Monday, September 17, 2012

Gender stereotyping

This has absolutely nothing to do with sustainability, but it's something which I've noticed a lot of lately and it's really been bothering me: gender stereotyping. Thankfully, this isn't something I've particularly noted in my friends. Those who are raising children are doing so in very balanced ways, making sure they have role models of all sorts.
So where have I noticed this rampant stereotyping? Mostly on the internet, and it takes many, many forms. For one thing, there are all the "news" articles which can be found daily even on "serious" news sites, like Huffington Post, about women and their bodies. I don't give a f**k if so-and-so exposed her boobs in (what should have been) a private location while she was vacationing. (I got all of that from headlines, mind you.) Who cares? People do that all the time and, really, they're just boobs. Get over it. It's an unhealthy fixation on the body parts of female celebrities, and only female celebrities. Can you imagine the outrage that people would pour out if there was an article about a male celebrity's butt in a "serious" news article? Or any male body part in solo. They might be described as "hot", but that's the extent of how a male celebrity's body is analyzed. Yet I see headlines every day about "See which celebrity had a wardrobe malfunction!" with the picture of some female celebrity. "Whose boobs were too much for her dress?" Even the tabloids (from my limited, grocery store exposure to them) mainly shy away from articles of male celebrities' body parts. Now, the solution is not that they should start focusing on these things, but that they should stop talking about them all together. It's only a "scandal" that so-and-so was sunbathing topless because some asshole took pictures and some other assholes decided to publish them, then they dubbed it "a scandal" to sell more issues.
It's a damn shame that our "advanced" society can't seem to get beyond a ridiculous obsession with women's bodies.
Then there are the forms of stereotyping which I'm sure would be termed more "benign" than that. They can be rather subtle. I was reading a blog which I've been very much enjoying, about a couple trying to simplify one thing a day for a year, and there was the minor matter of socks. This couple has quite a few children, only one of whom is a boy. Talking about the sock problem, among complaints about what happens when one sock goes missing, was a quick mention of having to explain to their son about "girl socks", and why he can't wear them. I don't get it. What the hell are "girl socks"? If I had a son who wanted to wear pink ballerina socks, I'd let him. I'm sure that phase would end quick enough, frankly, because some things will never change and a boy wearing pink ballerina socks is bound to get teased. I would probably explain this to him when he put the socks on, but I would also tell him that there's no shame in wearing what you want. My brother-in-law knits and one of his favorite colors is pink. And you know what? Neither of those things make him less manly. I'm glad that he has the confidence and strength of personality to know it, to laugh when he gets teased. (Mostly by Shane, who has said to me many times that, really, he's in awe of how good his brother is at knitting. Not that I could get him to actually say so to his brother, of course....)
The point here, is that I don't understand why something as stupid as socks needs to be labeled as "boy socks" and "girl socks". Are we really so concerned over "gender-bending" in society that young boys have to wear different socks from their sisters? In this case, the mom's solution was to get a bunch of all pink socks in sizes for her daughters, and blue socks for the boy. No more searching for matches to that specific Dora or My Little Pony sock that's gone missing! It's a great plan. Except for the color thing. It would have been even easier to just get one set of socks--in a neutral color or shade, even, like white--and have those be the communal socks. Then you don't even have to gender stereotype!
I think we do both little boys and little girls a huge disservice simply through our gender stereotyping of colors. COLORS! From what I've seen and heard, it's very difficult to get anything for little girls which isn't in pink or purple, and even harder to find anything not in pastel. For little boys, it's all about primary colors. You don't have to dig hard to get the underlying message: girls are soft and weak, and so should have soft, weak colors. Boys are strong and manly, they should have stronger, brighter colors. Because, of course, no little girls can ever truly be strong, and no little boys have tender sides. Sugar and spice and all that s**t.
All of this becomes more ridiculous when you actually know the history of color stereotyping. Did you know that, up until WWII, pink used to be considered a manly color? Because it's sort of like red, which was another manly color. Blue was traditionally a female color, associated with water (a "female element") and other female things, like the Virgin Mary. (It's actually her official color in the Catholic church.) It wasn't until about WWII when hospitals started assigning blue to boys and pink to girls, so that they could be told apart at a glance. Until then there was no real need because most hospitals didn't have enough babies at any one time for it to be an issue. With more urbanization due to the war, more hospital births rather than home births, and the subsequent baby boom, the color-coding became necessary for hospitals to help tell the babies apart.
And yet, here we are. Everyone knows that girls wear pink and boys wear blue. Never mind that it's an entirely modern precept. And never mind that it's not the same for adults. My favorite colors are blue and green (and pretty much all shades in between, like teal) but no one bats an eyelash at that. It's just little boys and little girls who are forced into these standards of what colors they *should* like.
Unfortunately, it doesn't stop at colors, either. I can't even count the number of times I've seen some cute craft or idea aimed at children that's said, "Perfect for little boys!" or "Little girls are sure to love this!" Why are we still assigning gendered tasks? It's the same old ones, too. Anything slimy or gross or having to do with construction (like Legos) is labeled for boys. Anything having to do with kitchen stuff or babies or ponies is labeled for girls. I even saw a friend Pin a picture of Legos in a soap dispenser and it had been labeled, "So awesome for little boys!" Excuse me, but are you saying that little girls don't like Legos? Or perhaps it's just because they were primary colored Legos. If it was the girly Legos, that would have been fine for little girls. But we can't have girls building things in primary colors, oh no! That would destroy, like, half of our ideas about gender and identity!
I admit, I was a little girl who loved all things girly. I wanted to be a ballerina when I grew up, I insisted that things be pink and sparkly, and I loved babies and baby dolls. But I also enjoyed riding my bike and playing Legos with my brothers (primary colored ones even!) just as much as all the rest. I'm forever grateful to my parents for not trying to confine me to gender stereotypes. My dad taught me how to swing a hammer as well as my brothers, and how to shoot. My mom taught at least one of my brothers some basic sewing skills, and insisted that each of my brothers know how to cook, even just a little bit. (And I can't believe that's still considered a gendered skill. Knowing how to feed yourself is something only women need? Really? Is the sarcasm coming through?) I think that each of these things has made us more well-rounded people, in the end.
And really, it makes people more interesting, too. Having a wide variety of skills and interests makes you more interesting and more able to converse with just about anyone you meet, because you'll be more likely to find something mutually interesting to discuss. That is the true shame of gender stereotyping. We're not only blocking children off from so much they could do and be, but also limiting the people with whom they will want to interact.
Recently on Facebook, one of my cousins opened a discussion about a small problem her son was having. He's been going to dance classes for several years now but at the beginning of each new year he has trouble with other children (and, shamefully, their parents) who think it's silly or strange that a boy would be taking dance classes. So to help bolster his spirits, and have a comeback for the small-minded people who would look down on him for his chosen hobby, they tried to come up with a list of male dancers who are household names. Like Fred Astaire, Danny Kaye, and Mikhail Baryshnikov. My cousin asked friends for others they could think of, and the list was rather long. They did ask for female names, too, just to compare the lists. But it was sort of shocking to realize that there are about as many famous male dancers as there are female dancers. We don't think it odd at all when we see adult males dancing, so why should we find it so ridiculous that a boy might want to take dance classes? It's just stupid, and I hope that my little cousin knows that right down to his dancing toes.
For those of you who actually have children, what are you doing (or have done) to combat gender stereotyping? What's been the biggest problem for you in trying to battle what others think your child should do or be?

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