Monday, April 09, 2012

Gender Bias: Turns out, I'm guilty too

I've always thought of myself as fairly progressive when it comes to gender equality. While I didn't really think about it much when my son was born for some reason, I've been acutely aware of the effect gender bias has on our decisions when it comes to my daughter. I'm not sure why I focused on it with her and not him... perhaps because there's an assumption that if you pigeon-hole your daughter as a GIRL, it's oppressive, but if you treat your son as all BOY, you're doing him a favour. Why is that? I don't know. But I digress...

In the past two-and-a-half years since The Girl was born, I've done my best to maintain a balance and present a fairly neutral 'front' when it comes to the the toys, games, and clothes we provide for her. This was fairly easy, given that a lot of the toys we had in the house were either neutral or typically "boy" toys. Now, I don't know why trucks and dinosaurs are considered BOY things, but they are. Since we already had all those things in the house, when The Girl came along and we were given all the pink and doll things, it just blended in, and she had a choice as to what to play with. I imagined her as that little freckly-faced kid in jeans and braids who we've all seen, so proud of her (blue and red and green) LEGO creation.

At certain times I do find myself getting caught up in the whole "girly girl" thing. I did kindof want to slap myself when I realized I'd played right into the marketing of pink to girls: on her first birthday, when The Girl ripped open her presents, lo and behold there was a PINK toy sorter, and a PINK school bus. Oh, dear. How did those get in there?? Okay, I found it hard to resist... I mean that pink school bus is just too cute. But, why didn't I just buy the yellow school bus? Did it being pink offer any added play value? I'm not saying there's anything inherently wrong with pink... It's a great colour, but am I sending a message to my daughter when I buy her a pink school bus instead of yellow? I would never have bought my son a pink school bus. (And why not?)

Despite the occasional pink toy (and a boatload of baby dolls -- The Girl happens to love them, what can I say?), I think we have a fairly good mix in our house. We try not to influence them one way or another when it comes to choices, what they want in terms of colours, clothing, toys... We offer a wide range and they decide. The Boy often chooses pink, and why not? I'd say we're doing pretty well.

Or at least, I thought so. Until I realized gender bias is underneath it all, even despite trying to be aware of it and keep my own ideas of what is "for girls" and "for boys" checked at the door. After signing the kids up for various spring activities, I was smacked down with my own bias and realized I'd sent a very clear and unintended message to my son. When he heard that his sister would be doing gymnastics every Saturday he turned to me and said, "I want to do gymnastics too! Like they do on TV!".

Oh, dear.

Well past the registration deadline at this point, with no chance to get him signed up for this semester, I had to explain to him why I had signed his sister up for gymnastics, and him for t-ball, and not the other way around.

I really don't have a good answer for him. (Mom Fail #923)

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