In the past few years, I’ve become less timid about challenging gender stereotyping, perhaps as my kids have aged beyond the stages when parents are heard to say, “He’s all boy!” or “She’s a girly-girl!” (I can hardly stand even to write those statements. If I could I’d wave my wand and banish them forever).
Recently I challenged a case of gender stereotyping, and a father of two preschoolers accused my point of being “trivial” (hadn’t heard that one before, even from the detractors). Many claim that they are not guilty of feeding their kids any “sexist messages”. OK, all you skeptics about the existence of gender stereotyping and sexist messages, consider this recent, real-life, unplugged example:
In our community, when a baby is born, someone makes a clever, handmade congratulatory sign and posts it on the bulletin board. The sign is usually a gentle spoof on the parents and siblings. The sign for the newest baby, born this week, featured:
1. The dad wearing his political party’s t-shirt
2. The mom wearing a t-shirt “emblazoned” with the name of her job
3. Sister wearing a dress labeled ― are you ready? ― “Pretty Dress”
I challenge anyone to tell me that if Sister were Brother, his clothing would’ve been labeled “Great Outfit”. If anything, it surely would’ve been labeled “Big Brother”, which one would think would’ve been the obvious choice for either gender. Indeed, why not “Big Sister”? Is her appearance the only thing we can think of to say about this child?
Everyone in the community will see this sign. Kids who can’t read will ask their parents what’s written on it. I have no quarrel with it per se: It's tasteful, effort was clearly invested in it, and it will without a doubt be a family memento. But if anyone thinks that our kids aren’t getting messages that reinforce gender stereotyping, I offer this example, for which I didn’t have to go searching: It positively jumped out at me. Would anyone dare argue that my point is trivial?