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Forcing gender roles on young children

post #1 of 255
Thread Starter 
I am shocked by how early children are forced to conform to traditional gender roles. My DS will be 2 in a couple of weeks and has recently begun doing pretend play, so I got him a dollhouse with three dolls for Christmas. Everyone laughed and scoffed when I told them what I got him. My sister said "Don't tell Chris <my uncle> about it." Because Chris would never shut up about how that's a girl's toy.

A few months ago, I was telling my coworkers about how DS found my friend's pumps and insisted on walking around in them. He was SO cute. My boss asked if it bothered me that he was wearing women's shoes.

DS has pink toenails right now. He handed the bottle to me and shoved his foot in my face until I painted them. I see no problem with it. DS just thought it was a pretty color. My dad and uncle made a huge deal out of it. "You just don't paint a boy's toenails!"

My family has decided I'm trying to turn DS gay. I gave him a baby doll when he was little, I don't plan on cutting his hair until he asks for it, I don't care what he wears, I got him a dollhouse, and I'm not devastated by the mere thought of my child being gay. I'm bi myself, so I couldn't care less who DS dates as long as he's happy.

I see this sort of thing everywhere. Girls' clothes are pink and purple and covered in flowers and kittens. Boys' clothes are darker, somber colors, and have sports pictures on the front. Girls are given Bratz and Barbies at an early age to show them how women dress and attract men. Boys are given GI Joes, weapons, and sports equipment to show them how manly men act.

How do you react to this? Do you try to counteract this cultural conditioning in any way?
post #2 of 255
We just go with the flow.

DS is, as they say, all boy He is fascinated by big trucks and cars. It had nothing to do with any 'conditioning'. Since he was 12 months old, he loved standing at the window and pointing a shrieking when a big truck went by.

He also has a doll-baby that he got for Christmas last year, when I was 7 months pregnant with DD. He still loves his doll-baby, rocks it, nurses it , and cuddles it to 'night-night'.

He loves pretending to 'cook', so Santa brought a wooden toy kitchen. He's thrilled to pieces

You can't 'turn' someone gay. People are born with their sexual identity pre-programmed. If he's gay, he's gay and if he's straight, he's straight. We'll love him just the same.
post #3 of 255
I saw your post in 'talk amongst yourselves' and had to find this thread.

This is a huge issue to me - everyone usually tells me I am overreacting, etc - but I really do not want my son to grow up with a masculinity complex.

I understand and know that children love GI Joes, etc - but I will not have them in my house for the very reason that they're promoting violence. Granted, the Army is a very real part of our lives - but their only job is to 'protect' us, and they use that word 'protect' to do unspeakable things.
Okay, Okay - I may be projecting a little here.

But you get the point - it's a violence thing. Same with guns, to me.

No Destroyer Robots.
No giant cars with angry teeth and flames.

I will have to deal with this in the future, I am sure - but really - I will stand up for saving my sons tiny bit of gentlenature he has.

I wanted a sweet, loving, gentle boy.
I got a very loud, frisky, and aggressive boy. (I have dents in my head from blocks hah. )
I do not want to embrace the aggressive side, and shame the gentle one.
I'll do my best to direct his aggression into passion and aggression for love. (Think, more hugs - less fists.)

This is for a different thread - but my older brother lives in our house.
He is not of the highest intelligence, is absolutely obsessed with killing things, and exploiting those killed things.
For example, when asked why he kills things, he says he does it because he's "bored" and it's "awesome."
He freaked out when I decided to exchange a really inappropriate gift given to us this holiday - and screamed that I was taking away his boytoys and I was cruel, going to try to make him a 'fag' etc.

Suffice it to say - I love my brother, but he will not live with us next year when DS is of an age where he can mimic and understand such concepts completely.

I guess I get a lot of eyerolls - because, really, I do not care about gender roles.
DS wears pink (though his pink is usually those frat boy polos from OldNavy - it is So hard to find clothing for him that is not a dark green, blue, red, or orange.)
In his dark obviously 'boysideofOldNavy' clothes - he gets mistaken for a girl, EverySingleDay.
It may be the long shiny curly hair, that I refuse to cut.

