While shopping in the mall the other day, I saw a toddler boy wearing a shirt that read “Hello ladies!” At first I thought he was adorable, but then I imagined a similar shirt on a toddler girl that would read “Hello boys!”
Far from being cute, this message would strike a chord with the public. I’m sure the mother would have received disapproving looks. People would have whispered about how inappropriate it is to put a shirt such as that on a girl - without her being old enough to make the decision on her own, no less.
But I didn’t see anyone giving the boy’s T-shirt any second glances and no one was looking at him without a smile on their face. The messages we are sending to our children about gender roles start young indeed.
From the very beginning, boys are taught to be “on the prowl,” while girls are taught to be demure, on the receiving end and “hard to get.” A role reversal is still surprising these days.
The long-term effects are clear. Women are still the targets of sexual violence as well as inequality in the workplace. One needs look no further than the dress codes for various businesses and institutions.
Words such as “makeup, length of skirt” and other gender-defining words still come up to further ensure that everyone still knows their place.
As parents and as part of the community at large, our actions and the language we use all contribute to the message that our children absorb. That message is still that girls are supposed to act a certain way and boys are expected to act another. This leaves a lot of people unfulfilled and not able to grow to their fullest potential. Gender identity issues abound today.
If we can take the pressure off of our children to conform to stereotypes, perhaps many wouldn’t have to suffer the bullying that can result from not adapting to these labels, or perhaps a bully wouldn’t feel the need to take out her or his pain on a victim.
Take the way parents react to a child falling down and scraping their knee. We often give the girl the comfort she needs while expecting the boy to tough it out.
Language is a powerful thing. While reading an article from a prominent news organization, I read about Kathleen Wynne and Andrea Horwath’s “feisty” debate.
While attending a workshop on the trades and apprenticeship last week, the facilitator used hypothetical bosses, apprentices and journey people, all of which had the pronoun “he.” The hypothetical people were named “Steve, Bob and Billy.”
I approached her at the end of the session, thinking I would receive an eye roll, but instead had a great discussion about women in the trades and the advances and difficulties that have been made in the last few years. She promised to be more aware and include “she” in her examples.
And that would be my goal — for each of us to be a little more aware of the messages we are sending our children. Both sexes would benefit from emancipation from stereotypes.
Equality between the sexes is more than feminism — it’s about treating the sexes equally. I’m hoping the time is right to face these issues without fear of eye-rolling. Our children deserve it.