Fighting sexism with toddlers? - Mothering Forums
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#1 of 17 Old 10-23-2013, 08:33 PM - Thread Starter
 
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I work a lot with younger kids as a herbal and aromatherapy teacher at D.S. school. Sometimes I deal with gender bias with the littles. I pause to call it sexism, but more really a gender bias on their part, I am sure as a result of society, media, well everything.

 

So can you all help me come up with easy to understand (for the littles) phrases to help defeat this? Thanks!


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#2 of 17 Old 10-25-2013, 08:09 AM
 
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Give us an example? (DD is 2 so I'm not seeing that yet, but have worked with toddlers in the past)
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#3 of 17 Old 10-25-2013, 10:42 AM - Thread Starter
 
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I was thinking more along the lines how to prevent it. How do I start the conversations that are inclusionary. People come in more then two genders, for example.

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#4 of 17 Old 10-25-2013, 12:04 PM
 
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Is it the toddlers who are saying things (like maybe "girl stuff", and "boy stuff"?) or is it the adults who are saying things to them?  And what sorts of things are being said?

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#5 of 17 Old 10-25-2013, 01:58 PM
 
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Can't even begin to imagine this conversation, other than using inclusive terms and asking open ended question (tell me about your family, not what does your daddy do for work etc).
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#6 of 17 Old 10-25-2013, 02:01 PM
 
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I think toddlers have no inherent assumptions about how many genders there are, so unless YOU define only 2, they won't. Of course their parents prob will, I don't think you can 'undo' that but don't perpetuate it.
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#7 of 17 Old 10-30-2013, 03:23 PM
 
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I'm from a fairly large family. Mom stayed home with us when we were little, because a) both parents felt one of them should stay home with us, and b) dad had more opportunity for career advancement.

Mom and dad enrolled all of us in soccer, because us girls weren't gonna be prissy by default. Mom and dad encouraged crafty activities amongst all of us, because the boys were not gonna be meatheads by default. Their mantra in regard to gender issues was, "Girls can do anything boys can do. Boys can do anything girls can do." Any time one of us said something was a boy activity, or a girl activity, mom and dad simply said, "What's stopping a girl/boy from doing it?" My mom and dad were all about asking open ended questions with us and answering them at an age appropriate level. For example, my oldest brother, at age 2, made a comment that Dad couldn't cook because he was a boy. My mom and dad proceeded to list a whole bunch of men my brother could identify (from the Frugal Gourmet down to the owner of the local pizza shop) who cooked for a living. Mom and dad also went out of their way to avoid gendered toys when we were little (i.e. a pink doll house, purple easy bake oven, super-frilly dress-up clothes, etc). Not sure if that is doable in your situation. I think asking questions and giving honest answers, similar to how my mom & dad responded to my brother about "boys can't cook."

Maybe my parents were way ahead of their time, especially amongst people of the conservative, devout religious variety. As a result, I've had some issues relating to most other people's ideas of gender. I do a lot of "girlie" things, like knitting, cooking most of the meals for my family, being a SAHM. However, I relate better to men, and really enjoy doing lots of "macho" things- heavy yard work, using power tools, and I **LOVE** getting dirty, sweaty, and messy. From my upbringing, I feel like the only thing that makes me female is my lady parts. I can count on one hand the amount of times I've worn *any* make-up in the past five years (things like court, a wedding, etc). Mom rarely wears make-up, either, because "true beauty comes from within" and no one expects men to paint their faces for the sake of beauty. The only thing that I can do that a man can't is have a baby and breastfeed (though modern advancements are changing that!).

I took this "girls can do anything boys can do" so seriously, that when my older brother and I were potty training, I kept trying to pee standing up!! ROFL! Finally, Mom and dad had to elaborate that boys can't have babies, and girls have to potty sitting down. I was a little upset at first, as a three year old, feeling that my parents had fibbed.


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#8 of 17 Old 10-30-2013, 04:00 PM
 
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These are obvious ones:

 

Avoid comments like "boys will be boys".  Sometimes girls will be "boys" too.  Being a mom of two rough-and-tumble girls, this kinda drives me bonkers. And often, boys will be quieter and gentler, more reserved than their peers.  It does them a disservice for adults to imply that boys shouldn't be.

 

We tend to praise girls for their appearance when we greet them.  Greeting kids in that situation, I would say something more like "Are you ready to play today?"

 

I'm trying to think of phrases, but am running a blank.  Sometimes if something is said, like "boys will be boys" I might say "do you like to run, too?  I do!" I'll try to think of other things.


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#9 of 17 Old 10-31-2013, 06:02 AM
 
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One thing that I became acutely aware of only after having a baby (she's only 8 months, FWIW) is how we will verbally "gender" people and things and animals and characters in books, etc., even when gender is not clear.  Like, people always talk about how they did everything gender-neutral, blah blah, and their girls ended up loving dolls, and boys trucks, yadda yadda.  But I noticed I will read a picture book and see a child in a dress, with long hair-- no actual words indicating gender, mind you-- and I would call that character a "little girl."  Yeah, I know people might think I'm really out there, but now I will often say "little kid."  Same when we pass an actual child on the street, or even an adult ("that person has a cute dog").  Also, I'm wary of "identifying" animals as male, generically, which I think comes in part from the English language male-as-neutral/neutral-as-male.  So I will say, "that squirrel is hiding her nuts" or "that squirrel is hiding its nuts," instead of always "he him his."  KWIM?  Just a little thing, but it became really clear to me as I started telling my daughter about the world.  I started to see things differently.  (And wanted to note-- I read a study that showed that preschoolers actually believed there were MORE men in the world than women-- they thought, on average, that the world was at least 60-70% male-- and, in a way, this was not surprising to me, as I could see myself having thought that when I was a kid.  It just seems that way, from media, books, the way we speak-- neutral-as-male-- etc.)


