One4mom4All asks:

How to help my daughter not stereotype about gender?

My daughter is in first grade, and it worries me that she sees things as "for girls" or "for boys." For instance, she will say that some toys are "just for boys" like swords or cars, and other toys are "for girls" like dolls and dress up. And when I try to explain that boys might like to play with dolls, and some girls might like cars, she strongly disagrees with me and sometimes even gets angry.

This disturbs me because I want her to know that she can be anything she sets her mind to, can wear any color that suits her, doesn't have to wear make-up to be feminine, and can overcome stereotypes or outdated/pre-determined roles for girls and women. She doesn't have to be a mother, she doesn't have to be a secretary or a housewife -- she can be a scientist, a doctor, a car mechanic, an engineer, anything that makes her happy and doesn't bring harm to others. I also don't want her to pressure or oppress other kids that don't fit within her narrow perspective (for example, tease boys that like the color pink, or girls who like to play army on the playground).

What can I do as a parent to help my daughter have a broader understanding about gender? Is she too young to get it? If so, are there things I can do now to prepare her so that when she is old enough to understand, she will?

Thanks in advance for your ideas and help on this.
In Topics: Self esteem and identity, Communicating with my child (The tough talks), Motherhood
> 60 days ago



Mar 23, 2009
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What the Expert Says:

It is so wonderful that you are conscious of the influence that proscribed gender roles can have on young children and adolescents. Although she may not be reflecting your views at this time, I imagine that your daughter will be well served and educated about the role of gender stereotypes just by virtue of your awareness and role modeling.

That said, there are a several factors to consider and concrete steps that you can take to help facilitate her understanding of gender stereotypes. First, rest assured that your daughter is quite typical in her stance on boys and girls at her age. School-age children tend to adopt typical views of gender, partly because they spend so much of their time in same-sex groups (for more on this, please see Dr. Eleanor Maccoby's book, "The Two Sexes". Link below). As children age, they begin to mingle with their peers of the opposite-sex in middle school and high school, breaking down barriers and stereotypes.

That said, there are still a number of ways that you can help your daughter to understand gender roles. The overarching goal is to help your daughter make better sense of images of males and females in mass media.

Define and explain "stereotypes" for your daughter. Explain that stereotypes are simple, one-dimensional characterizations of various groups that are perpetuated in movies, television, and music.

Explain to your daughter how males and females are stereotyped in the various forms of media. Advertising is attempting to sell "feel-good" feelings and presents images of beautiful and successful males and females that are not representative of the general population, but can inspire people to buy, so they can fit the stereotype.

Invite your daughter to consider how realistic the portrayals of males and females are in media. For instance, how much are mother figures in media similar to mommy?

In general, your daughter may be reluctant to accept some of these concepts, but you can insert short comments here or there as you watch a movie or listen to music together. Before long, your daughter will become a more thoughtful consumer of mass media.

Good luck.

L. Compian, Ph.D.
Counseling Psychologist Expert Panel
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