From the moment the gender of a child is known, society starts to sculpt who they ‘should be’. Clothing is assigned, and what toys and games they should put on their Christmas lists is prescribed to them. Before they’ve even a chance to express themselves, they understand who shouldn’t cry and who should play nice.
When gender stereotypes are present for children and reinforced through television, clothing, toys and books, girls as young as 6 start to see themselves as less smart than their male counterparts. So whack.
According to a Global Early Adolescent Study, by ages 10-14, enforced gender stereotypes are firmly rooted and linked to increased risk of physical and mental health problems. Girls are at a greater risk of exposure to both physical and sexual violence, and HIV. And boys are at an increased risk for substance abuse and suicide. It’s a total no-win situation for all bodies involved.
Studies are proving time and time again that gender is not as benign as once believed. For this reason, countries like Sweden are developing Education Acts to emphasize equality in education. In 1998, Sweden even established a new amendment to the Act requiring all schools to work against gender stereotyping. The philosophy behind a gender-neutral education policy being removing gender stereotypes removes limits and adds opportunities.
Lotta Rajalin the director at the famed Nicolaigarden and Egalia, a gender-neutral preschool in Sweden, uses a gender neutral teaching system she calls “Whole life Spectra” or “Circle of Opportunity”. This system isn’t about encouraging children to explore traits and activities of the other gender but instead removes all gender identification to allow children to explore all areas of the circle – which is traditionally divided in two: one side for boys and one for girls – so children can define themselves.
“We try to take away the barriers which stop both girls and boys doing what they want to do…We want all children to have the same opportunities to feel, to express themselves, to like what color they like, to play the sport they’re in, and so on. We don’t want to limit them.”
But what if you don’t live in Sweden and don’t have access to gender neutral education? Can you can still successfully use “Whole Life Spectra” ideology at home and raise gender flexible thinkers? Absolutely. We polled some gender-laxed parents and put together a list of their best pro tips to help you non-gender parent (NGP) like a boss.
7 habits of highly effective gender neutralizing parents
- They focus on changing themselves, not their children. Instinctively, we tend to use different tones when speaking to girls and boys. We also tend to ask girls about their favourite colours and boys about activities they like. Pro NGPs told us they tend to focus most on being aware of and changing their own learned gender stereotypes as opposed to focusing on their children’s gendered behaviours and interests.
- They don’t worry about what other people think. This is a ‘two-for’ as Jessica Simpson once coined. People get nervous with the unfamiliar. Depending on where you live, gender neutral parenting can be a really far out concept in your community. Effective NGPs tend to their thing full ass while glossing over the opinions of others. This way, their kids not only get good messages about gender but also have confidence in their choices and beliefs. ‘Two-for!’
- They offer a large selection of non-gender toys. NGPs don’t focus on offering their kids objects designed for the opposite gender; they instead remove connotations about gender from toys and activities. This results in kids with flexible outlooks on gender roles. Keeping a wide variety of non-gender toys around like puppets, farm toys, LEGO, and play kitchens allow kids to choose play based on interest without gender prescription.
- They focus on personality instead of appearance. This one is key as society puts so much emphasis on physical appearance. Often, the first things a stranger will say when meeting particularly girl children are things like, “Aren’t you pretty?” and “What a beautiful dress you have on!”. Teaching girls the first thing people notice are their looks can lead to a variety of life long bummers like eating disorders and bodies dysmorphia. Focusing instead on children’s personality traits and skills develops their self esteem from a young age.
- They focus on numbers. Developmental psychologist Dr. Christia Spears Brown and author of Parenting Beyond Pink & Blue: How to Raise Your Kids Free of Gender Stereotypes, found in a study from 2011 where conversations between mothers and their kids were analyzed, and it was found that one of the biggest gender divides in communication is associated to numbers. According to the study, parents were two times as likely to use number-based statements with boys. Think “How many cheerios do you have?” or “Look at those three dogs.” We unconsciously think boys are better at and more interested in math, so we talk to them about it more. Numbers should be a focus with all children. Developing comfort and confidence at a young age will contribute directly to evening gender gaps in industries like STEM.
- They expose their kids to possibility models wherever possible. Whether in a story book or on a Saturday afternoon, the most gender woke parents take opportunities to point out and discuss examples of individuals doing non-gender conforming things. It can be as simple as introducing your child to a male nurse while visiting a sick relative. These experiences stick; they open kids minds and will have them dreaming beyond boxes.
There you have it. So what’s your take? We want to hear from you. Are gender neutral parenting practices something you practice at home?
Featured Image: @joe_boltrog_
Image 1: Britnee Ransom | @heart_stitches