Healthy Parenting Around GenderGendered Messages
We know that restrictive gender messages hurt children who are gender diverse, but they also hurt cisgender children.
Gendered Messages and Your Children
Here are just a few examples of how gendered messages often come up for our children:
- Girls are often praised for their clothes or hairstyle, or for being sweet or kind, while boys are often praised for being big, or tough or independent.
- Boys are encouraged to withhold painful or sad emotions. Boys are often told not to cry or to “shake it off” while girls are given permission to show their feelings. Boys have very few outlets for feelings other than anger, which can be devastating to their emotional development.
- We offer different activities to girls and boys, sending the message that these are their only options. For example, if boys are never offered dance lessons, they are unlikely to ask for them given societal pressures. This also comes into play with young children. Offering building toys to boys reinforces spatial skills and offering dolls to girls reinforces empathy and caretaking skills.
Watch the BBC video below to see how adults reacted to kids based on the toys the kids were playing with.
More Gendered Messages
- Even if we expect our girls to succeed academically, we also expect them to help at home or to pay attention to their looks. Many families have expectations that girls will stay close to home even as adults to take care of siblings and elders.
- Femininity is often highly regulated in families. Many parents are more protective of their girls than their boys, having stricter rules about how they dress and socialize. This can send negative messages to girls about their sexuality and about who has ownership over their body.
- We may put pressure on our boys about dating and sex that are impossible to live up to, while having a very different set of expectations for our girls in these arenas.
- We may not see that our boys, as well as our girls, have body image issues. In reality, both boys and girls are bombarded with images that encourage the idea that there is one ideal body type for “women” (thin and white) and one ideal body type for “men” (muscular and white).
- We may have different ideas about what is acceptable dress for our girls and boys. Boys have less leeway in their dress and creative expression than girls. We also have different standards for girls with larger bodies or Black and Brown girls. For example, this Black curvy swimmer was sanctioned for the way her swimsuit fit even though other girls also had similarly fitting suits.