Expanding Gender RolesApril 14, 2014
By Jessica Vician
It’s sometimes hard to see, but gender roles and stereotypes are all around us. Parents paint baby rooms and buy toys based on a child’s gender. Even if you try to defy those gender stereotypes through concentrated efforts, sometimes they sneak past us and are accidentally projected onto our children.
Gender roles and stereotypes aren’t always bad things. It’s important to embrace who we are and to model that behavior to our children. But it’s also important to teach our children that their genders don’t solely define who they are. Take Your Daughters and Sons to Work Day, on April 24, is a great example of this concept. This day originally intended to show girls the various careers they could have, and now it includes boys because it’s important to expose both genders to the potential careers they can pursue.
Examine the gender roles that you demonstrate in your home. Does Mom cook and do the laundry? Does Dad take out the garbage and fix the toilet? Those might seem like natural things that happen in a family—it’s likely the way your parents behaved. But your children see those behaviors and may think that they must assume those roles when they grow up.
An easy way to counter these gender stereotypes is to switch up those roles with your parenting partner. Here are some quick and easy suggestions on where to start:
- Share cooking duties. Both parents don’t have to be a chef. If one parent isn’t used to cooking, start with simple recipes and aim for two meals a week. Even a novice cooker can make an easy mac and cheese with vegetables. The kids will start to see that the “chore” of cooking can be done by both genders.
- Teach each other to fix things. Just like with cooking, start small. If one of you knows how to fix the toilet when it’s running, show the other parent how to do it. Then the next time the toilet is running, the newly-trained parent can show the kids that he or she is also capable of fixing things around the house. Depending on your children’s ages, you might also be able to teach them.
- Take turns paying for dinner. When you go out to eat as a family, rotate which parent pays for dinner. Make arrangements before you leave for dinner so that when the bill comes, your children see that both parents can contribute financially.
- Support and encourage playtime. We often think that boys play with trucks and girls play with dolls. But if a girl wants to play with trucks and a boy with dolls, there is no reason to discourage your child from expanding his or her worldview and stepping outside of traditional gender roles. It’s how we grow as people and a society.
As with any change, start small by paying attention to the things you and your partner do at home. If you notice one gender tends to handle certain tasks, start sharing them. By modeling this behavior to your children, you affect the way they perceive gender roles and set a strong example that demonstrates that regardless of gender, your children can grow up to be the person they are meant to be, instead of who they think they should be.