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How to Discuss Gender Stereotypes with Your Kids

In our family, the birth order of our four children is girl, girl, boy, boy. Which meant our boys were often the "princes" in their older sisters' fairy tale playtime scenarios. It also meant each boy had his "own" special tutu when they all played dress-up. My youngest son even loved to wear the girls' hair squiggles (crocheted "ribbons" with curl-like ends) looped over his neck like a scarf.

Fast-forward to the tween years. One winter, my two boys wanted foot pajamas more than anything, but I couldn't find any in the boy clothing section online or in stores in the sizes needed. However, I could find lots of options for girls, including one with a pink background upon which avocados danced. I called my boys to my computer, showed them the options, informed them they were in the "girls" section and left the choice up to them. Each picked out two "girl" footie PJs and happily wore them all winter long.

Throughout their childhood and now into their teen years, my boys were, well, what one would typically label boyish. But they were also sometimes more stereotypical girlish in their choices, and their sisters were sometimes more what one might call boyish.

As a parent, one of our jobs is to help our children grow into the young men and women God has called them to be, which might not always jive with our own preconceived notions of what a man or woman can or should do. Before we tackle the four categories of gender stereotypes, let's first reaffirm what it means to be human.

The Bible is very clear that God created males and females. Genesis 1:27 says, "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them" (ESV). The psalmist praises God for his creation: "For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well." (Psalm 139:13-14, ESV)

While the New Testament affirms God's creation of humans, Paul also reminds his readers that in Christ, "there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28, ESV). Paul is not saying Christ has erased genders; rather, our Savior doesn't differentiate between men and women regarding his saving act on the cross.

As Christians, we should celebrate both our alikeness as new creatures in Christ and also our differences as men and women. In today's culture, the lines between men and women have blurred, which has both positives and negatives. While this article will not delve into the social or cultural conversation about genders, we will talk about some common gender stereotypes and how we should talk about those traits with our children in a way that honors God.

What Are Stereotypes?

There are four categories of stereotypes when it comes to gender—personality traits, domestic behaviors, occupations, and physical appearance. In the following sections, I've given examples of gender stereotypes as well as why adhering to the stereotype can harm girls and boys. I've also included questions for further discussion with your child of either gender.

Personality Traits

Examples include girls being well-behaved and boys acting out more. Boys are also expected to use aggression to handle problems or situations.

Why this hurts girls: Girls who learn not to ruffle feathers in social situations could find themselves the victim of sexual, emotional, or physical assault. We need to empower girls by helping them understand healthy boundaries and how to stick up for themselves.

Why this hurts boys: Boys who learn to express all of their emotions will be better equipped to handle those feelings and better recognize them in others (empathy). We need to give boys space to cry as well as laugh.

Questions to further explore personality traits:

• Why do you think boys are told not to cry, and girls are told it's okay to cry?

• Do you think personality traits are defined by gender alone?

Domestic Behaviors

Examples include women being the main housekeeper and caretakers and men taking care of the vehicles, home repairs, and finances. In childhood, this boils down to girls should play with dolls and boys should play with trucks.

Why this hurts girls: Girls should have as much understanding of how to care for a lawn or change a tire as boys. If we segregate domestic behaviors into female/male domains, we run the risk of our children growing up not knowing essential life skills.

Why this hurts boys: Boys need to know how to care for themselves, such as cooking meals and doing laundry. I've made it a point to teach my boys cooking, cleaning, and other household chores in order for them to realize how much work goes into those tasks and to equip them for their launch into adulthood.

Questions to further explore domestic behaviors:

• Why should boys and girls do the same type of chores at home?

• What's the harm in adhering to gender-stereotyped domestic behaviors?

Occupations

Examples include assuming teachers or nurses are female, and engineers and pilots are male. As children, this means girls are better at reading and boys are better at math/STEM subjects.

Why this hurts girls: The obvious answer is that it deprives girls of the chance to reach their full potential if they are not allowed (for whatever reason) to pursue occupations in typically male-dominated fields. God gives each of us talents and abilities, and I firmly believe they do not have to adhere to prescribed societal conventions.

Why this hurts boys: When my husband was in the hospital for emergency brain surgery several years ago, his best nurse was male. I certainly was glad "Mike" had chosen nursing as his profession for the excellent care he provided my husband. Again, a person's vocational calling is one God will use for that person's good and His glory.

Questions to further explore occupations:

• How does God view work?

• What are your talents, abilities, or interests? How do those align with potential careers?

Physical Appearance

Examples include women being graceful and wearing dresses while men should be muscular and have short hair. As kids, this means girls should wear pink and purple while boys should wear primary colors like green and blue.

Why this hurts girls: In our household, we talked more about modesty than what women should wear versus what men should wear. The color of a piece of clothing or whether it was a skirt or pants wasn't the issue as much as whether it adequately covered certain body parts and was clean.

Why this hurts boys: As my earlier example showed, it's really not a big deal for a boy to wear pink pajamas with dancing avocados. You might not personally think his fashion choices are, well, fashionable, but clothing is one way our children learn to express themselves in a generally safe way.

Questions to further explore physical appearance:

• Do you think there are certain colors only girls or boys can wear?

• Is there an item of clothing or color you'd like to wear but haven't because you think it might be too girly or boyish?

The more we can work to erase these gender stereotypes, the more we will give our kids the freedom to pursue their God-given talents and abilities without worrying about whether it's a "girl" or "boy" thing to do.

Related Articles:

What Is the Truth Behind Biblical Gender Roles?

What Should Christians Be Teaching Their Kids about Gender?

Photo credit: ©Getty Images/oatawa

Sarah Hamaker is a national speaker and award-winning author who loves writing romantic suspense books “where the hero and heroine fall in love while running for their lives.” She’s also a wife, mother of four teenagers, a therapeutic foster mom, a UMFS Foster Parent Ambassador, and podcaster (The Romantic Side of Suspense podcast). She coaches writers, speakers, and parents with an encouraging and commonsense approach. Visit her online at sarahhamakerfiction.com.

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