I uttered ‘arsehole’ under my breath today at McDonalds… (yep – the usual ban on most of McDonald’s fare is lifted on McHappy Day – if you purchase a Big Mac that is – although next year I think I’ll just donate or buy the socks.. How people eat that white confectionery bread and sugar sauce regularly I do not understand… And someone smarter than me did point out that surely that big corporate could donate from every item on the menu… but I digress…)
So the family next to us had ordered happy meals and received two toys that had from my peripheral glance pink ballgown attired characters. The dad takes one from his son and asks a passing staff member (not politely mind you.. but again not central to the story) if they can swap for a boy toy. Enter my ire part 1 – Did you ask your son what he preferred? No. My ire part 2 – what makes this princess figure a girl toy or boy toy anyway? It doesn’t need a gender label.
The staff member comes back and does the swap. The father hands over the so labelled ‘boy toy’ with words to the effect “that’s better”. My ire part 3 – wtf? I’m so very distressed by the message you just sent both your son and daughter.
Why do labels matter? Studies have shown just by labeling children boys and girls, whilst still treating each group with no favoritism or competition nor expressing any stereotypes, the children still formed stereotypes about the groups after only four weeks. Both boys and girls were more likely to say only men can be doctors and only women can be nurturing and kind. Four weeks! And its not even limited to gender – split the kids into red group and blue group and vast sweeping statements about each groups behaviour are formed ie. all blue kids act one way, leading to segregation and playing within only their group. The control group in this study would wear the colored shirts but not be referred to as the color or sorted by the color – they were treated as individuals and in the control group the stereotypes and bias attitudes just didn’t form. (Reference: Parenting beyond pink and blue by Christia Spears Brown, PHD)
“There is absolutely no behavior that all boys or all girls do – not one.”
Christia Spears Brown
Please try and minimise gender segregation: Ask your kid if he wants the princess or whatever the hell the other item was, ask for the other item by its content not your perceived bias on which gender wants to play with it and do not validate one gender as better or more appropriate than the other, especially in front of your child of the opposite gender.
If you need me I’ll be over here still muttering under my breath…