What Are You Teaching Your Kids About Gender?

**Image Credit-www.Itji.co

    Being a woman, I have always been very sensitive to words or actions that pigeonhole females into prescribed gender roles.  The reason for this has a lot to do with the experiences that I have had academically, professionally, and culturally.  No matter how far we have come as a society with regards to tolerance and equality, one cannot deny that there still exist many stereotypes about what women’s and men’s roles in society should be.

    From a parent’s perspective who is trying to raise two boys, I am even more aware of the messages that my husband and I are sending our sons about gender and equal rights.  Unfortunately, however, my husband has been a little more resistant over the years to letting go of some of the “Machismo” that he was raised with in a Latino household.  You see, in traditional Latin culture like in many other cultures, boys are raised to be strong and to be providers while women are raised to take care of the home and be the nurturers of the family.

**Image Credit-“El Machismo De La Biblia.”

    The funny thing is that I have always found my husband to be a contradiction within himself because he didn’t marry the type of woman that he was raised to look for as a partner.  I’m a college graduate, I have a career, and I couldn’t be farther from being domesticated.  Additionally, he is a very tolerant person who respects others regardless of their gender, race, or sexual orientation so it surprised me when he didn’t want our boys to play with dolls or wear the color pink.  To me, these were such insignificant points for him to be stubborn about when the rest of his personality was so open-minded.

    My main concern, with some of his views, was that he was inadvertently imparting gender stereotypes unto our children about what male and female roles are in our society.  After all, as an educator, I am fully aware of the importance of pretend play and playing with dolls to teaching children about positive roles within the family.  Boys who play house and play with dolls in preschool learn how to be loving fathers and husbands.  These were messages that fell on my husband’s deaf ears until recently.

    Over the years, I never gave up on making my husband aware that some of his ideas about gender and raising boys were irrational and deep-rooted in the way that he was raised within a patriarchal society.  I wasn’t sure that he was listening until he took my older son last week to buy new shoelaces for his sneakers.  Now, for those of you who keep up with current fashion trends, pink is all the rage in boys’ clothing and fashion.  Given my husband’s previous ideas about what boys should act like and dress like I was shocked to see my son pull pink shoelaces out of the bag when they came back from the store.

Letting go of stereotypes from his childhood about gender…

    The fact that my husband bought my son pink shoelaces for his sneakers might not seem all that significant to some of you but it is a big step on his part in the right direction away from the preconceived ideas about gender that he learned in his childhood.  It demonstrates that he is keeping an open mind and allowing our sons to be individuals.  For me, it also sends our sons the message that men and women can be equal and shouldn’t be forced into prescribed gender roles that have been established by the status quo.

    So, the next time you are telling your children that “Boys don’t cry” or that “Little girls have to be ladylike”  think about what you are teaching your children about gender and whether you are perpetuating gender stereotypes through how you are raising them.  We will never have true equality between the genders unless we begin promoting it within our own households.  Just to prove that we support equality and individuality in our home, I’ve included photos of my husband putting those pink laces on my son’s sneakers.  Look at that, you can teach an old dog new tricks!

© 2013, Tough Cookie Mommy. All rights reserved.


  1. When kids are young they just want to play and have fun it doesn’t matter if it’s a stick or a box or a doll they are learning and exploring and we should try not to make them feel uncomfortable for playing with a toy that could be for the opposite gender. They are innocent and we shouldn’t put such worries in their head at such a young age.

    • I think you bring up a good point about just letting kids enjoy being kids without imposing our own ideas about gender and life in general upon them. Unfortunately, some people are not even aware that they are doing this when they parent so I think it is important to make them more aware of how their actions are affecting kids.

  2. I am always astounded how I was raised in a culture that would surely make me as prejudice as the day is long. The South, sweet Mary they can hold a streak of mean for hundreds of years. But with my Mexican mother and my intolerant white Grandma I grew a big ol chip on my shoulder and became socially accepting of everything.
    I raised my boys the same way. But to be honest, when I did find out they would be on the track to marry a girl and have babies one day I was kind of happy. I mean grandbabies are kind of high on my wish list and it is tough for gay couples to get babies.
    Oh Lord, I am rambling and you are an English teacher. What I am trying to say is, thank God for different folks, the onse that are different and the ones who are teaching all of us its okay to be different.

    Pam aka Momma

  3. It is important to remember that little kids don’t already know that “pink is for girls” and other stereotypes—we teach them that. It should just be a case of *not* teaching it, but those stereotypes come in from so many places (including other family members) that we actually have to act *against* some of those ideas.

    • You are absolutely right, Mary. It is adults that teach kids these stereotypes. It is so important to be aware that children are receiving these messages from many sources and to lay a foundation where some of these preconceived ideas are dispelled.

  4. Our little guy plays with lots of little girls. At his friend’s birthday party a couple weeks ago, he dressed up like a princess. The heels were absolutely precious! If that’s what he likes, we just go with it. (Plus, I’m a stay-at-home-dad, which already subverts a bunch of stereotypes.)

    Good post here.

    • Hi, Brian. I’m so glad that you enjoyed the post. It’s so important to let children express themselves without being forced into specific gender roles or made to feel badly for not conforming to society’s roles. Congrats on being a stay-at-home-dad, it is a very valuable role that you play in your son’s life.

  5. I knew a special education teacher who got a grant from teacher’s choice to buy her students backpacks. One of the boys who will clearly come out as gay in the future picked out a pink one with flowers. His parents would not let him keep it, because boys weren’t supposed to be that feminine. All the other students had these beautiful new backpacks, except for him, because there weren’t any others left. I felt so bad for that boy, and wondered how he was going to ever come to accept himself, when his parents couldn’t. What your husband did is a big thing! He put his children first! That’s what we are supposed to do as parents!

  6. This post made me smile. Totally sharing.

  7. Melanie Roberts says

    Great tips and I was smiling, too.. thanks for sharing this Maria 🙂

  8. Frugal and Fun Mom says

    In my home my husband and I tend to gravitate towards certain gender roles based on our skill set and what we were taught. However, I have tried to break this with the kids. My son helps with cooking and cleaning. In regards to my daughter we have signed her up for sports and ballet, and I encourage her to be a strong individual. All of my children are being taught to be kind and accepting individuals.

  9. Daisy Tremorev says

    Well said! As a woman with a degree in Engineering, I know how challenging it is to be from an underrepresented group and so I raise my son to treat everyone equally. I like what you mention about pretend play. I also know the importance of pretend play at his age, so he has baby dolls. He even had a tea party at school where they practiced manners and the boys needed to practice manners just as much as girls.

  10. My husband has very similar views and like you, I always question why he chose a strong-willed Irish woman for a partner! LOL My grandmother always said that my father was such a good father to his children because he played with his sister’s dolls when they were children. Makes perfect sense that mimicking nurturing behaviors in childhood would translate into more nurturing actions as an adult. So glad your husband is taking steps to let go of his gender biases, very cool!

  11. kSquaredGlamour says

    very nice post that made me smile 🙂

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