“WHY ARE YOU LETTING HER PLAY AIRPLANES???” She screamed at me. Arms flailing. Furious. This was how I was reprimanded by a 3-year old. She was my daughter’s playmate. She went wild to find a “toy for the boys” among Amelie’s toys at home. Ah, the horrors if she ever finds out I also let my son play with the doll house!
I shared her feelings of disbelief. Except, my shock did not come from the selection of toys I personally curated for my daughter. I was stunned to discover how early these gender stereotypes can start. She’s only 3 years old! I tried to explain, in the simplest terms I could muster in that moment of shock, why girls can play airplanes and cars as much as they can choose to become pilots and race car drivers when they grow up. That was a teachable moment for both of us. I hope. She went home with her mind a little more open, and I stayed home -cleaning up and putting back the toys to the boxes- with more awareness that I need to be more vigilant now with what my kids are learning in terms of gender stereotypes.
Where does she get the idea? From TV? Youtube? Other playmates? Adults around her? I want to know not because I want to point fingers. I want to know because I want to understand why these stereotypes still exist in this time and age. What are we doing to let these unhealthy impressions continue?
Why is gender stereotyping, particularly with our kids, wrong? For one, it is very limiting. To the kids, we narrow their options to what they can be. To the world, we deprive of greatness and progress that can only come from fostering the talents of these kids. Imagine the world without the female doctors and the male nurses, without stay-at-home dads and CEO moms. I mean, this is common knowledge by now. And yet, we still appoint one day every year to celebrate International Women’s Day because the world still needs to be reminded. We still hear kids getting surprised when a girl plays airplanes. And Lego still don’t have enough character choices for girls. I mean, this being newsworthy is a news in itself.
What are we doing about this? For the sake of our kids. There are so many ways. Little things that are sometimes overlooked. This Christmas, we can start by looking at the kind of toys we gift the children. Doll house for son, plane set for daughter. This goes not to say that we should force Barbie to our sons. But let’s be more vigilant about these thoughts we sometimes don’t realize are in our heads: “he will never get (dolls)”, “she can’t play with (toy soldiers)”.
p.s. I follow A Mighty Girl on Facebook. They offer so many resources and information of how to raise empowered girls. They have a Holiday Gift Guide which is in keeping with breaking gender stereotypes. I also look them up for the books I buy for my daughter.