Friday, March 14, 2014

"Stereotype"-ical problems

During my junior year of college, I was in the "Sociology of Gender" class. Like most classes, we had a final project to complete. It was a group project, and our team decided to do an experiment. We interviewed various people, asking them basic questions about who they were and the world around them.

Here are some of the questions we asked. Answer them as you read.
  1. Are you a boy or a girl?
    1. How do you know?
  2. What were some of your favorite TV shows growing up?
    1. Why?
  3. Would you buy your future daughter a GI Joe if she wanted one?
    1. Why?
  4. Would you buy your future son a Barbie if he wanted one?
    1. Why?
The rest of the questions went along those lines: we asked about stereotypes that most of us just accept but don't really think about because they're so ingrained into our lifestyle. It was interesting to report that, when asked "why" about some of these things, those we interviewed didn't know.
"Sure! I'd buy my daughter a GI Joe if she wanted one!"
"Well, 'cause she wants one, I guess."

"There's no way I'd buy my son a Barbie!"
"...........ummmm....I don't's just weird."

So, it's not weird for a girl to play with a GI Joe, but it is weird if a boy owns a Barbie doll...


I grew up as a tomboy. My parents say that's just the way I've always been. I knew how to use a power drill before I ever cared about how to use a make-up brush. I worked with Daddy on everything.

Anyway, when I was in kindergarten, there was play time. The girls always went to play in the kitchenette while the boys went to play with the cars and blocks. Thinking that it wasn't okay to play with the blocks, I timidly went to my teacher and asked permission to so do. She looked surprised at my request, but didn't have a problem with it.

With renewed confidence, I went to day care after school. The girls' and boys' play rooms mirrored the kindergarten situation. When inside play time came, I asked my day care teacher the same question I had posed to my school teacher, only this time, I was met with a clear "no. Those are for the boys. You go play with the girl things."

During play time that day, I sat in a corner and cried. You have no idea how much it disgusted me to be told that I had to play with dolls, dress-up things, and kitchenettes when there were blocks in the other room.

In other news:
My usual make-up set (used maybe once a week)

I hardly wore make-up as a teen. I was approached by an older female friend of mine and was told that maturing young women should be wearing it--it's part of a woman's growing up experience...still didn't do it. That didn't mean I didn't know how to use it. It just wasn't me. It still isn't.

One time, after a male friend of ours found out that I had changed the oil on our car (which isn't unusual for me), his immediate reaction was "is it still working okay?" Of course, I knew he was joking, but that didn't mean I wasn't a little hurt by it.

A couple of summers ago, my husband and I worked in Alaska. For 16 weeks, 60-80 hours each week, I drove one of these:
Its specs are as follows:
45 feet long
10 feet wide (including the mirrors)
11.5 feet high
54,000 lbs without passengers
$500,000 to build

When we told people what we would be doing for the summer, their reaction to me was "isn't it a little dangerous for a girl to be driving something that big?"

So, is there something wrong with me because I'm a female who prefers a miter saw to a KitchenAid? Of course not. Sure, it makes things slightly awkward for me sometimes, especially when I get invited to go out to do "girl stuff" (I won't say no to being with friends just because I'm not an absolute fan of the itinerary). But for the most part, it's no big deal. I rather like the fact that if I get a flat on the road, I don't have to wait around with my hazards on for someone to come save me.

While I know now there's nothing wrong with me, I can't say I didn't wonder as a child because of the conflicting messages I was given by adults.

And that's the thing:

Most of what children believe regarding what's okay and what's not for girls and boys comes from adults. And adults push the stereotypes like crazy, without even realizing it.

My husband and I have many opportunities to work with toddlers. One time, a dad was sitting in to help his daughter (a newcomer) adjust to being with us for a few hours. Anyway, one of the 2-year-old boys grabbed a pink convertible and started playing with it. The dad saw him, smiled, and asked "Are you having fun playing with the girl car?"

That 2-year-old didn't care what color it was. To him, it was just a car. It was the adult that stereotyped it as a "girl" thing.

Here's another recent story: a little boy named Grayson, who is only 9 years old, likes the TV show "My
Little Pony" and even got an MLP themed lunchbox for school. Here is his story via his support website:
Just a few days into carrying it, he began being bullied by classmates. . . . When Grayson's parents approached the school for help, [the school] blamed the parents for letting him have the lunch box. . . .One school official made it a point to tell Grayson that his mother was wrong for letting him have [it]. The superintendent's office is supporting the school and is not taking any action, calling the lunch box a trigger for the bullying (emphasis added). Source
My friends, an inanimate object with nothing amoral about it triggers nothing. The stereotyped reaction of the adults around him (yes, including the parents of some of Grayson's classmates) is triggering the bullying. This could be a great opportunity for the students in the school to be taught that people should be able to like what they want without fear of feeling like something's wrong with them.

But that opportunity is being lost.

When people see my daughter being a big helper to her little brother, they smile and say "she's going to be a great mother when she grows up." However, I can guarantee you that when my son becomes a big brother and someone sees him being a big helper, they're going to say "What a big boy!" or "He's such a sweet big brother." No one will even think to reference that fact that, one day, he will very likely be a father.

Am I mad at people for talking like that? Of course not! That's just the way we've been trained to talk. But just because I'm not upset doesn't mean that change shouldn't happen. I can begin the change in my own home with my children and in the way I act around others.

If my son likes flowers, that's okay. If he likes dolls (very likely since he has an older sister who already has many of them), I'm okay with that, too. If he decides that sports aren't really his thing, that's okay. If he want's to be a superhero when he grows up, that's okay, too.

And lastly, because I grew up as a tomboy, I get questioned a lot about my daughter. "Are you going to let her be a girly-girl if she wants?"

Of course I will. I will let her be whoever she wants to be. If she wants to be a girly-girl, I will support her 100%. If she wants to be a tomboy, I will support that, too. I just never want her to feel like she can't do or like something because it goes against a stereotype.

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