Wow, it’s been a rough few months and, if you’re like me, current events have brought up a lot of questions on how to talk to my kids about all kinds of stuff. Today, our contributor, Lara, is here sharing her thoughts on how to address the topic of gender equality.
I feel teaching gender equality is essential, even though (and maybe especially because) I have boys, not girls. Yet, I’m historically awkward when it comes to large and important discussions on character development.
However, I’ve had a lot of success with guerilla tactics—deploying relevant snippets of conversation in everyday situations.
Here are 7 tips to teach kids about gender equality…
1. Banish All Gender-Based Put-Downs Around Your Children.
You throw like a girl is a prime example.
Of course, I don’t have control over other adults, like coaches and ex-husbands, but I call it out when I see it—not to the adult, of course. I’m not that brave. But I will say to my kids, something along the lines of:
I don’t like how the coach said that only girls cheer for their teammates. Everyone needs encouragement and it implies that being a girl isn’t as good as being a boy.
2. Get Rid of the Notion that Toys/Colors are Gender Specific.
No Grandma, pink bunny sleeping bags aren’t for girls. They are for anyone who likes bunnies. Who doesn’t like bunnies?
Boys still get more flak for playing with dolls than girls do for playing with trucks, because our society still equates femaleness with weakness. But in this day and age we expect our husbands to participate in child-rearing. My sons’ father changed diapers and fed the baby. Why wouldn’t my son want to play with dolls and model that behavior?
Give toddlers a wide array of toys to choose from. I’m a hoarder, so I still had some dolls and a few plastic My Little Ponys from my own youth.
These went in the playroom along with the trucks and crayons and everything else. An old nightgown got thrown in the costume box so they had another option in case they—or a friend coming over—wanted to be a princess, or a wizard, or a ghost, or anything else that required long flowy fabric.
3. If You Have a Husband, Tell Him He Has to Vacuum for the Sake of the Children.
If you don’t have a husband, any brother, father, or other male-type person will do. I jest—most people have gotten the memo that cleaning is everyone’s job, but we often fold the laundry or run the dishwasher when the kids are in bed and there are no witnesses.
I get it—it’s faster to get things done without the help of small people. But seriously, let them see it happen on occasion.
4. If You Were Hoping #3 Meant You Get to Lie on the Couch and Eat Bon-Bons While Honey-Muffin Vacuums, I have Some Bad News.
Lawn care is everyone’s job as well, so make sure the little darlings witness you mowing, shoveling, or taking out the trash. If you have a traditional break down of roles in your house, you don’t have to mix it up all the time—every once in a while is adequate.
5. Watch TV with Your Children and Interrupt Their Viewing with Running Commentary.
My feminist mother banished all TV shows that had an overtly misogynistic message—well, she tried, but it was close to impossible in the 1980s. But her ban only made me want to watch the shows more and resent feminists for taking away my television. (I never claimed to be a sweet natured child.) Instead, I watch TV with my kids, and we discuss the characters.
For example, my kids love Phineas and Ferb. There’s some cool stuff going on (blended family, building stuff, platypuses), but my sons know how I feel about Candace, who is just as smart as her brothers but she spends the majority of her time chasing Jeremy instead of doing cool stuff of her own.
When the remake of Richie Rich comes on, they get a double lecture on materialism and the impracticality of Irona’s black French maid outfit.
6. Point Out Gender Inequality When You See It.
I have sons, not daughters, but I still get involved when I see gender inequality in their school.
For example, at their old school, girls got more uniform violations than boys. We talked about the boys they knew who wore sweat pants on non-gym days with no repercussions and the girls who got written up for skirts that were an inch too short or untucked shirts. Train their eyes to see injustice even when it benefits them.
7. Be Aware of What Messages the Kids Overhear in Your Household.
For example, my workout DVD touts the value of “sleek, sexy arms” or a “nice firm booty.” Now, I love my exercise video and I’m not going to stop using it, but since my kids are often in the room when I exercise, I make sure to tell them that,
I don’t exercise to look sexy. I exercise so I’m strong enough to do a pull-up at the playground.
And then when we go to the playground, I do that pull-up and show them that I am strong—strong as a mother.