clothing they are drawn to is a great way to foster creativity and imagination. It also allows kids to explore different facets of their personality. A boy in a princess dress shouldn’t be any more shocking than a girl in a firefighter outfit. Kids explore and learn through play. Let them explore freely.
Here are some examples of high quality early childhood toys that are beneficial for all kids:
Dealing With Bullies
But what will people say?
If you are fearful of letting your child explore interests that go against the societal gender roles because he or she, or even you as a parent, might be judged or bullied, fear not. We’ve got some tips for that too.
As Craig mentions in the podcast episode, bullying is, unfortunately, part of life. Instead of trying to protect our children from bullying ever happening to them, spend just as much time teaching them how to react to and deal with the teasing.
**Although the word bullying was used in the podcast, I am going to add a bit to our commentary here. Teasing is unavoidable. If it becomes incessant, harmful bullying then there is a problem that needs intervention. However, if your child is empowered to know how to deal with the teasing, hopefully, it will never get to that point.
Stopbullying.gov is a great resource for parents looking for some tips to help navigate bullying.
They recommend you:
- Have conversations about bullying, what it is, and how to stand up for yourself.
- Empower your child to tell an adult.
- Foster self-confidence and teach self-defense (not necessarily fighting but using your words and standing up for yourself).
More Resources For Fighting Gender Stereotypes
If you’d like to learn more about combatting gender stereotypes with your family, here are a few other resources to check out:
- Include NYC has a wonderful article about how gender develops and a reflection packet to help parents explore ways they may be perpetuating gender stereotypes.
- Gender Spectrum offers an actionable PDF that outlines how parents can talk with their kids about gender diversity and promoting gender equality.
We hope that this blog post has inspired you to think about how gender stereotypes limit both our children and ourselves. There are many things we can do as families to combat these limiting beliefs, from reading books that break down gender stereotypes to experimenting with new roles in our homes. If you found this information helpful, we’d love for you to join our community of parents who want a better world for their kids. You will receive more thought provoking conversations and actionable resources, just like this one, every week.