How to Talk to your Kids About Sexism and Gender Stereotypes
Posted: Feb 03 2016
Sexism begins when we’re children. If you think about it, one of the places gender stereotypes are most evident is children’s toys. The girls’ toys are pink and related to caregiving and fashion/beauty roles, such as baby dolls and strollers and dress up kits. Boys’ toys are blue and all about cars and trucks. Addressing this issue when children are young can have a major impact on their attitude towards gender as they grow up. It’s important to teach boys and girls that they can pursue any activity, schooling or career that excites them, no matter what their gender, as well as to accept others around them no matter what their interests are.
Here are a few ways to get the conversation with your children started.
Discuss what they’re seeing on a TV show or in a commercial. If a boy is playing sports in one commercial and a little girl is painting her nails on a TV show, let your child know that just because these roles are popular on television, doesn’t mean that they have to aspire to it themselves.
Ask your child to tell you what they see when they watch TV or movies. Do they notice the clear gender assignments? Examples:
- What careers did the women have vs. the men?
- In commercials about cleaning or other household tasks, who was usually doing the chores?
- Who is involved with most of the sporting events on television?
- Who focused more on appearances?
- Did they see more business men or women?
Sexism and gender roles are in more entertainment mediums than just TV and movies. Think about the portrayals in music and video games as well. What are the lyrics in music being sung by men vs. women? Is there more pressure for female performers to be attractive? Discuss the video games that are geared toward boys vs. girls. Why do the more violent games always seem to be directed towards boys, while the girls’ games are all about fashion and beauty?
Because children are such a huge target market for advertisers in the toy, TV, movie, music and game industries, starting the conversation at an early age can really help them shape into the person, role, etc. that they want to be, not the one that they are molded into by society.
The goal of these discussions isn’t to push children away from their typical gender roles. It’s to give them a healthier concept of gender. To let them know that just because they’re a girl doesn’t mean they can’t like sports, and just because they’re a boy doesn’t mean they can’t appreciate fashion and art. They should have the freedom to choose what interests them, regardless of what gender it is typically associated with.
Beyond discussing what your children are seeing in the media, it should also be displayed at home. Children should see parents or partners that support each other in their careers and roles in the home. If you are part of a traditional, nuclear family, mom can mow the lawn and dad can do the laundry. Encourage kids to try out any sports or extracurricular activities that appeal to them. Always encourage them to try new things, and regularly revisit these conversations to make sure the topic stays relevant.