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#10 of 17 Old 10-31-2013, 06:59 AM
 
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Buko that's an excellent point! Part of it is the English language with its gendered pronouns. My first language has one pronoun in the third person instead of he-she-it and it helps
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#11 of 17 Old 10-31-2013, 07:19 AM
 
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Originally Posted by skycheattraffic View Post

Buko that's an excellent point! Part of it is the English language with its gendered pronouns. My first language has one pronoun in the third person instead of he-she-it and it helps


Yes, it's easier in Tagalog, when we use that (but neither of us is really fluent).  Then we use "sia," (he/she) and it's nice and neutral.


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#12 of 17 Old 10-31-2013, 08:30 AM
 
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My son's preschool teachers had a good response when kids would complain that a boy was wearing "girls' shoes" or something like that: "He's a boy, and those shoes are his, so those are boy's shoes."

 

Another response I like goes like this:

"That toy isn't for boys!"

"The difference between boys and girls is private parts.  Do you play with that toy using your private parts?"

"Eww, no!"

"Then it is okay for boys to play with it."

 

In kindergarten, when they learned Venn diagrams (I love this school!), one of the examples the class made had a circle for "people who like pink" and a circle for "girls" and a circle for "boys".  Girls overlapped with pink more than boys did, but there were pink-hating girls and pink-liking boys.  It was a great visual representation of the reality that a preference may be MORE COMMON in one gender than another but does occur in both.


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#13 of 17 Old 10-31-2013, 08:30 AM
 
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Mosquitoes that bite and worker bees are all female. I make sure that the pronouns I use for them are correct.  I dislike using "it" for a living thing--seems rather disrespectful--so I like to learn the physical differences and my girls are learning them too--spiders, crabs, birds.  I am not fond of using "he" as a general pronoun.  If I must use something and don't want to use "it" and I can't tell the difference, I try to make sure to use both "he" and "she" equally.  

 

Perhaps all this makes kids want to figure out "boy" or "girl", but I think that, oddly enough, they really want to know.  Horses and dogs, we can just look below.  Not usually people.  So we end up having the conversation (again) "A lot of boys have long hair these days", "lots of boys like sparkle pink", "lots of girls have short hair and wear rough and tumble clothes."  Now they are old enough that the physical difference between boys and girls are far more obvious without all the external markers like clothes or hair length.  Boys are taller, bigger, sound different.  I don't understand why it matters to them, but it does.  Maybe because kids are forever looking for where they belong in the world.


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#14 of 17 Old 10-31-2013, 09:32 AM
 
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Originally Posted by SweetSilver View Post I don't understand why it matters to them, but it does.  Maybe because kids are forever looking for where they belong in the world.

I think because it matters to us.  General "us" as a society.  Same with race, which takes more time to "pick up" or "refine" as it's even more socially-constructed and nebulous and culture-dependent.

 

In response to a PP, I also don't want to say that genitals determine gender, so I will try and think about my response to that.  Maybe "If so and so says he is a boy, then he is a boy."  Or whatever.  I have some trans* friends and acquaintances, so.


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#15 of 17 Old 10-31-2013, 01:10 PM
 
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@Buko, I understand that genitals don't necessarily equal gender. I feel like explaining trans* issues to toddlers is as over their heads as explaining sexuality, unless a little one has a trans* parent or other very close family member/ friend. Maybe others would disagree with me on that, but I feel like trans* is too complex for her to understand at this stage. I have issues with the fact that the English language is so gendered, and relate to what some PPs have said in regard to that. I have trans* friends. I am bisexual. My orientation didn't change because I fell in love with& married a self-described "girlie-man." The only thing that makes *me* feel female is the parts I was born with. I do not identify as trans or genderqueer, but I don't feel like I identify with society's notions of gender, if that makes sense. I will gladly explain things like trans* in depth when my little one comes of age, maybe closer to the tween years, unless it comes up in conversation earlier than that. I've taken my daughter to Pride twice already, so she's far from sheltered from queer issues :-) We're UU, so a comprehensive sexuality education (which delves into all the "controversial" topics most public schools will not discuss) is part of her religious education in our faith community.


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#16 of 17 Old 10-31-2013, 05:07 PM
 
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When the issue is whether a child is a boy or a girl, I think it is fine to say that the difference is genital. With adults, it can be more complicated. We have had the occasional very quiet conversation about someone whose gender/sex is unclear. It goes about like this, "Mama, I think that person was a little boy but decided to be a lady; do you think so?" "I think you're right." "So it would be polite to call that person 'she'." "Yes." He doesn't seem bothered by the idea that some people want to be seen as the other gender than the genitals they were born with; the concern is how to be respectful to the individual person. But I don't think it is necessary to get into the complications of gender identity when talking with young children whose concerns are about which sex is allowed to wear which color, play with which toy, or aspire to which profession.

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#17 of 17 Old 11-05-2013, 10:38 AM
 
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They have so many other influences I don't think there is any way to "defeat" it besides just being a positive example. Like others have suggested try using more neutral pronouns, or at least referring to bugs, animals, etc as "she" because we are so used to "he" being the default. Also if you are going to divide the kids into groups avoid doing it by gender - chose hair color/length, or birthdays, or something like that. 

 

You can also challenge/question them when they say things like "pink is for girls" by asking them "if your dad/brother wore a pink shirt would he be a girl?" I think that can be kind of difficult for them to process, but it at least gets them thinking. I think there is a certain phase they go through where gender roles and categorization are SUPER important to them (3-5 or so maybe?) so it also helps to remember its something they will grow out of, at least somewhat. 

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