I appreciate being named to the 13 Must Read Parenting Books by Appreciate Goods. Especially because I am a big fan of Happiest Baby on the Block and Einstein Never Used Flash Cards (they were both on my nightstand when I was a new parent). Check out the rest of their list:
I was very glad to hear that Target is no longer going to segregate their toys into boys’ toys and girls’ toys. We shop at Target all of the time, and I have kids who buy many of their toys in the boy section. Grace loves all things superheroes and Maya loves Legos. It will be nice to not force them into an aisle basically labeled “not for you.”
I have also found it interesting how much attention this is getting. I am about to do my third interview in two days on this topic. And my “fans” on the internet have loved my interviews. I say this as sarcastically as possible. One person suggested I was assaulting Christianity. Not my intention AT ALL. I just want kids to be able to buy whatever toys they enjoy without being made to feel weird about it. Simple as that. I just think let’s let “Toys be toys.”
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.
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.
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!
Pretty cool that the U.S. Secret Service is now headed by a woman, Julia A. Pierson, for the first time. She worked there for 30 years and worked her way up from the bottom. Not exactly a female-friendly job or culture, so it will be interesting to see how this leads to changes. Probably no more hooker visits while on trips, I am guessing.
(Some of these blogs come out of season because I am transferring from my old website)
The week before college starts in the fall, hundreds of women vie for the coveted spots in a sorority. During this week, I begin to feel like Jane Goodall. Groups of college women all dressed alike walk around campus in herds. The same dress, the same shoes, the same hair. Some are better than others at navigating the high heels, but I think I would have an easier time distinguishing a group of chimps. The craziest type of individuality any of them showed was picking a different color purse.
I must admit, I never did any of this as a college student. I went to a small school that (I think) had one sorority. But I have lots of students who are in sororities, so I understand the social value of the organization. I don’t judge the sorority. I just think this stuff i crazy. At Kentucky, the girls also dress identically for football games. Same blue, black, and white dress and same brown boots. What is difficult to understand is the extreme conformity. They all work so hard to look like the other girls. It must be exhausting. They drank some powerful Kool-Aid.
Social psychology has taught us about the irony of individuals and groups. We desperately want to fit in, but at the same time, we desperately want to be perceived as unique. That’s a tough line to walk.
Considering how much women at this age are objectified, it is particularly disturbing to see conformity beat out individuality so strongly. It isn’t even a close match. It is clearly much better to fit an ideal image of a sorority girl than be thought of as an actual individualized person. I know this isn’t the message I want 19 year old girls to leave with. Just doing something because your friends are doing it is particularly dangerous in a college atmosphere of alcohol binge drinking and unprotected sex.
So, bring on the girls in the non-matching dress, the comfortable shoes, and the curly hair. Because I want to celebrate the girls who say, “Take me as I am or don’t take me at all!”