I am excited to be on The Joy Cardin Show (Wisconsin Public Radio) on Tuesday, June 2. I will be on from 7:00- 8:00 am EST. I am thrilled to get to talk for an hour about gender stereotypes. I feel like it can actually be a conversation, instead of just a 3 minute book plug. There are callers with questions, so that should be something new for me.
This year started out as a challenge for all my “gender talk.” Usually, I only recommend things to parents if (a) research backs it up, and (b) it seems feasible to do as a parent (and because I have tried it). Earlier this year, I was interviewed by Sharlene Johnson at Parents Magazine about how to promote mixed-gender friendships in your kids (excerpts and the link to the full article are below). I was very clear about how birthday parties should be as mixed-gender as possible. Yada yada yada. This has always been the case for my kids and it had always been a non-issue.
Then… my own daughter’s 10th birthday rolls around. I asked what she wanted to do for it and who she wanted to invite. Within seconds, she said GetAirLex, a trampoline park in our town. Then she paused about who to invite. She started naming a bunch of girls – pretty much all the girls in her class. I asked about the boys. She is friends with the boys and eats lunch with them every day, so it seemed weird to not invite them if she was already inviting ALL the girls. (Plus, I was being loud-mouthed about mixed-gender parties a month before.) It would be one thing if it was just a few of her closest girl friends. But it seemed very stereotypical to invite literally one-half of the class.
I was surprised when she told me why. She said that she was friends with a few of the boys. But, if she invited them to the party, then the girls would think she “like”-liked them. She was definitely not wanting to send that message. Jeesh, the rumors about who likes whom start so early. So, I suggested she just invite everyone in her class. This way, there was no exclusion based on gender, but she didn’t have to worry about what others thought. Plus, this party was at a trampoline park, something everyone would enjoy.
So she did, and it was great. Most of the girls, and most of the boys, came. They all had fun. Shockingly, they managed to play together as friends. I am sure it helped that dodgeball was involved.
I was struck by how easy it had been. First, find an activity that everyone would enjoy (this would have been harder if she wanted to go get manicures). Then, simply invite everyone. If the other gender doesn’t come, it doesn’t really matter. At least you made an attempt to actually treat your friends as your friends.
Reconsider the Party
When your child’s birthday rolls around, keep in mind that all-boy or all-girl celebrations can perpetuate the idea that it’s okay to exclude a whole group of people. “So much happens at school that’s out of your control, but you can guide who comes to birthday parties and who plays at your house,” says Christia Spears Brown, Ph.D., a developmental psychologist at the University of Kentucky, in Lexington. Warm your child up to the idea of having a coed bash by brainstorming themes that aren’t gender-specific, like a bowling or circus-inspired event. Then suggest inviting friends of both sexes over to celebrate. If she’s hesitant, ask your child how she’d feel if her classmate Andrew had a party that she wasn’t invited to. Showing her the situation from an outsider’s perspective is likely just the nudge she needs to open the invite to everyone.
If your child is willing, schedule boy-girl playdates or encourage him to play with the girl next door. But to make the idea more appealing, you may need to suggest an activity they’d enjoy doing together, says Dr. Brown. Both sexes are likely to enjoy board games, forts, bubbles, modeling clay, sandboxes, building blocks, scooters and, well, far too many other things to list. Once your child has a few mixed-gender playdates under his belt, he’s more likely to engage with both sexes in the future — with or without your guidance.
My new book, is Parenting Beyond Pink and Blue: How to Raise Your Kids Free of Gender Stereotypes, is now available pretty much everywhere (even the Kindle version). I have been pleased with the reviews it has gotten so far. If you read it, I would love to hear your thoughts. On Thursday, April 24, I will be discussing the book on Good Day Chicago at 9:45am.
Brown, associate professor of developmental psychology at the University of Kentucky and a Psychology Today blogger, has researched the impact of gender stereotypes on children and teens. Here, she presents her argument to parents, asserting that the differences between boys and girls are far less pronounced than the media and some other authors contend (most notably, Michael Gurian, whose Gurian Institute trains educators to approach the learning styles of boys and girls quite differently). Wading through and interpreting the gender studies, Brown concludes that the way boys and girls learn, play, verbalize, and think is far more similar than dissimilar, though some differences do exist; for instance, boys are more physically aggressive and their brains develop at a slightly slower pace
than girls’. The mother of two girls, Brown urges parents to beware of studies that are flawed and overstated, and to place greater focus on the individual child. As Brown also explores her own feelings as a mother, she is not without humor, sharing for instance, a boy/girl pizza birthday party ambushed by the pizza maker’s unsolicited gender-based comments (“Boys always like pepperoni”). Though her anecdotes and observations can be amusing, Brown’s message is simultaneously a somber and far-reaching commentary on the ways that gender stereotyping needlessly limits and labels children. Agent: Linda Konner, Linda Konner Literary Agency. (Apr.)
