Welcome to Part 2 of Gender Identity 101: Kids Want Pizza Rolls, Not Gender Roles!
Every time I take my three year old to pretty much any store, we have to have the same conversation about how silly it is that there are separate aisles for “boy toys” and “girl toys.” Our world pressures kids (and adults) to fit in a “box” that tells my daughter that she is expected to be pretty, nice, nurturing, and love princesses and tea parties. If she were a boy she would be expected to be athletic, brave, crave violence, and love superheroes and toy trucks. So many rigid stereotypes already in place, just based on the genitals she was born with.
As the Education Director at Bridgercare, I talk to kids of all ages about gender. It’s sad to me that many kindergarteners (mostly boys) will continue to insist that some toys are only for boys, no matter how many girls in the class say they like football, Nerf guns or think Spiderman is the coolest.
It’s almost sadder to ask 5th graders, “What do men stereotypically eat and drink?” and practically in unison they yell, “Meat! Beer! Whiskey!” They can tell you just as quickly that women are expected to cook, clean and raise children – all while looking pretty and drinking a pumpkin spice latte!
When I first got pregnant with my daughter, I told myself it didn’t matter what genitals she was born with – my partner and I would do our best to provide her with the same variety of toys, clothes, and activities either way and would have the same expectations for how she was expected to behave. And then came my 20-week ultrasound. I’m more than a bit ashamed to admit that when that ultrasound tech typed “girl” on the image, a wave of relief swept over me because while everyone feels pressured to conform to gender stereotypes, it can be easier for girls to buck those stereotypes. If my daughter wears fire truck pajamas, plays in the mud with her trucks and wants to grow up to be a plumber (all true for her), not everyone will be supportive, but many people will applaud her for breaking those stereotypes. But if a little boy wants to wear a tutu, fix his doll’s hair and grow up to be a nurse, he will likely feel pressure from all sides to give those things up and behave more as a boy “should.”
There’s nothing wrong with little girls liking pink, owning glittery shoes or pretending to be a ballerina (all things my daughter also does). Nor is there anything wrong with boys who want to play basketball, have short hair or spend hours with their train set. There’s only a problem when children aren’t given the choice, but instead are bombarded with messages (by family, friends, their schools and the media) that there is a “right” way to be a boy or a girl.
It’s a conscious choice, that requires a fair bit of effort and resources that not everyone has, to give our daughter a wide variety of opportunities to explore who she really is, free of pressure based on her gender. Before she was born, we painted her room green and brown. In addition to all the pink dresses we were given, I scoured thrift stores for outfits with dinosaurs, ducks, trains and animals and she wore them. Over the years as friends and family buy her more dolls, princess sticker books and pink bicycles, we’ve focused on buying more “masculine” toys to balance things out – tool belts, a marble run game and a glow in the dark dinosaur puzzle.
Giving our daughter options is only one way we show her that it’s ok for everyone to look, dress, choose toys and just generally be the person they truly are. There are so many other ways we’re attempting to teach her that her gender does not define her (or anyone else), but that’s a topic for another article!
Stay tuned for Part 3 of Gender Identity 101 🙂
Written by Cami Armijo-Grover. Cami has been the Education Director at Bridgercare (Montana’s largest family planning clinic) for over four years. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org!