There is no doubt that there is inequality between the way the sexes are represented today. As a parent of a girl and a boy it is something I am hyper aware of and I try hard to keep an even balance at home so that my kids grow up as proud feminists just like my husband and myself.
The inequalities present in childhood start young, and begin with the messages our kids receive about what girls and boys are capable of. It is, to a degree, unavoidable. Have you seen this video about how many strong female characters are featured in children’s books? It’s ridiculously low and once you start to look at your own bookshelf you will probably also see just how many children’s books are full of “he’s” rather than “she’s”. I can correct this a little bit now. I try to fill the book shelf with books I love about strong female characters, and also, since my kids can’t read, change male characters to female ones when I can. An easy example of times I do this is when reading “Dear Zoo.” Every single animal in a zoo is male apparently. Bizarre. So when I read it now, they are female and male.. or sometimes all female. Similarly my husband reads the kids the classic Dr. Seuss book “Oh, the places you’ll go”. He also noticed the absence of “she’s” so whenever it doesn’t interfere with a rhyme, he changes the “he’s” to “she’s” when he reads to the kids.
These changes will do for now, but as our kids get older we will either need to find a LOT more books featuring female characters or these book (and others like them) might magically disappear from our house, simply because it’s unfair and uneven and not a good representation of the world my kids live in (or perhaps more accurately the one I want them to create).
There is a book we love called “Because I’m your Dad”, written by Ahmet Zappa and illustrated Dan Santat. This is a book about a Monster Dad and all the things he does with his CHILD, emphasis on child because you honestly can’t tell through the book if the child is a son or daughter. We love that, well hubby does especially because it is now a special book for him to read to both of our kids. Because the book refers to the child monster as “you” our kids feel equally represented in the book and can project their own feelings and experiences onto the child who may be a girl or a boy.
I am always trying to make sure to incorporate women into the games I play with my kids, mainly because male toys seem to dominate unless it’s a barbie or pony. When we play duplo my son knows that Batman or Wonder Woman are just as qualified to save the day. When we play Little People he is equally happy to be the boy or girl when they go on an adventure, because he knows they are equally capable of having the adventure. None of our toys have roles they need to play because they are a certain sex. In fact after reading this about what clothing tells our kids about gender roles I rethought a few of our duplo characters and removed skirts so that the girls who are usually passive (like sleeping beauty) could also help save the day comfortably.
I had an interesting conversation with my son one time around a construction site. He asked, “are the guys fixing this building”? I paused and replied “Yes they are, guys and girls are working on it!” My son, seemed a little confused. He saw exclusively men working and asked “girls can too?” “Yes,” I told him. “Girls can build the building too”. Now when he observes a construction site he sometimes says, “boys and girls can build the building, right mom?”
I am also very aware of the kinds of toys presented to my kids. It is crazy how at such a young age the things my daughter is often given are so different from toys my son receives. While he gets action figures and hot wheels she gets purses and stuffed animals. She does love stuffed animals, but you know what? She also loves playing with hot wheels and action figures. She looks at purses as a boring passive object that she does not know what to do with. Some gifts tend to get re gifted because I want her to know she is more than a purse. She can play with cars and trucks. She can play with Spiderman and Transformers. Frankly, she can play with and be whatever she wants. When it comes to gifts in general I welcome anything people want to give my kids, but some things may (like some books) magically disappear if I don’t think they are sending the kind of message we like in this family.
I hold the same value of equality for my son. I try to balance the kids’ wardrobes so my daughter’s doesn’t contain obnoxious amounts of pink, but my son’s is not totally devoid of the color. He is getting a doll for his birthday this year (have you heard of these!?) Any doll would do but Wonder Crew dolls do speak more to his interests than a standard baby doll.
Parenting is hard, but as I have stated in another blog post, once you have these little people in your care you see the world through a difference lens. I know I can’t control everything that will influence them but I can influence what they see.
That’s all for now, thanks for reading!