Book is now available

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.


book cover


Publisher’s Weekly

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.


Is Guns for Girls what gender equality really means?

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.

girls nerf

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.

Gender Differences: The Science versus the Stereotypes

Here is my talk I gave as part of a series at UK called “What’s New in Science.” It was geared toward middle and high school students and students, as well as parents. The punch line is that most of what we think are innate gender differences are really not. I decided my goal in life is to help people learn the difference between good science and crap.

Another barrier down

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.


Happy Wife, Happy Life isn’t so hard after all


A new study in Journal of Family Issues highlights another way gender stereotypes screw us up. The researchers were looking at what predicted happy marriages (in straight couples). It seems having a wife who is happy with the marriage makes everyone happier. That old saying “happy wife, happy life” seems to be true for men. But what makes wives happier? Having  husbands who does chores with them, side-by-side. Liking cleaning the kitchen together, one rinses the dishes off and one loads the dishwasher kind of thing. Also, even more important than doing chores together, is having a husband who spends quality time with the kids. Things like reading a bedtime book or talking to them about their day.

It seems that doing those activities that are often relegated to women (housework and childcare) is the best way for men to have happier marriages. Plus, they get a clean house and close relationships with their kids to boot. A pretty good argument for ditching the idea of “women’s work”.


Ode to Billie Jean, and thanks to 40 years of girls in cleats




Softball season for Maya ends tomorrow. Tomorrow night, they play their “Championship Game.” Really, she is in a learning league where the goal is to help kids improve their softball skills. In other words, the really good players are there, but few in number. This is a good fit for Maya, as the poor girl was thrown into the shallow end of the athletic gene pool. But she has fun and I think it is important to play something. The importance of athletics for girls, even a non-athletic girl, has been reinforced lately in the news. The reason for the news stories: the 40th anniversary of Title IX.

Times have changed so much since Title IX was passed in 1972. Back  then, about the time I was born, phones were barbarically attached to the wall by a cord. Gas station attendants waited by your car window while you told them to “Fill it up, unleaded.” Our massive console television, with the 2 knobs that got 5 channels (the 3 networks plus PBS and the local UHF channel) took up an entire wall of our wood paneled living room. Computers were something you might see at work but never imagined holding on your lap while sitting on your couch. And, only 7 percent of all high school athletes were girls. That has changed tenfold in 40 years. Girls now make up 41 percent of high school athletes.

It isn’t just a numbers thing. Even the cultural thinking about girls in sports has changed in 40 years. Back then, only hardcore athletic girls played sports (and were presumed to be lesbians). About this time, a 55-year-old former tennis player, Bobby Riggs, was so convinced that only men were really athletes that he challenged the top female tennis player in the world to a match. Luckily, Billie Jean King kicked his ass, a victory that meant far more than the prize money she won. Our own research shows this cultural shift. When my graduate student, Jenna (who happens to be Maya’s softball coach), asked middle school kids to describe a popular girl, a lot of kids, both boys and girls, described a girl who is good at sports. That would not have happened even 15 years ago.

Things aren’t perfect yet. Twenty percent of the public does not support Title IX. They think it “takes away” from the “real sports,” like football and basketball. And, the most popular female athletes are the ones who happen to be attractive and who like to pose in their underwear on mens‘ magazine covers.

But regardless of how far girls in sports have come, and how far they still have to go, playing sports is simply good for girls. When they play sports, they are less likely to drink, smoke, be depressed or anxious, get pregnant, or think poorly about their bodies. Think this doesn’t relate to your kids?

Keep in mind that recent studies show that 12 percent of 10- and 11-year old girls want to be thinner, 27 percent of 11- to 16-year old girls have drunk so much that they have been sick or out of control, and more than 35 percent of 16- to 21-year old girls admit to having unprotected sex. Playing sports reduces these numbers.

No one really knows why sports are so good for girls. Maybe it is focusing on their bodies being strong and powerful (rather than skinny and simply something for boys to ogle) that helps girls feel empowered, maybe it is relying on teammates that helps girls feel part of something bigger than themselves, maybe it is having a group of adults literally and figuratively cheering them on that boosts their self-esteem. Whatever the reason, sports are good for all girls, not just the athletic ones. So thanks to the 40 years of girls who played sports even when it wasn’t cool. And even though my girl likes to play in the dirt instead of watch for pop flies, and has been hit by a pitch more than once this season, she will always play something, whatever something she finds the most fun, regardless of the scoreboard.

5 Things Sally Ride Can Teach Every Girl

Sally Ride sadly died this week. She was 61. Her legacy was that she was the first American women in space. But I think her influence went far beyond that. As I read about her life, I realize her life can teach everyone – particularly girls – several lessons, none of which involve physics.


