The Danger of Stereotypes
Gender stereotypes begin the day a child is born. The family and friends flood the hospital room and exclaim, “Look at that big, strapping boy!” “What an adorable little linebacker.” “He's a handsome little devil” or “Oh … she's so sweet and dainty.” “Look at her delicate little hands.” “What a precious little angel.” The comments are immediately gender stereotyped, and will set each child up to be viewed as belonging to a certain set of characteristics and to follow the gender guidelines established by society long ago. Girls are expected to be pretty, nurturing, and kind; boys are expected to be confident, capable, and strong.
To prove just how influential gender stereotypes are, researchers dressed a group of male babies in pink and handed them to adults who were told they were girls. The adults referred to the “girl” babies as sweet, cuddly, cute, etc. And when adults were given girl babies dressed in blue, the adults called them slugger, tough, strong, etc.
It's easy to see how subconscious and entrenched these age-old stereotypes are. Be mindful of your own expectations and tendencies to reinforce stereotypes. Here are a few dos and don'ts to keep in mind:
Do keep your behavioral expectations the same for boys and girls.
Do snuggle, color, and read with your boys and wrestle, roughhouse, and play video games with your girls.
Do encourage nurturing and compassionate behavior in both boys and girls.
Do encourage assertive and confident behavior in both boys and girls.
Do limit the media and its stereotypical gender images in your home.
Do love your child regardless of where he or she fits on the gender scale.
Don't view aggression as more acceptable for boys than for girls.
Don't ignore aggressive or violent behavior in either girls or boys.
Don't forget to praise your child for positive social behavior, regardless of whether it's considered stereotypically masculine or feminine.
Don't force your child to display stereotypical masculine or feminine behavior. If your son wants to play house, let him. If your daughter likes to hunt for frogs in the mud pond, be all for it. And conversely, if your son is obsessed with trucks and trains and your daughter wants to wear a pink, sequined princess dress every day of her young life, that's fine, too.
Don't impose your stereotypes on your child. You may have been captain of the football team, but your son may prefer music or the arts. Respect your child's individuality.