An exchange between a mother and child overheard by another mom caused quite a stir on one of my Facebook groups yesterday. A woman, after saying how she wouldn’t let her daughter play football like she wanted but instead made her do gymnastics even though she wasn’t into it, told her son — who actually wanted to do gymnastics — that he couldn’t because it was “girly.” Instead, she said, he could do a sport like football or soccer.
Most of the moms on my Facebook group expressed their dismay at this mom for dictating her children’s interests and reinforcing gender stereotypes. But one mom said that although she doesn’t agree with her, we shouldn’t judge others’ parenting decisions.
I agree that judging, on the whole, is not a good thing and occurs too frequently among moms. But, I also think that “judging” has become a buzzword that those who employ less than desirable parenting practices use against their detractors to defend themselves. No judging!
As I pointed out in my response to the post, gender stereotyping is a form of sexism, and, therefore, prejudice. It’s not a question of judging. It’s a question of right and wrong. And prejudice is wrong, period.
I don’t (yet) have a daughter. But I was editor-in-chief of a magazine for tween girls for six years. Occupying my mind every day was how to reinforce girls’ self-esteem. What messages were our stories sending them? Yes, there were stories about boy bands and fashion. But hidden in them was the attitude that boys (or girls) should love you for who you are, and that you should wear what you love and what makes you feel comfortable in your own skin. I created a section where girls could talk about their body image issues and find out information on topics they might be scared to ask about, like getting your period, body odor and shaving. So I feel somewhat qualified to talk about gender issues as they relate to kids.
Plus, I was a girl once. Although I gravitated toward traditionally “girly” things, like dance, music and theater, I never got the feeling that sports were only for boys. But someone out there must be giving girls those notions. Remember this ongoing ad campaign, which showed that young kids don’t think of “running like a girl” to be something to make fun of, but older kids do. Somewhere along the way that message is still getting translated. And that’s wrong.
On the flip side, boys should be free to participate in any activity they want to as well. What is the fear — that doing “girly” things will turn them gay? First of all, that can’t happen; and second of all, what’s wrong with being gay anyway? Even with gay marriage becoming legal, and all the buzz around how being transgender should be accepted, it seems that many Americans still haven’t gotten the message. In fact, they still think it’s OK to parade their ignorance in front of other moms at a gymnastics class.
Prejudice is not a right, and it’s not a parenting choice. It seems the more progress toward equality we make, the more resistance we are met with. It’s a vicious cycle to teach prejudice, because kids learn from such a young age. Those attitudes become so deeply ingrained that by the time you’re an adult you don’t see how wrong they are. As Oscar Hammerstein wrote in South Pacific, “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught” to hate.
Am I taking this too seriously? No. Gender stereotyping is sexist and it’s homophobic.
I have a boy. If he wants to play sports that’s fine, but if he wants to play music, sing or skate in the Ice Capades that’s fine, too (I’m reminded of Steve Zahn on Friends who pretended to be gay so he’d fit in with his fellow ice dancers). I don’t care who LM wants to marry — in fact, I think I’d be more upset if he didn’t get married at all (I want grandchildren!), but that’s his decision too, isn’t it? And I plan to teach my boy that girls, just like boys, can do whatever they want. It’s not OK to make fun of others because of what they like or what they like to do.
Do I sound like I’m acting superior? Maybe, but the truth is I do feel superior to people who live their lives based on fear and hate. Prejudice is not a right. It’s not a “choice.” It’s just wrong.
Have you seen evidence of gender stereotyping in your child’s life?