In college I took an intro to sociology class and loved it. Our discussions about racism, class, justice and sexism were engaging and I felt like I had purpose. I vowed to never subject my kids to gender bias. Boys would play with dolls. Girls would have dump trucks. They would wear pink and blue respectively.
I’ve tried to hold to these ideals in the real world of parenting. But, it’s hard. Harder than I imagined.
An example of my struggles happened recently when I took my two sons with me on a trip to the lingerie department at Nordstrom’s. As I held up items from the rack, my older son looked at me in horror.
“I don’t like that one. At all,” he said.
Apparently he has developed a dislike for the color pink. I didn’t make a fuss over his proclamation. And, to his horror, I walked with that bra to the counter and purchased it. When I took it out of the bag at home my son was quick to inform my husband that I had purchased it without his approval.
He’s also recently started to talk about boys versus girls. During dinner he mentions casually that a girl classmate is having only girls at her birthday party. He says a friend will only invite boys to his. Thankfully, he’s approved the inclusion of three girls on his own birthday party invite list. Although, he’s quick to add, his sixth birthday party (a year from now) will only be for boys.
He made the boy vs. girl discussion public at the Children’s Museum last week. As we walked in the museum, he and his younger brother were both excited to play on a make-believe city bus. My older son took the helm and one of his grandfathers, his brother and I sat in the back. A girl approached the bus and got on.
“No girls allowed!” my older son bellowed with authority as the “bus driver”.
I wanted to melt into the seat of the bus, under the watchful gaze of the girl’s mother. Instead I quickly informed him that girls were indeed allowed (I was on the bus, afterall) and if he felt otherwise he could get off the bus. He didn’t disagree with me or balk at my objection. He continued to play as if he hadn’t said anything.
On the back of the bus I sat there, wondering where his comment had come from. Is it playground protocol to object to girls? Is the talk at the paint station in his pre-school classroom all about who likes pink versus who likes blue?
I’m left knowing that while we can influence him at home, or when we are with him, even at the age of nearly five years old he gets a lot of input from outside sources. And, this outside input will only increase as he grows older. I hope that some of the sociological lessons I learned, and which I attempt to share, will stay with him as he continues to navigate situations outside of our direct influence.
Reading about sexism or gender bias in a sociology text made me think the solution to raising one’s kids without bias was almost easy, as long as you were aware and vigilant. In truth, divisions between the sexes (blue vs. pink, boys vs. girls) run deep in our culture. So deep that it’s hard to know where the roots begin.
Photo courtesy of jalopnik.com