Anyways - when I say his name, therefore saying it's a he not really a she - they almost always apologize profusely, as if I would be terribly offended.
I just smile and say "it just mean's he's really pretty."

Also - when those tell me that I am going to turn him gay - I just do that same smile and say "I hope so, then I can join PFLAG with more passion."
post #4 of 255
oh maan. i will tell you thoough it has gotten easier now that dd is 4 because she will outright tell you so. for instance for her 4th bday i sent out superhero invitations. what does she get all girly stuff. i mean i have told people how much she loves spiderman. do they get it no.

i have gotten her boys underwear because of her favourte characters. she even wears boys clothes because how come there are no fierce alligators and dinosaurs in girls clothes.

i get all teh roll eyes and some looks. but when my dd shouts she wants to be a superhero princess - who fights and saves all - you can see none of the normal things will do.

all that i know is that my dd has personality. she really does. she always shines where she is - whether others like it or not. all i know i truly enjoy who my child is.

i have faced all the what is a girl playing with trucks, cars, etc. why is she interested in construction (bob the builder) mostly thankfuly from strangers and i just shrugg them off.
post #5 of 255
It's easier to fight it in our home.
I fell for the whole, "Every boy needs to watch football!" one year. So, I got a TV (never had one before) and I got the TV guide and marked our calender for every football game that season.

Who ended up watching and having a blast? Not my son! He hid behind the couch and played with the dolls. My oldest dd and I watched football and she is STILL a fan! She plays better than most kids her size! And in a tutu and Princess crown to boot!

It's other people and other children who make it hard, though. Other girls have snatched dolls from my ds and said things like, "That's for girls, not boys!"
Or the other boys will make fun of my ds for wanting to play with girls.
post #6 of 255
I have 2 & 5 y/o boys. I try to get cool non-gender toys (wedgits, domino rally, blocks) that lets them explore their creativity. we have more than our share of trucks from relatives, even a few transformers (yecch!) but the kids really like them (for a short time until the pieces are lost). The 2y/o also got a wooden kitchen with wooden food for Christmas and they have both enjoyed it immensely. They love art and the 5y/o really enjoys painting pottery. We also have a doll-baby and stroller set. We paint toe nails and sometimes fingernails and love a good mohawk.

I've received comments a few times on their choice in toys and my dh and I just state that "if they "turn" gay that's fine as long as they are caring and compassionate and good citizens of the world. We'd be much happier with that outcome than if they were straight and raging homophobic, insensitive a**holes." That has completely shut up the 2 family members that had the nerve to say anything

I am starting to notice the 5y/o pick up on others attitudes about gender roles/toys-mostly from school and tv commercials (we don't watch a lot of tv but it is very convincing to kids.) SO I combat it with talking to the kids about advertising and how toys are just toys, not for boys/girls but for anyone who likes to play. I sometimes feel like it's more accepted for girls to like "boy" stuff than vice versa. That is when it gets tough b/c why is it cool for a girl to be able to throw a football but a boy in ballet is snickered at. It's just tough. I figure since I am their most important role model, they will surely glean some of my righteous knowledge I am handing down!!
post #7 of 255
mama in the boonies, the football part was not about your dd, I was taking forever to type and didn't see your post yet
post #8 of 255
It is a running joke in our family about whose latest present is going to turn my son gay. It started when my mom got him pink receiving blankets from Target because the online registry screwed up (I registered for the neutral set). Then it was dolls, a pink bunny, pink shirts ... this year he got a pink Barbie karaoke keyboard which he LOVES. (He is 21 mos. and loves anything relating to pianos - doesn't care about Barbie.)

Obviously the pink stuff isn't going to make him gay, and we don't actually care about it. He likes pink stuff and dolls and he also likes trucks and blocks and banging things. I am happy with him just the way he is (although I confess to trying to nudge him toward more doll/stuffed animal play and to being more affectionate and gentle).

