How My Son Proved Gender Stereotyping Is Learned

How My Son Proved Gender Stereotyping Is Learned

If we want our kids to believe boys and girls are equal, we must show them it’s true.

By: Leah Maxwell

Over the years, I’ve found myself entangled in many absurd arguments with my children. (“Underpants are not appropriate outerwear.” “I’m not letting you eat dinner in bed. It’s soup.” “No, you really can’t put that in your nose.”) One ridiculous debate that had me shaking my head was when my 4-year-old made me swear on the lives of everyone I’ve ever loved that doctors -- medical doctors, the ones with the white coats and stethoscopes around their necks -- could indeed be men and not just women. We were talking about jobs he might want to have when he grows up, and when I suggested doctor, he laughed because, “only girls are doctors, Mom.” Imagine that!

I wish I could take credit for his progressive albeit incorrect worldview, but it wasn’t really my doing. We’ve raised our kids to the tune of “everyone can be anything they want to be” and “there are no ‘girl things’ or ‘boy things,’” but what turned out to matter more than anything we’d said was what he saw play out in real life. Due to his limited experience, he’d never actually seen a male doctor, and it wasn’t until he ended up in the emergency room to get his head glued back together after a run-in with a piece of outdoor furniture that I was able to prove they existed.

(He also, for the record, thinks dads usually cook dinner because that’s what he sees in our house.)

More from P&G everyday: 8 Moms Share About Trying to Raise Boys and Girls Equally

I think we all want our kids to grow up believing girls and boys have the same opportunities in life, but what my son taught me is that if we want them to take that message to heart, we need to let them see gender equality in action. For kids, concrete examples leave a bigger impression than vague lip service to an ideal -- seeing really is believing -- and if we can agree that gender stereotyping is not innate but learned, that means it can be un learned too.

So the next time you see someone breaking a gender norm, make sure your kids take note. Introduce them to women in tech, let them watch sports with players of both sexes on TV (or in person), and take them to dance concerts featuring men in tights. Call a local fire station and see if you can stop by when one of their female firefighters is on duty. Switch chores with your spouse once in a while. Encourage your kids to sign up for activities that break traditional gender stereotypes. Ask your kids what jobs they think are “girl jobs” and “boy jobs” and then set out together to prove them wrong.


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Leah Maxwell is a book editor, freelance writer, cereal addict, wife, and mom to two young boys. She has been blogging at A Girl and a Boy since 2003.

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