By Katie Culver
I work – really hard – at avoiding gender stereotypes with kids so I decided to tick through what we had lined up for Christmas this year: there was the Wii for my son and an American Girl doll for my daughter. Err – I mean, a Wii for the family and an American Girl doll for my daughter.
So I caught myself, and to compensate for who might dominate the Wii, decided we should find a great game for my daughter. Knowing nothing about Nintendo, I suggested my husband order a girl’s sport game—you know, Girls’ Extreme Sports or WNBA or girls’ soccer.
As it turns out, they don’t exist. Check out Nintendo’s “Girls’ Games” section on this website to see their offerings: dance, cooking, fashion, cheerleading and princess, in sum. [I do realize you can make your person a girl athlete on the sports games, but the obvious message in the girl-genre of games is troubling].
I’m not sure why, but when my son was asked to bring in a wrapped book for a Pollyanna gift exchange (aka Secret Santa or Yankee Swap) with his class, we were instructed that books be marked “boy” or “girl.” My first reaction: why do they have to be one or the other? There are books both a boy and a girl would find appealing. What must we “gender-ize” everything?
Yes, I know, girls and boys are different. But as a former teacher and mother of boys and a girl, I see the balance girls and boys can gain from one another. As parents and as educators we should seek ways to bring boys and girls together and not focus on separating them at every opportunity.
So this holiday season, here’s the challenge: Avoid putting kids in a “gender-ized box” (excuse the pun). Think about gifts that you might not ordinarily buy for that girl or boy on your list. By sticking to gender-typical gifts, we reinforce gender stereotypes that are very outdated – and may even discourage the recipient from finding a new activity or toy that she or he would enjoy.
Here are a examples and suggestions for broadening your purchasing scope:
· My daughter recently received a bracelet-making kit; it was a big hit with her AND her 7 year-old brother
· Last year I bought my son AND daughter knight’s swords (foam, of course); accompany this gift with stories of King Arthur’s Round Table and/or the books Jane and the Dragon or Not One Damsel in Distress.
· Buy sports equipment for girls (and don’t insist on pink!); think beyond the soccer ball—buy hockey sets (indoor and outdoor), lacrosse sticks, a skateboard, flag-football sets—even bowling or badminton equipment
· Shop for kids’ jammies in the boys section, for both genders! Girls also love pirates, dinosaurs, trucks and sports. Don’t limit them to princesses and bunnies.
· My two-year old son is very into dolls right now. It helps that he has an older sister, but he gravitates towards his favorite doll even when she is not around, making up names, telling me the baby is “silly” while cracking up, and comforting baby after he throws it on the ground (he also breastfeeds his baby!). All of this role-playing is wonderful for his development and will help him make a great dad someday.
· All kids love dress-up; Any kind of dress up! Buy a super-hero costume for a girl, without limiting it to Wonder Woman (scantily-clad) or Cat Woman (beyond inappropriately-clad; who can work in those clothes?!). Girls as well as boys want to wear an apron in the kitchen and dress up as a fire fighter, doctor, pirate, or spy. (See www.sewplainjane.com for really unique capes and masks).