My parents are odd about this stuff, though. My dad is scary far-right-wing and has no tolerance for gay people at all. My mom personally doesn't care much, but she goes along with him. They're anti-liberal, anti-gay, anti-feminist, you name it. But at the same time, they don't care about gender roles. They thought it was fine when my brother played with dolls and I played with trucks, and they think it's cute when Corbin gets pink stuff. Heck, my dad was a SAHD in the '80s, back when it was unheard of. But if Corbin were actually GAY ... my dad might never speak to him again.

I guess my family is just weird.
post #9 of 255
I hear ya. After much argument and discussion with my IL's, this year they actually got DD things she enjoys instead of gender-forced toys.

She likes trucks tools and cars. I see nothing wrong with this, I was the same way. They insisted she HAD to play with "girl" toys, and were fighting to buy her this extensive doll set (complete with stroller, bassinet, crib, etc). I was opposed to this on two conditions: for one, dd doesn't play with dolls. She never shows any interest in them. For two, those are things we don't use in our household to nurture babes, and I don't really want her exposed to that just yet.

Well, DH's grandmother fought and fought with me about it. "She needs something to mommy; she needs girl toys; she needs to behave like a lady"...

DD is 2! I'm sorry, but she really doesn't recognize that certain things are for "boys" and others for "girls", nor do I want that philosophy pushed on her, ever. She HAS a toy she "mommies", her stuffed bear. If you want to get her a "girl" toy, at least get her something she can USE...

Finally, after three months, the argument ceased and Dd got a little cleaning cart with a working vaccuum and a mop, broom, bucket and garbage bag. Fine by me, she likes to "clean".

-- Coming from the mom who was an extreme tomboy at age 3, and who's paternal grandparents told my mother I would end up "gay if you don't put that girl in a dress and get her a doll"...
post #10 of 255
Well, we are counter-culture in a different way. We do believe in gender roles for religious reasons, but I can guarantee that GI Joe and war toys, nor Barbie/Bratz will ever be part of our children's play. Ick. : We don't use make-up or nail polish or things like that, so it's not an issue. Don't have any fairy dresses and wings around either. Our boys also have stuffed toys and love to help me in the kitchen (and are encouraged to!), I don't even know why someone would feel manhood is "threatened" by those things. : If we ever have a girl, she will have the opportunity to play with the trucks/blocks/gadgets that the boys have. It would be awfully hard to separate "boy things" and "girl things", especially when they're all little. I can't imagine trying to do that.
post #11 of 255
Originally Posted by ThreeBeans View Post
DS is, as they say, all boy He is fascinated by big trucks and cars. It had nothing to do with any 'conditioning'
Yeah, this is DS as well. All of his toys must come with *wheels* so even if I did buy him some sort of baby doll he won't touch it.

DH would freak if I did but I won't go there.
post #12 of 255
We don't force things either way.

As in, we don't try to be counterculture, nor do we bow to it.

Right now, my DD is very in to building 'machines' and things like that. I guess that is not stereotypical 'girl', but then again she knows lots of engineers and scientists that are women, so it's not like it's not girly either.

One of my boys is very nuturing. On the surface I grudingly agree that it's 'counterculture', but OTOH, his dad is a SAHD who gives 100 percent to parenting, so to HIM, that is something that both men and women do, whoopty-doo.

Right now all the kids are into knights and dragons. All of them like to dress up as princesses, princes, animals, ect. My daughter plays superhero with her friends at preschool (which happen to be mostly girls who tend to be friends with mostly boys). I'm not surprised that she likes that sort of thing, her father and I are gamer geeks.

We've gotten some comments from family members, but they don't live near us so for the most part we just shrug it off and so do our kids. My DH has always been an independent soul, I've always been an 'unconventional' girl much to the dismay of my family of origin. But I didn't want to give my daughter the impression that I disapproved of dresses, the color pink, and sparkly stuff (even though I'm not at all interested in it), and that she can mix and match as she likes--and she does.

