teaching children about gender

I had several different ideas for a blog post today, but all of them went out the window after our bedtime experience.

Goobie is teething.  Again.  Still.  She’s nearly 2.5, and she just got the first of her molars.  (She didn’t get her first tooth until she was nearly 1.)  At any rate, when she’s teething, Goobie is a totally different girl.  She’s tired and cranky, she’s clingy and whiny, she’s WAY over-sensitive, and she’s not especially nice to play with.  At bedtime this mood issue came into play:  she decided she wanted her monkey jammies from this past winter; she HAD to have those monkey jammies.  We were near breakdown.

Enter: Salvation.  My sister has three girls, all Peatie’s age and older.  She recently passed down some Hello Kitty nightgowns.  Now, I generally don’t like character wear, but I do bend my rules when it’s free.  So I pulled out a “new” Hello Kitty nightgown in her size: compromise.

When we entered the bathroom for toothbrushing, Peatie noticed the new gown.  “What is that?” he asked, following up with, “I want one, too!”

Now throughout this week, Goobs has been discovering “new” items in her dresser passed on from her visiting cousins.  Peatie has run excitedly to his dresser, only to find the same old collection of shirts.  Sadly, these shirts were purchased on clearance last year, before he developed clothing preferences.  I found lots of nice stripey shirts.  This year Peatie has clothing preferences; he does NOT prefer stripes.  He likes shirts with pictures or words—shirts like his sister keeps getting.

This time, Mommy could avoid disappointment: I had an identical nightgown in his size!  I dashed to Goobie’s room and fetched it triumphantly.  As I pulled the brilliant pink gown over his smiling face, I noticed my husband frowning in disapproval.  “I don’t want him to think this is normal,” he said.  “Other kids will make fun of him.”

So here’s the issue: at what point and to what extent should gender roles be taught?

To some extent, I think boys have gotten shafted.  Any remotely exciting element of boyhood—trains, cars and trucks, sports—is now pretty much open to girls (with the exception of train underwear—another of my character-wear exceptions—which my daughter dearly wishes they’d make for girls).  Girls, on the other hand, have exclusive rights to flouncy pink tutus, glittery shirts, snazzy hairdos with bows and barrettes, nail polish, and lots of similar bells and whistles, which, to many a little guy, look pretty exciting.

I don’t stick my son in a dress for church or let him go to the store with bows in his hair, but is there harm in letting him jump around the house in his sister’s tutu?   And is it horrible that I DO let my daughter wear some of her brother’s old clothes, and I once bought her shoes with diggers on the sides because she loved them and so did I?  (Total double standard—why is our society like this?)

Besides the biology and the terminology, what should be taught regarding gender roles?

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2 thoughts on “teaching children about gender

  1. It is a shame that gender roles but such ridged rules on kids, kids who just want to play, learn, and express themselves. Will it really damage a boy to wear pink? Will it really damage a girl to play in the mud with a tonka truck? What could be damaging is “no, you can’t do that you are a boy/girl”. I kept hearing that when I was younger and it made me so angry, but I couldn’t be angry because it wasn’t lady like!

    Another example: When my PB (finance) was growing up he was closest in age to his sister. So sometimes that meant that his sister would play dress up with him. Make up, dresses, heels, etc. PB is now a ruggedly handsome manly man, that is patient, open minded, and can express emotion.

    TV, other kids at school, teachers, and other parents will teach your children the gender roles. We have to tell our kids that who ever they are is pretty awesome, even if it’s different.

    • I find it particularly odd that society now seems okay with (in general–sometimes even encourages) girls who do more traditionally “boy” things–wear boy clothes, play with trucks, join a football team; boys who wear butterfly shirts or play flute or do ballet, on the other hand, are called into question. I wonder why that is. We increasingly usurp boy names for girls, even–Ashley, Courtney, Quinn, even Tyler and Devin now. But who’d ever name their son Alice?

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