Blue is for boys, pink is for girls. Dolls and dress up are for girls; trucks, dinosaurs, and superheroes are for boys. Men work, women stay home to raise children. Men are in positions of power, and women serve in jobs beneath them.
I hope you're reading this and thinking, "No, no, no!" This is 2017. This is the time of Hillary, Beyoncé, and girl power. Women can be whatever they want – they can even become the President if that's their thing. They can dominate the music industry, lead companies, run businesses, work and be a mom, be scientists and doctors, play professional sports, and pretty much anything else that they want to do. Are there obstacles and road blocks? Sure. But the point is girls have choices, we just need to show them.
It's so easy for us to buy into gender normative stereotypes for our kids. It's comfortable, it's uncomplicated, and it's familiar. We take pleasure in placing a bow on a baby girl's head, and putting a truck in the hands of our boys. And I'm not saying that you are wrong if you do those things (I certainly appreciate fashion and have a fondness for pretty things), but I am asking you to take a step back from the complacency and the desire to follow what has come before us. I'm asking you to empower your children with choices and options. I'm asking you to teach feminism, to both your sons and your daughters. I'm asking you to expose your children to gender equality.
See, the problem is, gender stereotyping starts so early - it can become ingrained in the way we raise our children, fixed into our everyday lives, and deep-rooted in the way our children view the world. When we stay in the lines of what is culturally and socially appropriate, we limit the things our children can wear, we restrict the activities and hobbies they might enjoy, we stifle the choices that lay before them, and we place glass ceilings above their small heads. We obstruct true freedom and individually, and confine them to a life that is gender appropriate.
Recent studies show that kids believe the gender stereotypes that they are exposed to by age 10. “We found children at a very early age—from the most conservative to the most liberal societies—quickly internalize this myth that girls are vulnerable and boys are strong and independent,” says Robert Blum, a professor at Johns Hopkins University and the director of the Global Early Adolescent Study.
So, what can you do to make a change? What can you do to inspire your children to be whoever they want to be? My advice is this: start early, start small, and give them choices.
Start early: this book was gifted to us when the twins were babies, and it's amazing! My girls really loved reading it and it quickly became one of their favorites. It showed them, before they could even really understand the concept, that girls can be leaders. Girls can save the day. Girls can be strong. And that's a message that I love.
Start small: maybe it's the books that you expose your kids to (like this one), maybe it's tv shows or movies you put on for them (like Word Girl, Doc Mcstuffins, Daniel Tiger, Brave, or Moana), maybe it's some cool shoes from the "boys section," maybe it's a dinosaur toy, a truck, or a doll. Start small, weave some gender-neutral things into your home, and go from there.
Give them choices: like our good friend Daniel Tiger says, You can be more than one thing! It's okay for our kids to enjoy toys and activities that are common for one gender. It's also okay for them to enjoy toys and activities that are typically associated with both boys and girls. It's okay to like both! My girls love wearing super hero costumes and saving the day. They also enjoy wearing princess costumes and feeling beautiful. Sometimes they even like to wear their superhero capes on top of their princess costumes. It's okay to be more than one thing! They have super hero underwear (from the "boys" department) and bumble bee underwear. They have super hero tattoos and princess tattoos. I provide the options, and they make the choices.
My kids are exposed to both sides of the gender spectrum, and it's okay for them to like and enjoy whatever they want. I want to give them the tools to find their own voices, and then give them the encouragement to use those voices. My hope is that they feel empowered, inspired, and encouraged to wear what they feel comfortable in, play how they want, learn about what interests them, and one day become strong women who shatter glass ceilings. In other words, I want to raise superheroes. I want to raise feminists. And I want you to raise feminists too.
Because the change needs to start early, and it needs to start with us.
After all, Well behaved women seldom make history.