I suspect it's easier for our family to do this than most. We're UUs, which means our spiritual community doesn't blink an eye at boys dressing up as princesses in the nursery (though I think my fellow UUs tend to go overboard being negative about 'stereotypical boy' stuff, which is annoying to me but I love them anyway). We live a very unconventional home life, with both parents staying at home (my DH telecommutes to Europe during the evenings). We openly discuss politics and social issues at the dinner table. I am sure at some point one or more kids will want to try 'stereotypical' stuff (how else could they rebel?) so with that in mind we do our best not to villify stereotypical roles, and treat them as just yet another role that one can choose to take. I have to say, from friends, I've been toasted just as much by non-traditionalists as traditionalists, because of our stance on this (not villifying the other side).

My mom has been giving barbies to my daughter, who doesn't like them--but it's not because I've raised her to be a good feminist; like me she doesn't care for dolls and would probably love Barbie's pets and horses. Her brothers might play with them but they're gigantic and don't fit into rescue hero trucks and are hard to dress up (the boys are more into polly pocket at the moment). The only toys we semi-outlaw in our home are the really annoying LOUD electronic kind--and even then their batteries just end up vanishing, and the kids use them for other things than they were intended anyway. They even have character toys, but very rarely know what they're from and just incorporate them into their imaginative play.

I'm not dissing people who choose to be more activist. It's just not the area that we choose to be. And the kids seem to be doing pretty good. They're all young though. As they get older and feel more pressure, we'll have more talks about it. I think that our main strength in giving our kids the most variety of choices in the roles they take is the fact that we're a very non-typical family that has a strong, unconventional spiritual community, not based on what toys they have. And I've noticed that when I keep my baggage out of it, my children always suprise me with how they play with certain toys that I (because of my upbringing and preconceived notions) find distasteful on the surface.
post #13 of 255
If the people in your child's life want to influence who they will be as adults and see who they will be through a gendered lens, that's fine -- just sit down and have a talk with them suggesting ways they can get involved in the child's life in ways you can all support and which, above all, fit the child and the needs of healthy, whole-person child rearing. An in-law wants to encourage nurturing in a girl who detests dolls? Have them get her a kitten or a garden patch. An uncle wants to bond with a boy who likes things prettier than he likes them loud? Have him take him to the woods or a creek and learn with him about what's there.
post #14 of 255
Originally Posted by Liquesce View Post
An in-law wants to encourage nurturing in a girl who detests dolls? Have them get her a kitten or a garden patch.
This is the issue, though. Some IL's think the only way a girl can be nurturing is through a doll. This is the response I got when informing my IL's that dd IS nurturing, she nurtures her stuffed bear: "But that's NOT a babydoll".

I'm not saying I don't want dd to play with dolls, I don't really care either way: she can be interested in whatever she chooses to be. The thing is, she ISN'T interested in dolls. I'd rather she get a toy that she will enjoy than something that's going to sit around in a corner.

These are the same people that say our future babe, should he be a boy, will NOT get a doll. From them at least. Should our future son want to play with dolls and dress-up clothes, by all means he will do so.

DH's family can't fathom not "staying between the lines" when it comes to gender distinction. I get flack for mowing the lawn, shoveling the snow, or fixing my own car from them: those are MEN'S jobs, you shouldn't be doing them. Well, pardon me, but I enjoy doing them, and I AM going to do them, period. I fail to see why certain things are men's things and other's are women's. When DH was a SAHD after dd was just born, his family went BONKERS about it. That's just who they are.

As much as I try to reason with them, it doesn't work. It's so ingrained.
post #15 of 255
My brother got a Cabbage patch kid doll when he was 3. He hauled that doll everywhere. He even wore it in a baby backpack, just like he was carried around. My mom taught him to say to people who asked why he had a dolly that he was pratcing to be a daddy.

