Raising Egalitarians, Part 3 (Stereotypes)

“Boy or girl?”  This question was frequently posed to me during my pregnancy.  My answer?  “Don’t know.”  My husband and I wanted to be surprised — but to our big surprise, not many wanted to go along with it.  The general eagerness to find out our baby’s gender made me realize  the tendency of society as a whole to separate the world into pink vs. blue.

With this awareness, I came to the conclusion that I didn’t want to fall in line with the general consensus for stereotypes.  I wanted to give a boy or a girl the same kinds of opportunities.  So if we were to have a boy, then I’d want him to play with stuffed animals and cookware, have the occasional tea party, and explore music and arts and crafts.  I’d encourage him to cry when he needed to and not always tell him to “be tough” if that wasn’t what he needed at that time.  In the same way, if we were to have a girl, I’d encourage her to “be tough” sometimes when other parents would otherwise coddle their baby girl.  And I’d want her to play with cars, balls, have a toy tool set, and engage in building and fixing activities.  I’d encourage both to climb, run and be active.  There would be no general difference in treatment.

That was the plan, but what I didn’t anticipate was how difficult it would actually be to carry it out.  Once we had our little baby in our arms, we quickly found ourselves struggling to escape stereotypes.  Baby wardrobe and toys force you into stereotypes.  Everything pink is marketed for girls.  Everything blue is marketed for boys.  We have had to make conscious decisions to actively apply our conviction of providing a wide range of opportunities for our baby.  Negligence would lead our children to a destination that we had not intended.

Currently, our baby’s toy box has balls, cars, stuffed animals, books, and a dollie.  I’m proud to observe my little one snuggling affectionately with stuffed animals one minute and examining the wheels of a Thomas train the next.

This, of course, is only one tiny victory.  Vigilance needs to continue as children grow older, and gender lines are drawn.  It gets more complex when we’re no longer talking about a toy box alone.  Ideas about the world are formed every minute — especially during play.  It’s up to parents to suggest other possibilities than the ones that are assumed.  For example, if children are ‘playing house’, parents can remind them that both parents can ‘go to work’, or have situations where it’s the dad who stays home with the kids at times and then the mom at other times.  It’s also good to challenge their generalizations.  Comments like, “That’s only for girls” or “That’s only for boys” seem innocent enough.  However, when ignored, they could unknowingly lead to re-enforcement of stereotypes (and therefore limitations) — but if they are corrected, the child could be brought one step closer to the truth.   And the truth is that gender roles and responsibilities are not prescriptive.   (For example, there are no biblical mandates saying boys must grow up to be men who like to fight, go on adventures and live dangerously.  Some men might like these things but not all men, and the Bible does not prescribe that it must be so.)

So how to raise egalitarians?  I’m still pondering this question daily.  I keep asking myself the question, “how do I exemplify God’s vision for family to my family?” and hope that I’m meeting the mark more often than not.  I’d be interested to hear your experience with raising egalitarians.


2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by chaidrinkingfool on July 29, 2010 at 8:29 am

    I have *no* experiences raising an egalitarian, but we are trying to be a good aunt and uncle. 🙂

    The first time we went to get our niece a birthday gift, we would have saved a lot of time by just picking out something pink and princess-y. But…no, we wanted to appeal to her mind. Two or three stores and a number of phone calls later, we’d found the perfect thing–a playing card set that was suitable for her age but contains actual playing cards (not Uno, etc., though that’s fun), with an instruction book for a number of card games (but no poker). This was not what we’d had in mind to get her, but we could not find our original gift idea.

    No wonder so many kids receive the stereotyped toys. It’s always taken us longer to go shopping for gifts for our niece than if we were willing to just grab whatever is popular. She likes the latest princess movie and likes related toys, clothing, etc., but other people already buy that kind of thing for her.

    As you already realize, other people are likely to pose the largest challenge to your admirable efforts.


    • Thanks for sharing your experience! I applaud you for taking the extra effort to give your niece a thoughtful gift that doesn’t play into stereotypes. You’re right — it’s so difficult to avoid all the pink and princessy things. My husband and I do not condone the ‘princess’ themes — we think it breeds a self-centeredness and also a focus on outer beauty, etc. Your niece is so lucky to have you and your husband in her life. 🙂


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