I just read this great post about children and gender stereotypes Why do gender stereotypes still persist?. The author makes the point that her kids’ thinking is clearly affected by gender stereotypes despite the fact that key influences in their environment, such as parental ideology, school curricula, and the media they have been exposed to offer balanced gender views. Our language, history, and all its exponents, from literature to advertising copy are entrenched in gender bias and as such, when will it be possible to imagine a generation of children who are freed from this inequality?
This is a topic of concern to me, but especially this week as we get our kids dressed for their Carnival, here in Portugal. I was relieved to be spared the ‘I want to be a Princess’ statement again. Phew! Rosie elected to be a butterfly, so I bought some yellow craft paper and away went. However, as part of the pirates and princesses project her class have just completed, she already made a pink princess crown this week. I’m assuming the boys didn’t. In her end of term play, their performance was about scientists examining the bounty of nature. The girls were flowers, ladybirds, and butterflies, while the boys were scientists and mushrooms. It worries me, but I am reassured to see her choosing to be a pirate or doctor at home, as well as prancing about in a pink crown. It also makes me cross, the way that seeing the colour-coded pink and blue aisles for toys in the supermarket does. I bet you can guess which aisle the dolls were in, and which one had all the Lego.
I was also reminded of this TED talk, which makes the important point that boys suffer from this stereotyping as well as girls. We are told the story of a boy who wanted to become a chef, but was put off when he saw that Easy-Bake Ovens were marketed to girls. Enter Big Sister, who successfully lobbied the toy company to produce a gender non- specific model.
Back in the UK again, the Early Learning Centre has been criticised in recent years for insidious gender stereotyping. While gender stereotypes are persistently referenced in this way, how can children break away from this patriarchal thinking? This brilliant article from The Alpha Parent blog, analyses one of their catalogues.
My mum told me a conversation she had with me when I was small and attending play group. I told her that I had been playing doctors and nurses with my friend Peter, and I was the nurse because I was a girl, and Peter was the doctor because he was a boy. ‘No, no, no, we can’t have this’ thought Mum. ‘Sometimes women can be lady doctors and men can be male nurses’. ‘OK’ I said, ‘next time Peter can be the lady doctor and I can be a male nurse.’ Thirty years on and this conversation is still happening. You’d think kids’ views would be more progressive, but it goes to show that a lot more still needs to change.