That doll did everything. Went to the beach, got filthy ripped off an arm climbing trees. We still call it the ugly yellow doll, because it's clothes long ago were yellow.
post #16 of 255
Yes, this drives me crazy, and I try to shelter my boys from it as much as I can while they are little. This is the main reason I do not let them watch television (we do watch some carefully selected videos). The toy commercials are so genderized. I also avoid the mainstream stores toy aisles with their segregated "pink" and "violent" aisles. If I do head down those aisles looking for something, I end up getting so disgusted that I end up ranting for days. We shop at local, small toystores that are not so gender segregated. The clothes in stores drive me nuts too, especially baby clothes. There are other colors in the spectrum besides pink and blue!

We have toys in our house, not boy toys or girl toys. We have trucks, cars, and roads. We have anatomically correct boy dolls and clothes to wear. Ds got a small, basic wooden dollhouse for Christmas. We have a homemade kitchen I picked up at a garage sale, with food. Ds loves playing with all these things. We don't have a lot of pink about the house, but then I don't think we would if we had girls, either. (The pink aisle truly makes me want to vomit.)

If ds puts on my shoes, dh and I just laugh and smile. I did refuse to paint ds1's nails once, but that had nothing to do with gender. I just didn't want him putting toxic-coated nails in his mouth and nose!

I do try to avoid situations where someone will tell him that's a "girl" thing, because I don't want him getting those ideas. Once he was attrated to a pair of pink Dora shoes. I gently distracted him to another pair. I don't care if he wears pink Dora shoes, but I do want to shelter him a bit from the comments he'd get from perfect strangers if he wore them on the street. Kindergarten is time enough to have to fake the gender straitjacket our society puts on boys.

For more info on protecting boys from our culture's harmful gender stereotyping, check out the books "Rasing Cain" and "Real Boys."
post #17 of 255
Well, yes and no. If my little boy wanted a dollhouse I would get him one. If he never expressed any desire for one then I wouldnt choose to get him one. If there is no preference, I would go with the "boys toys" ... I dress him in boy clothes (i.e; I would not let him wear a dress in public) and I cut his hair but if he wants to play with a doll I dont care. In other words, I encourage his "boyness" but I dont discourage femininity as well... if that makes any sense. There are differences between the genders and a child is a boy or a girl. I really dont see any harm in going with that and giving your girl a doll or givng your boy a truck. Currently my DD loves cars and dolls, so she has the best of both worlds I guess. LOL
post #18 of 255
Originally Posted by minkajane View Post
How do you react to this? Do you try to counteract this cultural conditioning in any way?
I let my boys play with whatever they want. They have dolls etc. We don't tell them to "be a man" or such nonsense. Oldest ds used to love makeup so I bought it for him.

We're very lucky that the family members who are stupid about gender roles don't live nearby so we don't have to hear crap too often.
post #19 of 255
Not all children are boys or girls, some lie between. The point is that perhaps our children deserve better than some sort of cultural gender crap that restricts them into binary roles, that decide who they should be. Loving wheels isn't genetic, being nurturing isn't genetic, these are cultural, we decide to reinforce these things, and can be more neutral about them so our children have more choice in the matter. Why can't we let children choose? Why can't we support all children learning to be nurturing? The words used to describe boys or girls are just words, no boy, no girl falls so neatly into cultural descriptions about what girls or boys should be like. I know brave and strong women, as well as nurturing and sensitive men, the myriad of ways that PEOPLE (not men, not women) fall along the spectrum of personality is interesting and varied, why reinforce cultural gender crap? Men and women can act the exact same way, but as a society we describe the behavior differently based on their gender, so being a strong leader in a boy, is manipulation and controlling in a girl, sensitive in a girl is labeled sissy in a boy. Get it? We reinforce this shit everyday, whether we realize it or not.

interesting article somewhat on topic for this thread
post #20 of 255
I'm glad to hear that not all parents believe in defined gender roles. My DS LOVES girl stuff so much and I have no problem letting him play with my skirts or dolls or necklaces. My mother swears I am turning him gay and should discourage that behavior. I feel it is important to let DS be who he wants to be. I bought him a Dora doll and a pink Dora backpack for Christmas this year and they were his two favorite gifts. He asked for both of them several times before Christmas. I know his dad (my ex) would flip out if he found out but I refuse to contribute to forcing my son to behave "manly"
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