Library Journal Review
Brown (developmental psychology, Univ. of Kentucky; Psychology Today, blogger at Beyond Pink and Blue), a leading specialist on the impact of gender stereotypes, offers a review of the latest research combined with a guide to raising children free of the negative influence of gender expectations and limitations. She argues that children are “free to flourish” when gender is deemphasized and covers both the neuroscience and cultural influences of sex in language that is accessible and at times even humorous. Beyond the issues of “pink and blue,” her assertions have a scientific rather than feminist flavor and will enlighten those even of the “boys will be boys” school. VERDICT Much quality literature has been published over the last few years on gender studies, and this title juxtaposes other works such as Leonard Sax’s Why Gender Matters: What Parents and Teachers Need To Know About the Emerging Science of Sex Differences. For all libraries serving parents.
Here is a clip of an interview I did for The United Way of the Bluegrass. They are a great model for businesses. First, they asked what research shows about gay youth. Second, they used scientific findings to help set their policy. Third, they developed a comprehensive non-discrimination policy (even when it wasn’t completely popular) to help protect youth, regardless of sexual orientation.
This was pretty cool moment for us. Our research on sexual harassment in schools was mentioned on CBS Evening News by Katie Couric. I just found the clip, even though it is a couple of years old.
I am always complaining about the lack of gender equality. It irritates me that I have to go into the boys’ aisles to find a tool set for my Maya or Grace. But, I find that this new trend toward gender equality is even more irritating. Now, not only can you buy Legos in pink and purple, but you can also buy a Nerf Gun in pink and purple.
I don’t think this is the kind of equality so many of us want. First, it is still a “Girl” toy, obvious to anyone with the color and models on the box. It still strongly signals to children that only girls should play with this toy (and conversely, that only boys should play with the other Nerf guns).
The toy may be the same, but the segregation remains.
Second, I just don’t want my kids (whether they be boys or girls) to play with guns. I know that makes me sound prudish, but guns are just not an okay toy in a Sandy Hook world. Guns ultimately kill people (even if you think people kill people, it is still people holding guns). Nowadays, those guns are often being wielded by children. Why should I want my daughter to play with a toy that simulates killing? I wouldn’t want my sons to do that. Regardless of people’s opinions about gun control, it seems this type of play and “fun” should be a shrinking trend, not a growing one.
Why don’t we see more “prosocial” toys cross the gender aisle? (God forbid we actually we get rid of the gender aisles). I would love to see dolls marketed to boys. Boys could definitely use more practice care-taking and being nurturing. Or make tool sets available in the girls’ section. I want my daughters to be competent with tools. These are important skills all children should develop. Firing a gun, less so.
This summer, I decided it was time to introduce Maya to some of my favorite books. There is probably no coincidence in the fact that I come from the South, was always drawn to books that deal with racial inequality in the South, and grew up to study race and gender stereotypes. So my favorite books seem to have a common theme, although that was never purposeful. But this recent group of readings has led to some difficult conversations that I just hope aren’t too depressing for a 9 year old.
First, we read Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. I loved that book as a kid. It is always interesting to re-read books you loved as a kid, as an adult. We are now reading To Kill a Mockingbird. That book may be a little too old for her, but we are wading into it anyway. Last night we watched the movie (one of the few times the movie is as good as the book). She is really into them.
One thing I noticed, in my adult-brain reread of these, is that both are told from the perspective of a girl. I obviously couldn’t articulate that as a kid, but I wonder how much that influenced me. It is a very different reading experience when you can more easily place yourself into the narrator’s shoes, and imagine what you would feel like if you were transported into that time and that place. Maya picked up on it. It definitely makes her more engaged. It makes me want to seek out more stories told from the perspective of a girl (beyond the Ramona Quimby and Judy Blume category). Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.
These books have also forced me to talk about the ugliness of racial inequality. Kids at school are taught that Martin Luther King came, everyone marched to Washington, and then racism was gone forever. But I know that is not the case. It isn’t 1950, lunch counters don’t even exist anymore, but it still happens. (If you disagree, check this out). This is especially tough because her best friend is African American, and so anything negative has a very personal feel for her. I don’t even tell her about my own research which shows how biased teachers are in her own school district against the Latino kids in their classes. I did talk about the unfairness of bans on same-sex marriage (which she knows about from the court issues) and how I see the parallels between that and the taboos of interracial relationships in Mockingbird.
What my take home message ended up being: Don’t be sad about it, get mad. Get mad when you see people being treated unfairly. And then do something about it. The only way times have changed is when good people speak up (Atticus Finch included). It is definitely a challenge for me as a parent to talk about bad things in the world, past and present, and end on a message of hope and activism. I am a real ball of fun as a mom. The summer of social inequality. What every little kid dreams of!