Kids Know Gender Stereotypes – and Can Make Change
A couple things making the rounds of the Interweb these days have to do with gender stereotypes in children’s books marketed for boys and girls separately. Such as:
(see Constance Cooper, who includes a list of the revealing table of contents of each) and
There’s nothing new about this. There are dozens of pink Bibles for girls and blue or sports- or adventure-themed Bibles for boys, not to mention non-Sciptural offerings. Anyone who has been to a store that sells toys, knows that there are pink aisles and blue aisles. (Smithsonian.com has a good article on the history of pink and blue as gendered colors.)
As Constance Cooper pointed out to her daughter when she found the above “survival” books in their favorite bookstore, these stereotypes hurt both boys and girls – who will, eventually, be men or women or genderqueer. This is gender essentialism: the belief that there are certain traits that the essence of being masculine or feminine. Girls/women don’t enjoy camping and do like to bake tiny cakes to share with others. Boys are exactly the opposite. That’s what makes them boys. If they dislike sports or think pink is a cool color, they are not “real” boys.
I have two sons, and gender essentialism hurts them every day, and as they approach junior high, I expect it will only get worse. They even live in a house where we regularly deconstruct gender and point out stereotypes. But that’s not enough to keep the social and capitalist forces that benefit from gender essentialism and the strict binary construction of gender from influencing their identities.
What also influences their identities is how their parents/caregivers help them respond to these stereotypes. Cooper and her daughter confronted the bookstore staff, who removed the books to a less prominent location. Children have a lot of power to make change. Not in the future. Now. Tell a child today.