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Dear Customer Who Stuck Up For His Little Brother made me start thinking about gender roles again. It is a topic that passes my mind every so often, between being a communication major and well being in a relationship that on many levels disputes the roles society has had in place for years.

Kristen Wolfe, a 20 year old student, retail manager and blogger posted her Dear Customer… piece a few days ago in the Huffington Post. Two young boys entered the video game section of her store, they were brothers and looking for a new game for the younger one – the big brother was buying. When Dad finally showed up to see what his boys were doing and what they had picked out, well the story goes he went somewhat ballistic on his youngest son, check out the full story HERE.

Gender roles are imposed through a variety of social influences and are formed in the early social ages of childhood. While studies today are more prominent on the issue of gender roles and how they are developed, years ago when our parents were all raising us – well this was very well out of the question.

Born a girl you were raised in shades of pink and purple, born a boy you were raised in shades of blue and green. Mom’s stayed at home, cooked, cleaned and cared while Dad was out making the bacon.

Over the years however, our “traditional” gender roles have changed, women work, men stay at home and its almost okay for a boy to be caught playing with a doll – almost.

Gender roles are the roles that we assume, based on societies impact on our upraising, men or women should have. Most of which impact is made in the early years of childhood — the expectations that are preset for each gender.

“Boys will be boys”

Have you ever wondered the impact that the statements you make to young children have on them? The repeated “You look so pretty” staement to a little girl sends a message that she is appreciated more for how she looks then what she can do. How about “Boys will be boys” when stated to young men post the grade school fist fight? Taking the action “as it is” and just accepting that is how the young man is programmed to be passes along the message that boys are violent.

Everything in society has some type of impact, what we see our parents do, the way our family acts, friends act and authorities’ rolls in school teach us. Even mass media has a grave influence on gender roles.

While, sure more girls may like Barbie then boys do – should we really encourage little boys not to play with Barbie Dolls? Should we not buy a little girl Hot Wheels for Christmas?

I understand that our gender roles have been essentially “fine” for years, that in that time we have made adjustments – great strands by which women can now “function.” But what about the children? At what point do we adults grow up and say it is okay for our little boys to want a purple video game controller and okay for our little girls to want a dirt bike? When will us adults be able to show children that you don’t need to be a girl to like the color pink and you don’t have to be a boy to like the color blue?

As I think back on both my niece and nephew (both who have different parents and live in different homes) I recall both their bedrooms and how they are treated.

Margaret’s room is soon to be painted a nice shade of pink with a pink Dora border going around the edges, she has a toy kitchen and grocery store from where she will make everyone lunch, on her shelves are more Dora movies and not one Deigo. The one hockey jersey I gave her a few years ago (the only “boy-ish” item in her wardrobe) can only be worn as a sleep shirt. Margaret is always told how pretty she is, she wore make up before turning 5 years old and on occasion wears a Bump It in her hair (though I have been guilty of being the one who put it in at her Mother’s request).

Caden on the other hand, has bunk beds with Batman and Handy Manny sheets; he has a bowling set, Hot Wheels tracks that can run across his walls and a Cars table. On his book shelf, books about dinos, cars and trucks, on the floor a Tonka Truck and Batman battle station. His closet is of a normal 4 year old boy, he has jeans and t-shirts galore each with Batman, a car or a truck across the front. Caden’s Mom has said though, if one day he says he wants to do ballet, she won’t fight with him one bit.

The behaviors, we their elders portray to these kids also has quite the impact. Studies have shown that males that have grown up in abusive families believe it is “okay” and “normal” to abuse their significant other, while females in the same situation grow to learn that abuse is “the way women should be treated.” So sure, your child is not in an abusive atmosphere, but that does not mean your behavior around them does not impact them. Little girls that see Mom partake in active activities learn that it is okay for girls to play sports and boys that see Dad cook or take care of the house learn that it does not mean anything is wrong with you if you want to cook or bake.

I challenge you, and myself, in this ever so “accepting” and changing society we live in to pass those traits along to the younger generation; to break barriers and social norms; to mold new gender roles.

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2 thoughts on “Defying gender roles

  1. I am blessed to have two adult children who are both very interested in gender roles. They challenge us to think about why we behave certain ways and well, just plain think. they challenge us to make decisions conciously, not just “because that’s how it is done” in all arenas of our lives, not just around gender issues.

    I believe that many youth and young adults are going to be the change you seek.

    • I totally agree. As I noted my relationship does not fall into those rolls that many deem “standard” or “normal;” I am the one who brings home the money and pays most of the bills, my boyfriend does the house work and works on his project that he hopes one day will pay. My grandparents refuse to accept our life style and just don’t address the topic at all (they don’t even ask how my boyfriend is doing). My parents were very hesitant and still are, but after years of this life style and a handful of conversations about it, they are slowly coming around to it. I hope that by living with Margaret right now she learns that it is okay to be a women and work, be strong and powerful — her mom regularly complains about having to work and tells her things like “work is boring we don’t want to work.”
      That’s awesome about your kids — my kuddos to them :)

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