Is it right for us to force gender stereotypes onto our children?

Recently I had an interesting conversation with my brother and his wife about a little boy and a dress.  This little boy was the son of friends of theirs and apparently he loooooves dresses. So wonderful parents bought him a dress and all was good with the world.

Then, the little boy grew out of his dress and he really wanted another one. He loved that dress so hard he just didn’t want to imagine life without it. So in the end his, parents, being awesome, bought him another dress. Then they posted a photo of him, in said dress, on Facey and gave a little run down of the story. 

Well, you can imagine the response. Comments ranged from “You guys are awesome parents” to “Why would you do that to him?”.

My brother and I actually stood at opposite sides of the fence on this one. He felt it shouldn’t be encouraged as he, as a parent, would be worried about his child being teased and bullied. I argued that it would do more damage to a child to ask him to suppress his sense of self. I still believe that.

Yet, fast forward 6 weeks or so and there I am standing in the kiddie backpack aisle with my 2 year old boy who wants a pink Peppa Pig backpack and I am ashamed to say it but I was unsure of what to do.

I offered him the blue and red team George backpack. He didn’t want it. I tried the Spiderman backpack – the kid is bugging me for Spiderman gloves and boots at the moment. He didn’t want it. I tried the fireman backpack. He didn’t want it.

He wanted the Peppa Pig one. It was truly what his heart desired.

Peppa Pig backpack

THE backpack in all its glory

And then I said it. That terrible thing. “But the pink backpack is for girls, Saxon”.

My head screamed NOOOOOOOOO and I vowed never to push that sort of stupid comment on him again but it was too late, it was already out now.

So he looked about at all the backpacks and said “I’ll have the George one, the Peppa one is for girls”.

My heart sank as this, this sort of shit. This is how we teach our kids to judge.

You can’t have that because my mummy (who I look up to) says it’s a girl thing and you are a boy.”

Frankly, I was quite horrified at myself.

So, what did I do? I backpedalled. I said that I had been wrong and that anyone could have the pink Peppa one and I asked him which one he really wanted. Of course the answer was “Peppa”.

I called his dad as I have to admit, I was worried how he’d go with it. I wanted to prepare him. He told me off when I let Monkey paint his toenails once so you can never be too sure.  And you know what he said? He said “So what? Peppa is pink right? Of course her backpack would be pink. Get him the one that he wants.”  He didn’t even hesitate.

High five, Daddio. You kicked my arse in the whole “how to be a parent” game today.

As a friend of mine on Facebook said (as of course I went on there to moan about the fact Peppa Pig bags were only in pink):

If Saxon wants a Peppa backpack and doesn’t care if it’s pink, then no one else should either! 

Damn fucking straight.

What would you have done? Is it right for us to force gender stereotypes onto our children?

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44 thoughts on “Is it right for us to force gender stereotypes onto our children?

  1. A really great post! I have been thinking about this issue a lot as my girls are very GIRLY GIRLS – but I sometimes wonder if I have subliminally fostered this. Our language is very powerful and kids only have to hear something once to consider it gospel. I think it’s lovely he got the Peppa backpack – very cute indeed 🙂

    • Yeah that is so true that kids only have to hear something once. Even after this whole thing Saxon was showing his backpack to friends and said ‘pink is for girls”. I’m going to have to work hard to get that one back in its rightful place. Only need to say it once for them to pick it up, 100 times for them to change it. I honestly think kids tend to whatever they tend to. Saxon was spinning wheels on trucks at 6 weeks old and has a fascination with dump trucks and diggers and garbage trucks that certainly did not come from me!!!!

  2. I would have got the Peppa backpack. And I am super impressed that Daddio was on board. Monkey’s almost-5 cousin often says “pink is for girls” and I take great delight in asking why, and telling her anyone can like pink if they want to!

