I love this picture of my granddaughter in her pink skirt filling the oil in her daddy’s truck.  She seems to embrace and ignore many of the stereotypes we have of girls.  She loves wearing frilly pink dresses, as well as pink trimmed camouflage gear.  She loves playing with dolls and dishes, as well as trucks and Lincoln logs.  When she comes to visit us she enjoys working in the kitchen with her uncle (my youngest son who is studying culinary arts).  Looking at her I see a little girl exploring her world, testing her boundaries and capabilities.  I’m struck by the differences between us at the same age.

I was what was commonly called a “tom boy”, preferring jeans, t-shirts, and “tennis” shoes, climbing trees, building tree forts, swimming, and playing basketball.  My mother kept my hair cut short because I wouldn’t stand still to have it brushed.  I hated being forced to wear dresses and “behave” as my mother would tell me.  Like most parents, she had many stereotypes of how a girl should dress and act.

Even though many stereotypes have blurred, some parents today continue to hold narrow views of what it means to be a girl or boy.  We may be shocked and disgusted by stories from the #Metoo movement but perhaps such actions are the result of stereotypes that encourage boys to be dominant and girls to be submissive.  Maybe it was because of the constraints imposed on me that I wanted to be a different kind of parent.  Although I never had a daughter, I have three sons.  I’ve encouraged them to be free thinkers, to express their own opinion (even when it differs from my own), to ignore other people’s ideas of who they should be, and to respect other’s differences.

I never really thought about how my son’s upbringing would pass on to the next generation.  I think I was just trying to do the best I could as a parent.  If I had had to think about how my choices would effect my grandchildren I’d have worried even more about my decisions.

As I watched my granddaughter during their recent Christmas visit I saw a wonderful little girl who happily embraces and ignores all the stereotypes of being a “girl”.  It’s been rewarding to see what a good father my oldest son has become, encouraging his smart, vibrant daughter to explore the world and develop her talents and imagination.  She understands perfectly well that she is a girl, but she doesn’t seem to be limited to being a “girl”.  And no one would ever call her a “tomboy”!

I think I see some hope for progress in this.

4 Replies to “Stereotypes”

  1. That is a darling picture.
    This is something that gives me a lot of hope as well – that so many men are more intimately involved in raising their small children in our culture now than in previous generations. Dorothy Dinnerstein, in her book The Mermaid and the Minotaur, makes a complex but convincing argument about the implications of the traditional model of parenting for psychic development. She argues that women/mothers are overly dominant in the key early years and that this creates and perpetuates a typical (Western) personality that is not healthy. Normal but not healthy. So I see men like your son (and Chris) as doing extremely important work that may change what is normal in a positive way on a long-term, generational timescale.
    And yes, I’m so glad that the concept of the “tomboy” is no longer necessary!

    1. Michelle,
      Yes I agree it is wonderful to see men involved in their children’s lives including but not limited to being soccer or baseball coaches. And it isn’t just our children exploring and learning, I think as parents we are also learning and growing as people. We are all trying to become the best person we know how to be.

      I remember when my son was very young I read a book dealing with anger encouraging one to be frank and honest with others when we felt “negative” emotions. I had always found it difficult communicating in a constructive way when I was angry. The next day I got mad when my son, as usual, demanded attention by pulling on the phone cord when I was answering a phone call. After hanging up I spluttered a bit and finally said “You know sometimes I really don’t like you.” expecting such honesty would devastate him. He just looked at me and said “Yeah, but sometimes you do right?” All I could do was laugh and said “Yeah, sometimes I do. But please don’t pull on the phone cord when you want my attention. It’s rude.” It ended up being a nice moment for both of us.

      I think most parents try our best to keep our children safe and healthy and often that means controlling aspects of their life as they grow from infant to child to young adult. It is easy to think that being a parent is being the boss, insisting our children do what we want because we think that is how we keep them from harm. It takes time to learn there is a difference between being responsible and being controlling. There is a balance between being firm and fair with our children, keeping them safe while allowing them the opportunity to break rules in order to learn for themselves what boundaries they can push. I still recall my son asking me “why?” when I repeated the rule about the hour of bedtime. To me, 9:00 was too late. When I stopped to think about it I realized that 8:00 had been my parents rule not my own and that an hour later wasn’t all that important. By encouraging him to think for himself I was giving him permission to question rules, and doing so helped me to question rules too.
      We never grow too old to learn!

  2. Isn’t it amazing that, after all these millions of years, we parents are still making it up as we go along? Trying to find the balance, trying to adapt to the new demands of society and environment, still learning…

    In the aftermath of the ballistic missile scare, we are all talking about how we responded and what went through our minds. Not surprisingly, there was a noticeable difference between people with children in their direct care and those that don’t have children, or whose grown children were elsewhere. Most people who didn’t have children resigned themselves to their fate, more or less, while the parent’s responses were far less fatalistic.

    That’s another reason why I am so hopeful that gender stereotypes, especially in relation to parenting, are changing, and that both parents are emotional engaged in parenting, rather than the old “mom at home, dad at work” model. Involved parents are invested in the future on a gut level. A future for their kids, a future that is still habitable. And that kind of emotional investment in the future is what we need.

  3. Michelle,
    It’s interesting to note the differences in how people with or without children responded to the threat, although it seems obvious after you point it out. I think this may also be true in how people respond to the crisis of climate change. Once we have children we are generally motivated to take care of them and see that they have a good future life.
    Parents with children often feel the most motivated to do something. People without children seem to accept climate change as a reality yet do nothing and seem to just accept the outcome. And then there are people with children who deny climate change. I’ve never understood this position. But perhaps the reason they do so is because they can’t see any way to protect their children so they would rather pretend the threat doesn’t exist. In either case (try to do something or deny reality) the parent is still responding to threats to their children.

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