Ungendering upbringing: Raising children without bias
Blue for boys. Pink for girls.
Stereotyped gender roles for children are a very common phenomenon—right from infancy—whether in their clothing, toys, activities, or targetted tv programmes. Gender stereotyping is essentially the idea that certain ideas and activities are better suited to a person based on their biological sex.
Males are supposed to like masculine things and females are supposed to like feminine things. As with any other concept, the interpretation of what is masculine and what is feminine has evolved, but the active and passive divide has stayed on.
Stereotyping children is akin to imposing certain rules on them, which shape the paths they are likely to follow in their lives—opening up some avenues but closing down others. Consequently, it is not far removed to say that women getting lesser wages than men, or men getting belittled for showing emotion is a result of age-old gender stereotyping and conditioning.
Gender stereotyping serves no functional purpose and we as a society must acknowledge the need to recognise its existence and the need to dismantle it.
Parents these days are increasingly and actively trying to break away from these stereotypes, ensuring children are free to choose who they want to be. The first step to raising children without engaging in gender bias is to start as early as possible.
Confused about where you should start? Here are a few tips that you can integrate into your parenting:
1. Genderless toys
This means that there is no such thing as “girl toys” and “boy toys”. Trucks, dolls, legos, and Meccano sets are for everyone. Allow your children the opportunity to explore all the toys in the toys section.
Don’t be quick to steer your daughters towards the dolls or your sons to the cars. It is important that children learn at an early age that there are no boundaries at playtime.
2. Suitable environment
This means that you, for starters, avoid all gender stereotyped colour and theme associations with respect to your children. Create an environment that would allow your child to learn and explore rather than imposing activities that are typically associated with their biological sex.
Include plants, books and ant farms in their learning environments; thus helping them engage their energy creatively. This will help the child to adapt to changing norms earlier on.
3. Let them express
It may be fairly obvious but has to be emphasised that your child must be aware that they have the freedom to pursue any activity they find interesting. Your son may not want to learn football and your daughter need not want to learn to dance.
Introduce your children to various activities and see what sparks their interest; keep in mind that in the pursuit of not conforming to gender norms you do not have to force your son into a tutu. Let your child know they have a safe space to express themselves whether it’s dressing-up or role-playing—let them know that the possibilities are many.
4. Share chores
Your children need to be led by example. As they grow, it is important that they see that their parents are practising what they preach. Children have to see that gender does not define the roles you play at home. Do not assign yourself and your partner chores that are typically attached to your sex. Instead, make sure that both of you share chores.
Gender stereotypes at home play a big role in shaping your child’s perspective of gender norms. It is important that you lead the way in showing them that biological sex does not determine what your chores, interests or ambitions are. You can use this opportunity to teach your children about sexism. Help them recognise that bias exists and that the larger society differentiates based on sex; however, let them know that they are free to choose who they want to be and the perpetuation of stereotypes is not a reflection of their abilities but of culture.
5. Have role models
Introduce your children to role models like male chefs, female mechanics, etc. This will allow them to learn about others that have challenged gender stereotypes and express themselves better.
6. Don’t eliminate gender entirely
Your aim as a parent is not to erase gender completely, but to eliminate gender norms. By ensuring that gender is not a limiting factor to opportunity, your child will see the irrelevance of gender norms. Teach them about gender equality instead.