    • haha I love that you ask her why! Must keep that up my sleeve! Got really annoyed today…dropped Monkey at daycare with the new bag and teacher says “That’s cute! Didn’t they have a George one??”. Grrrrr I almost frothed at the mouth. I said “Yes they did but he wanted a Peppa one and he can have whichever one he likes best”. SO THERE! lol

  3. It’s frustrating to me that a popular character like that wouldn’t have at least two colors to choose from. I mean, Peppa can still be her pink self, but the rest of the bag could have more of a neutral color and no one would have this problem. I’m sure girls have the same issue when it comes to Thomas the Tank Engine backpacks. They scream “boy” and I’ll bet many parents have declined letting girls buy them. :/

    • I was really surprised that they didn’t have non pink options to be honest. But I agree that maybe Thomas could have a more girly approach sometimes too. I guess though we shouldn’t have to change the theme of the characters so we, as adults, feel more comfortable with them. BAH. It’s all too hard sometimes! I feel sorry for the kids who are missing out though. That sucks.

  4. Oh shit, someone must’ve forgotten to force the gender stereotypes on me when I was young. Half of my wardrobe is filled with shirts (business AND casual) in the colours of the freakin’ rainbow. My two little boys have no chance in this environment! 🙂

  5. Parenting is SO hard sometimes. Good for you to go back and talk to him about it. Since we have two girls we have a lot of girly stuffy but we also buy some boy clothing and toys for them too. I figure if we expose our children to everything they will develop and grow in a healthy way. Happy and healthy, what more could you want for your kids 🙂

  6. I like to think I would have let him have the Peppa one too. I mean, she’s a goddamn pig, right? Pigs are pink. They’re also dirty and make farting sounds with their noses. Sounds like the perfect combo.
    Interestingly, I wonder if you have struggled as much with your daughter asking for a Spiderman backpack? It seems we limit a boys choice much more than a girls.
    My Destroyer loves all things robot and Spiderman right now…. as she wears her pink sundress and flower hat.
    Kids like what they like. The rest is our bullshit, I think.

    • That is a REALLY interesting question. I bet I would have got a girl a Spiderman option without even thinking. I agree, we limit boys choice more than girls. Great point. I’m about to get Monkey a pink tutu skirt as he wants one for twirling. Hopefully that will even the balance a bit 😉

      And yes, they like what they like. The rest IS our bullshit. Totally.

  7. My girls pretty much pick what they want. I always wanted to dress them in jeans and a t-shirt. They always wanted dresses. Since I let them pick out their own clothes, dresses it was. They loved pink. I loved blue. I hate dance. They love it. Whatever. I wonder, though, if there is a reversal for boys. Girls nowadays are encouraged to be strong so maybe it’s okay (?) for them to pick out boyish stuff. But then the reverse is not true for boys. Don’t know. Don’t have boys.

    • I think that is a great point, Terri. Another reader also raised the question – would I have found it uncomfortable to buy a girl a Spiderman bag? I think girls in this instance do have it a little easier when it comes to society and perceptions.

  8. It doesn’t get easier. The other day I said (and I’m not joking) “You know, I could probably handle some of Mr. T’s choices better if he was gay.” Yes, that came out of my mouth. I could handle the earrings. I can’t handle having toes painted. Why would I feel better with his freedom of expression if I had something to point my finger at? Why is it easier to say “T is this label” as opposed to “T is being himself”.
    Ugh. Parenting is hard!!! I’m still working on it, and probably always will be!
    But, “juicy” short shorts are out. Period. I’m not budging on that one!

    • haha so funny! I get what you mean though. Society and perceptions and our concerns over what others think really drive our choices and our understanding of the choices of others. When that “other” is your child who you are supposed to be guiding through life then it gets all mixed up, crazy and HARD. Parenting is hard. I struggle with it every day.

  9. I would’ve gotten the Peppa bag. I refuse to let society dictate what gender colours are or who they belong to. It wasn’t that long ago that pink was considered to be a “man’s man” colour!