1. Be prepared, but then take a chance. Sally Ride didn’t really grow up dreaming of being an astronaut. After all, before her, astronauts were only men and usually test pilots. But she was finishing her PhD in physics from Stanford when she read an ad in the school newspaper. NASA was hiring scientists, so she took a chance and applied. It wasn’t part of the plan. Sometimes the best things in life come from a combination of preparation, luck, and the nerve to simply try.  Life sitting on the sidelines isn’t very interesting.   ​

2. Be smart. Many times girls are afraid of being really smart. I see this in my students all of the time. Sexy and well-liked are often competing goals for girls today. As a young girl, Sally Ride played with a chemistry set and a telescope. It seems to have paid off.  Smart is cool.

3. Be a leader by being outspoken about things you know about. She didn’t just rest on the laurels of her trips to space.  After writing an influential report for NASA, she was named the first director of NASA’s Office of Exploration. She was the only person to serve on commissions investigating both the Challenger and Columbia space shuttle disasters. If you are knowledgable about something (and if you aren’t, get knowledgable), then speak up, be heard, lead.

4. Be entrepreneurial.​ She founded her own company , Sally Ride Science, to help motivate young girls and boys to stick with their interests in science and to consider pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering, and math. She also initiated and directed several NASA-funded education programs.  Her passion was inspiring young people to pursue science. She turned her passion into action.

5. Be unique and bold. She was the first. Even now, there aren’t many women who have PhDs in physics. I am sure it was hard. Not the physics part (although I can’t imagine that was easy), but the being-first part. She didn’t have a model for how to do it, or group of women to sit around and chat about the trials and tribulations of space travel. But just because there weren’t many others, she pursued her goals anyway.  I have lots of female students who don’t want to move away from home even though their dream job/graduate program/life’s ambition is somewhere else. They settle for the easy because they are scared of the unknown. It breaks my heart, because their potential remains untapped. Be bold. Failure is not the worst case scenario; a life of what-ifs is.

Temporary color-blindness

I totally recognize that Grace looks like a linebacker for the Wildcat Football team. The blue and black, with the shoulder pads, is pretty boyish, even for me. The swimsuit was a new purchase. But an old irritation.


We were at Seaside last week for our family vacation. Three days into the trip, Grace falls face first into the swimming pool. She goes underwater, swallows some chlorine, and ages her parents 20 years in the process. We immediately realize, for our sanity, she needs the swimsuit with the life jacket built in.  We rushed to the only place that sells this sort of thing, a fancy resort shopping boutique, the kind that sells 42 different sarongs with matching earrings and tee-shirts for $80. Alas, they offered two versions of the swimsuits we were searching for: one entirely the color of Pepto-Bismol and this one.  Now, I had spent the previous day whining about Grace’s clothes and how every single article of clothing she had was either entirely pink or had pink in it (or pink’s close cousin, purple). So, I couldn’t stomach one more pink item.

Kris seemed to sense this, and without my saying a word, said “We can get the blue one.” I sighed, dejected, and uttered, “Thank you.”

I was very thankful for a husband who didn’t mind dressing his daughter in what was clearly a boy’s suit. I was irritated, however, at the swimsuit makers who only see in pink and blue. Why not offer a cute water-themed suit in blue and green, or a bright red, orange, or yellow suit everyone would like? Why must every single decision parents make be based on their child’s gender?  It was irritating that I had to make a choice, either reinforce that Grace should wear only one color for her entire childhood or dress her like a boy. There was no neutral option. No middle ground.

Imagine as an adult only being able to wear one color. Your room is that color, your office that color, your car that color, your clothes, hats, shoes, and coats that color. It would definitely make a statement, wouldn’t it? It makes a statement for kids as well. Our obsession with putting our girls in pink and our boys in blue tells kids, and the wider world, that boys and girls are two different species-never to be confused with one another.  Most parents would be horrified to have their son called a “she.”

I know that a swimsuit color is a little thing. But these little things add up.

Kids are raised into adults by the little things, the day-to-day choices and off-handed comments. These things dictate how the world views them, which over time shapes how they view themselves.

Grace, that day, was dressed as a boy because I was too cranky to handle any more pink.  But the stranger next to us commented on how strong she was, not on how cute she was. In her usual “girl clothes”, she is frequently complimented on being cute. Her behavior wasn’t different, only other people’s perceptions of her differed based on my limited color options.  A world that is only pink or only blue means some kids only hear how cute they are and some kids only hear how strong they are. Grace is both, strong and cute, and I just wish everyone else saw it more often, even without the shoulder pads.

At least it isn’t as bad as this…..Check out these great pictures which highlight how monochromatic childhood is.