Last week I read a great blog post entitled Boy or Girl? on Mom-101 about the questionable practice of assigning gender to McDonald’s Happy Meals. The uncomfortable conversation this author was forced to have with her daughters, explaining that the cool, fun toy was not just for boys, was reminiscent of an exchange I had with my own kids this summer. As a parent, there are often things my kids hear or see that make me cringe, and more often than not, these things have something to do with gender. I was inspired by this McDonald’s gaffe to create a list of my top cringe-inducing offenses:
Top Ten Gender Blunders
1. Deciding for my kids what toys are for them:
i.e. Boy Happy Meals vs. Girl Happy Meals
2. The color-coding of toy aisles:
Not too long ago, I was with Molly at Target, and she wandered over to the animated Lego display. The following is a true account of what happened:
Molly: “Cool! Boy toys!”
Me: “What makes you think these are boy toys? Can’t girls play with them?”
Molly: “They just are. I like them because they’re boy toys.”
Then, under her breath, she said,“Action!”
I was totally bummed because I knew she was intrigued by these toys yet was certain they were not for her (stinkin’ blue aisle!).
3. The different wording used to market toys for boys and girls:
(Message received loud and clear by my 4-year-old. Boy toy = ACTION)
4. Adults turning boy-girl friendships into something romantic:
“Oh isn’t that sweet? He’s in love with her!” “They’re going to get married.”
5. Sweeping generalizations:
“Girls are so______”
“Boys always _____”
6. Failing to encourage our kids to play with other-gender peers:
I know I am guilty of this myself. I think we often make assumptions about who our kids will be most comfortable with. I have caught myself encouraging Molly to join the girls playing on the swings rather than the boys playing with the bikes even though she may have preferred to play with the bikes.
7. Very few available examples of boys and girls in healthy, balanced, non- romantic relationships in children’s literature:
I wish there were more books like Half A World Away by Libby Gleeson where a boy and a girl have a mutual, positive friendship in which they have equal status and there are no stereotypes. Books meeting these criteria are very hard to come by. I spent last summer trying to put together a list of this type of book. It’s a short book list. If you have any recommendations, I’d love to hear them!
8. Organizing classrooms by gender:
When kids are lined-up by gender or directed to do things as gender groups (i.e. Girls, wash your hands. Boys, have a seat), it sends the message that they very different.
9. Adult sanctioned exclusion:
Girls’ only birthday parties or Boys’ Pirate Day at the community center may come with the best of intentions, but it’s still exclusion which can, and often does, result in hurt feelings.
10. Excluding peers based on gender:
It’s easy to dismiss comments such as “You can’t play here. It’s just for girls…” as kids being kids, but replace “girls” with any race, ethnicity or religion and your alarm bells would sound.
What makes you cringe?