Thursday, November 1, 2007

Teaching Gender Roles To Children

From this Feministing post...

I believe in abolishing gender roles.

I don't believe in doing it immediately, or forcing my kids to not have them.

It's too hard on the kids. That's all there is to it. Childhood should not be about meeting some idealized world view, it should be about learning how to work with the world you have.

So my kids will ALL have the same kinds of toys that they share, but they will have to ask for them. For babies and toddlers, might as well share everything. When they can talk, though, I will give them the toys they ask for, even if the girls only want dolls and the boys only want trucks.

If my son asks for a doll, it won't be frilly and girly and pink. It will be something like a neutral-gender baby doll in a green or yellow onesie. My sons will probably play with plastic food (little boys LOVE play food, in my experience). My daughters will probably play with trucks and Legos and trains. Pink and frills should be avoided for boy's toys, though, because pink is SO connected with girls (though honestly, who has a pink playhouse for EITHER gender?). But that doesn't mean they can't have dolls, it means those dolls have to be a bit more boyish or neutral in appearance. And I won't buy girl clothes for my sons or boy clothes for my daughters unless I learn that they're transgender. Girls should have girl hairstyles and clothes until the secondary sex characteristics start to come in, and the same is true for boys (long hair's okay, but not like, pigtails or a high ponytail). That will do them well in school, to not be mistaken for the wrong gender. And it won't really hurt them, because while it clearly says "boys and girls are different" it doesn't really say "boys are better than girls." Just that they're different. Which they are.

And as for teaching them household gender roles? My mom taught me and my sister how to cook and do our laundry when we were preteens but my brother is just now learning at almost 18 years old. My kids will all learn to cook, clean, fix things around the house, change flat tires, do laundry and go grocery shopping, and not once do I intend to say "This way you can impress a guy someday!" like my dad said. Instead, I'll say, "You need to know this when you live on your own" because they do. Besides, any household I'm in will probably involve a stay-at-home or working-from-home dad anyway (medical career), so it's not like they'll get the impression that Mommy has to do all the chores and raise the kids.

And yes, I hope I'll teach my kids to suppress their emotions in public, but share them at home, because that's how you become successful. And yeah, that's a male gender role. So what? It's also a GOOD IDEA. Because whatever people might say, the surest way to survive school without, I don't know, dropping out, or in my case ATTEMPTING SUICIDE, is to learn to control your emotions in public and vent in private. And after I learned, I didn't suppress my emotions completely. I talked to my parents, I took it out at home, I complained to friends-- but in public, I could be strong.

I'm not as good at it as I should be, but I'm learning. The value of it is that no matter how progressive the people around you are, they will, on some subconscious level, take displays of emotion as weak. You are more likely to get hired if you seem cool and collected. You're more likely to make new friends if people don't perceive you as moody. Of course, you need ways to express those emotions, so I'd also teach that once you trust someone, you can share things like that with them. You can cry in front of someone you trust. But you will find life a lot easier to face if you can maintain a mask if need be.

Other "male" or "female" traits: being aggressive or passive (probably discourage both in favor of assertiveness-- and knowing what battles you can win) or becoming the breadwinner (again, I'm going into medicine and I fall for writers. Chances are I, the mother, will be the breadwinner).

What I don't agree with are feminists who insist on teaching their children to be "gender neutral" by essentially making them feminine-- using the worst aspects of feminine nature. Not in terms of the toys they play with, but in terms of teaching them that it's okay to be emotional in public or that competitiveness is bad, who lie to them and say things like "pink isn't a girl color" despite the fact that society decides what things are gender-specific and society says pink is a girl color. You have to make sure they actually understand the way the world works, even if you think the way the world works is wrong.

I look at it like this. I will tell my children not to have sex until they are 18 and legal adults and to make sure their partner is the same. I think that the time a person starts sex is not contingent on age, but on maturity and each person reaches that point at a different age. But to survive in modern society, a person should not have sex until they and their partner are 18. Otherwise, archaic laws or angry parents or double standards in high school could make their lives miserable. It's the same way with gender roles. A person needs to understand gender roles and be able to conform to them if they want to to get by, even though they should not exist.

Continue telling me how wrong I am in the comments if you like.

50 comments:

Jessica said...

I really think you have this right. Brava for the way you plan to raise your children.

Jessica

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