In today’s society, it is difficult to believe that we still carry gender bias’s which we constantly receive daily messages on what girls or boys should wear/look like and how they should act. These biases are somewhat ingrained in us, however if we can be more aware of them, we can actively take steps to counteract them and break down gender bias for the next generation.
When you find out that someone is having a baby, your first question is generally ‘is it a boy or girl?’ The pink or blue wallpaper then goes up in the nursery, the purchase of dolls versus cars/trucks begins and there is the start of setting children on separate gender paths. These gender paths shape much of their childhood in what they wear and how they act based on what gender they are.
Did you know that it was only from the beginning of the 20th Century that stores started the “sex-specific colour rules” of pastel pink for boys and pastel blue for girls? Prior to this, most children were dressed in white dresses as it was considered more practical. It was only in the 1940s that the colours were reversed to what we recognise today of “pink for girls” and “blue for boys”.
Although today, we feel it is more acceptable to be yourself more so than any other previous generation, we still face judgement. As a parent, allowing your child to be who they want to be plays an important role in their healthy development.
The solution to all of this, is to start early with your children. Refuse to give into the gender-biased rules that are set by retailers and society that is ever so tempting. The most important rule to live by is to make sure your child is healthy and happy with who they are. To avoid raising your child with gender biases, use these steps as a guide to help break down those stereotypes.
Following the stereotype, if you had a girl, you would generally shop for toys in the girl’s section. Instead of this, integrate all toys and allow your child to explore options across the various sections in toy store. By doing this, they can determine themselves which section they do or do not like and try not to steer him/her away from certain directions.
If you give your child the opportunity to explore what they like, rather being told what they should like – it allows them to realise that it is ok to act maternal and loving to a doll or enjoy dressing up as superheroes regardless of their gender.
As for toys, the same can be applied to children’s clothing. The general consensus is that boys should wear shades of blue and green whereas girls should wear frilly capped sleeved pink or purple shirts. However, let’s start the notion that any child can wear anything from either section in the clothing store. Just because something is dark blue and green doesn’t mean your daughter doesn’t want to wear it (unless you have told her that’s the way she should feel). Children’s clothes are children’s clothes and as they grow older, they will be able to decide what they prefer based on their own taste rather than a formation of other people’s opinions. This notion leaves less room for gender-bias actions later.
Similar to clothing and toys, allow for your children to participate in the sport they are interested in, regardless of whether you believe it suits their gender or not. This doesn’t mean you have to force your son to do ballet if he doesn’t want to but give him the opportunity to explore it. Take your son to a soccer match and a cheerleading event so that they can experience a little bit of everything.
It is ok if this is a challenge for you too, give yourself some time to breath and the chance for your children to figure out what they like themselves.
This point also goes for clothing and toys as mentioned above but also applies to everything else in life. Something that many parents do is paint the nursery blue or pink based on the gender of their child. It is true that you can paint your nursery any colour you like, buy your children whatever toys you want or dress them how you like but just doing so because ‘blue is for boys’ isn’t the right reason. Don’t sway him from choosing or liking something pink in fear he might get teased or that he should be choosing a more ‘masculine’ colour, the last thing you would want to do is alter his personality to fit the ‘norm’.
Everyday activities can bring up the mention of something being a ‘girl colour’ or a ‘boy item’ but these statements go back to the stereotypes that have already been implanted in us. We understand if as an adult that is your first thought, but the idea is that you stop thinking that way to allow your children to think as freely and as neutrally as possible. Try to be generous with using terms such as ‘beautiful’ or ‘pretty’ with your son, normalising these compliments for both genders allow it to feel natural.
As your children grow up, they generally see their parents as role models, so it is important for them to see every role in the house shared among genders. If you and your spouse are the same gender, it is still important for your children to see the responsibilities of the house being shared. Try not to designate the ‘masculine’ jobs such as taking out the rubbish and opening jars to the male in the house. It takes effort to share the work especially if the partnership works different hours or amounts of time. It’s all in moderation so try to let your children see the workload shared however if its unavoidable, make it clear the jobs aren’t gender specific.
If your son is set on having his nails painted like yours, it won’t hurt him to do so! If your daughter wants to love batman and wear a batman themed shirt, it won’t hurt her to do so! As a parent, there is always fear of judgement, but by letting your children be themselves, they aren’t hurting anyone or anything. Kids may pick on other kids for all sorts of unexplainable reasons however that shouldn’t hinder you allowing your child to be who they truly are. Allowing your child to follow their beliefs sets the foundation for them not to be those kids. It teaches them to follow what they want and be who they are meant to be.
This terminology when used in conjunction with gender is encouraging your child to act a certain way based on gender norms. These words can hinder their potential for ‘certain happiness that comes with being yourself and being confident as a result.’
Rather than telling your child what they’re supposed to do, allow them to make choices themselves to decide what they really should be doing based of their own thoughts, feelings and opinions.
Following through with the previous steps above don’t mean that much unless you realise that you’re leading by example. Don’t let your children see you succumb to the gender-biased stereotypes yourself otherwise you’re back to square one.
You have probably heard the saying yourself – ‘boys will be boys’, well that shouldn’t be the case at all. Often both adults and children don’t know how to intervene when boys make remarks about girls and excuse their behaviour because they are boys. This is not only damaging to females affected but also teaches boys that this behaviour is ok. Make sure to intervene and break down that stereotypical behaviour. Allow boys to express their full selves and be in touch with their vulnerabilities, worries and emotions. Additionally, teach them that boys are an ally to girls and women who they should also support and appreciate as they should any other person regardless of their gender.
These 10 tips on how to raise your child without gender bias aren’t an essential guide to parenting, they’re simply something to recognise when parenting your children. Remember to keep an open mind around this topic as many parents have different views and parenting styles. At the end of the day, your child will flourish the most if you allow them to be who they truly want to be regardless of their gender.
Bobic, C. (2022). 9 Ways to raise your child without gender bias. https://www.lifehack.org/292151/9-ways-raise-your-child-without-gender-biased-rules
Halton, M. (2019). How to raise kids without rigid gender stereotypes. https://ideas.ted.com/how-to-raise-a-child-whos-free-from-gender-norms/
Making Caring Common. (2018). 5 tips for preventing and reducing gender bias. https://mcc.gse.harvard.edu/resources-for-families/5-tips-for-preventing-and-reducing-gender-bias