Families and Parent Educators Help Girls Go Beyond Stereotypes
VaJezatha Payne-Hines has given her two-and-a-half-year-old daughter ‘boy’ toys as well as dolls and other ‘girl’ toys. Her daughter’s nurturing behavior—feeding and tucking in her trucks—shows her that “you don’t have to push femininity…she’s going to be a nurturer,” says Payne-Hines, mother of three and long-time family child care provider in Carson. But her daughter also “jumps, she runs, she smashes her trucks together, she says what she needs, and defends her territory,” she adds.
Some girls want to play with dolls or dress up—but not all girls. And even the ones that do may also want to look for bugs or dig in the dirt. Challenging gender stereotypes can help girls more fully explore what interests them and build valuable skills for later life.
Families and parent educators share tips for encouraging all girls to grow without being held back by stereotypes.
Let girls be themselves
“Every child has their own personality,” says long-time early childhood teacher Carol Minami at the Los Angeles Harbor College Child Development Center. When families let the interests of the child guide them, she adds, they can sidestep the cultural messages about what girls should and should not do.
“If a girl wants to do woodworking and look for bugs and play rough and she doesn’t see that’s something the (adult) values, she gets the message she isn’t the kind of girl she’s supposed to be,” adds long-time preschool teacher Greg Uba. In his program, girls spend a lot of time outdoors and learn that “ball play and digging in the sand are (also) valued,” he adds.
“Parents worry about the gay issue,” says preschool teacher Esperanza Grageda. But, she says, how you play as a child will not make you gay. “It’s not like that at all. You’re either gay or not.”
Don’t perpetuate stereotypes
“If I gave my daughter a doll, I also gave her a medical kit or a briefcase,” says Janet Fleming of Conejo Valley Neighborhood for Learning. “My son had dolls and trains. Now there are pastel blocks—you’re supposed to buy those for girls and primary colors for boys. (In stores selling) costumes, they have a picture of a boy dressed as a train engineer, a girl dressed as a nurse. Parents are (flooded) with these messages.”
“But you don’t have to buy pink because she’s a girl,” adds Fleming. “She doesn’t have to wear a shirt that says ‘I’m a princess.’ There’s a great book called Do Princesses Wear Hiking Boots? that asks about riding bikes, taking frogs out of a pond. And you can point out stereotypes in books: are the doctors male, the nurses female?” (See: Beyond sugar & spice, snakes & snails for more children’s books)
Reprinted with the permission of the Action Alliance for Children.
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