  10. My son went to daycare mainly in pink dresses most part of the autumn… his dad wasn’t overly happy (due to the what-if-others-bully-him -reason) but didn’t have a huge problem either. I didn’t have a problem: he turned 2 in the Autumn and all kids in his daycare group were about the same age, nobody that age cares. If he’d been older, I might have been a bit more worried about the others… But he liked pink dresses because his big sis, his the idol had them and those are much better when you dance, just look at Angelina Ballerina.Good reasons to me 🙂 But some murmurs in eg public transportation where pretty chocking, why do people even have the need to comment a cute happy little boy that doesn’t do anyone any harm? Lucky my boy was too small to realise them. And no, he doesn’t were dresses anymore, he just forgot about them, I didn’t do anything about it (apart from taking a few lovely dancing pictures).

    • My son loves twirling in skirts too! I’m actually going to buy him a tutu! LOL That is so sad about the murmurs in public transport. So freaking unnecessary. What is wrong with people? I took Monkey to daycare with the backpack for the first time today. His teachers loved it but then one said “Didn’t they have a George backpack?”. That annoyed me as I think they should know better. I just said “Yes they did but he really wanted the Peppa one and I couldn’t see any reason why he shouldn’t have it”. Followed by a sweet smile of course. lol

  11. I would have bought what he wanted.

    My daughter (3) stumbled upon a batman cartoon on netflix. She insisted on watching it and I relented. After a few minutes she told me she wanted something different because this was for boys. I told her it’s for a girl if a girl likes it.

    I’m a tomboy and I’ll admit I’ve projected that onto my daughter….and she isn’t having any of it. She likes her life sparkly, pink and full of princesses. I say let them be themselves.

    • Exactly! They will tell you what they want regardless of your projections. I think projections are OK and natural, but as parents we just need to make sure we are also OK if what they want doesn’t align with our projection. 🙂

  12. I know what you mean with this one! DS2 loves pink. He just loves it. Pink toothbrush, pink plate, pink toys. I draw the line at pink clothes (discreetly). I’m just kinda going with it and assuming it will change as he gets bigger… Hard to shake off the feeling of the stereotype though!

    • It really is so ingrained, isn’t it! DS2 might like pink all his life. There’s nothing wrong with that! One of my brothers is a very successful and masculine finance dude – he wears pink shirts often and pulls it off with ease!

  13. It’s hard isn’t it? My son loves painted nail polish too and I let him have it…to hell with what people say!! He’s picked up that stereotype notions from kinder friends so I’m happy to let him be who he wants at home, hair clips and all!!

  14. I think if I had had my son first I might have been hesitant with “girly” things for him, maybe…I’ll never know for sure. But since he has an older sister, it just has never crossed my mind to keep him away from “girly” things. He loves playing with her toys and I’ve bought him a pink grocery cart just because he liked it. I think we actually do them great service allowing them to indulge in typically girl toys and the same goes for girls with typically boy toys.

  15. Go you! And well done for backpedalling – I think it shows how ingrained gender stereotypes can be, even when we know they’re not right.

  16. I would like to say that I wouldn’t do what you did, but I honestly don’t know. I have long been a major proponent for not “putting gender on” a child, but the real world is messy. It will be interesting to see what happens when I am confronted with it for the first time. My boy is such a stereotypical boy, but he did tell me one day that he wanted these purple pop-sequin shoes that we walked by at Wal-Mart. I didn’t have to address it because we weren’t buying shoes. But seriously, who wouldn’t want sparkly shoes?

    • I know right! Sparkly shoes are awesome!! Monkey is a stereotypical boy too so I was surprised this whole thing came up for me but the thing is, when he sees the backpack he doesn’t see pink the girls’ colour. He says Peppa Pig and that’s it. Fair enough!

      • No kidding.

        I watched an episode of Saturday Night Live that I had recorded last night and Farrell (sp?) performed. I think people consider him to be pretty manly, though he does wear one seriously stupid hat, and he was wearing silver sequined high tops.

  17. Yep, did the EXACT same thing with my son taking “That’s Not My Dolly” to show and tell for preschool. Massive feminist fail. I am so torn on this issue.

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