The Gender Stereotype Game

This morning, Jender-Son (almost 5) looked down at his pajama top, pointed at some pink on it and said “I don’t like pink”. I asked if people had been telling him that boys don’t like pink, and he said they had. I told him that wasn’t true and gave him some counterexamples (he briefly tried to resist by insisting they were really girls/women), but then he accepted them. Then he asked if girls like blue. Same routine. I explained to him that it’s really bad for people to say that sort of thing about boys and girls, because that ends up keeping some of the boys and girls from doing things they want to do, and that’s mean. I suggested that if anyone said anything like that again he should tell them it’s not true, and it’s mean.

He then invented a game. I was to tell him things people say about boys and girls and he was to respond. So I gave him lots of real ones, like “boys don’t like making cakes”; “girls don’t like football”; “boys don’t like pretty things”; “girls don’t like running”; “boys don’t like sitting”; “girls don’t like numbers”; “boys don’t like reading”. He responded with, variously, “That’s mean” and “That’s very rude” (his idea). As we did this, I realised how absurd these claims must sound to him– I was listing off lovely things that are fun and saying huge groups of children don’t like them. Then he started adding his own, which made it clear that was exactly how he saw it: “boys don’t like birthday parties”; “girls don’t like presents”.

What a good start to the day.

15 thoughts on “The Gender Stereotype Game

  1. hurrah! What an excellent resolution to the problem! Hope your/his strategy has a positive effect on his peers too!

  2. Brilliant game! I had the same problem with my daughter when she was that age. The (Turkish) preschool she was at had this game where a teacher shouted ‘who likes pink’ and all the girls had to shout ‘I do’ at the top of their voices. Then the same with boys and blue. I was pissed off. Very. So we went through the same argument: all it does is stop people doing nice things. And I think it worked, because now, at 11, she’s telling people she wants to become a feminist philosopher. I’m glad you son took to the game!

  3. When the issue of pink vs. blue comes up, I usually respond by simply pointing to Bret “The Hitman” Heart. He is the ultimate in-your-face to color stereotyping.

  4. It’s so interesting that whatever he was originally told ended up with his saying he didn’t like the pink. No wonder children exhibit stereotypical behavior; they’re in effect being instructed to.

    What would happen to him if he did show up at school in non-gender typical attire – e.g., a dress?

  5. You are planting excellent seeds for the growth of wonderful adult in the future. Such subtle things as pink vs. blue and sentences that start with “girls don’t like…” or “boys don’t like…” have such an affect on the way a child grows up, and the way they think into adulthood. Great game!

  6. What an awesome story Jender! Inspirational, really.

    As for the forceful impact of gender stereotypes early on (and jj’s suggestion of showing up to school in a dress) … when my son (now 7) was in preschool, he loved to get both his fingernails and toenails painted. We usually used blue or purple polish. When he started kindergarten, he went to school one day with blue fingernails, and was mocked by other kids (“What are you, a girl?”). He came home quite upset. I didn’t know what to do, because I didn’t want to reinforce stereotypes, but I also didn’t want him to be miserable. I ended up telling him that boys could wear fingernail polish if they wanted to, that the other kids were wrong, but I also offered to take it off him if he wanted… and of course he did. Continue to wish I had done something more strategic. Anyhow, it’s very depressing how early kids are molded into what boys do and what girls do…

  7. Years ago, PBS had a great series “Nova” and it included a film called “The Pinks and the Blues” . This documentary showed a husband/wife team (I think she was a sociologist and he was a child psychologist, don’t remember for sure”. Anyway, that was a really great film that showed from the get go of birth how these stereotypes get taught and learned. In fact, the opening scene with a child being born and this starting immediately was very powerful.

    I remember desperately trying to get this copy around the time my first granddaughter was born. Unfortunately, that video went out of print. I called PBS, wrote to people trying to get a copy. I did eventually get one from a woman in California (who I did not know) but it wasn’t a good copy.

    To me, the information in it is as topical today as then but just try to find it. It’s a shame it’s gone because it did a fine job of looking at parents, showing children’s behavior with other kids and teachers.

  8. sorry art-y links to do with pink and children.

    this reminded me of this semi-recent moth podcast about little boys and the color pink…

    and whenever the issue of pink comes up (oh how i love colors and color theory and history) i have to point to this article from Cabinet: http://www.cabinetmagazine.org/issues/11/pink.php

    last but not least, looking at art images– and showing them to children– can be a fun game too. take a look at a renoir called “boy with whip.”
    http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic-art/498200/120991/Boy-with-a-Whip-oil-on-canvas-by-Pierre-Auguste

    i think most children today would think that was a girl…

  9. some art-y links to do with pink and children.

    this reminded me of this semi-recent moth podcast about little boys and the color pink…

    and whenever the issue of pink comes up (oh how i love colors and color theory and history) i have to point to this article from Cabinet: http://www.cabinetmagazine.org/issues/11/pink.php

    last but not least, looking at art images– and showing them to children– can be a fun game too. take a look at a renoir called “boy with whip.”
    http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic-art/498200/120991/Boy-with-a-Whip-oil-on-canvas-by-Pierre-Auguste

    i think most children today would think that was a girl…

  10. Thanks so much, everyone! I really hope he remembers what to say when people make these generalisations– that could really help any boys who do show up in skirts, etc.

    Last night, as My Jender was tucking in Jender-Son I heard him shout out “I love pink!”

    Sandrine– I would have been SO furious at that preschool– shockingly explicit. Very glad you managed to overcome it so successfully.

  11. What a wonderful game!

    Another more recent counterexample, along Baerista’s line of thinking: Rich Franklin, former UFC middleweight champion, regularly wears pink. His signature shorts are half-brown, half-pink. Here he is, getting his pink cast autographed by the guy who broke his arm in his last fight: http://cdn0.sbnation.com/fan_shot_images/126733/wwmbm.jpg

    So, very masculine boys can like pink, too.

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