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Combating Gender Stereotypes To Provide A Better World For Our Children

7 Mins read

James Millar talks about his personal experiences combating gender stereotypes to provide a better world for all children.

My partner and I have two children, a girl and a boy. From early in their lives we have been passionate about combating gender stereotypes to provide a better world for our children. We wanted to ensure our daughter would face no more hurdles than our son.

My partner and I started a twitter account. There we documented the ways our children were treated differently because of their sex. At first we expected to post occasionally, maybe once a day at most. Instead, we found gendered expectations all around us.

This led to me co-authoring my first book, The Gender Agenda. I went into that project fueled by feminism, driven by a desire to make the world a better place for my daughter. But I soon saw that my son faced a different but still unfair and prescriptive set of challenges. So I set out to make a change, to work toward combating gender stereotypes to provide a better world for our children.

Girls Don’t Have Cars…

One of the first entries on the twitter page happened when we took our daughter for a look round her new nursery. Pointing to the cars the nursery manager explained ‘we call that the boys corner’. Because girls never play with, travel in, or drive cars of course. Consequently I could hardly blame the boys when my daughter returned from school after she’d started in Reception upset. The boys wouldn’t let her join in their car play. They’d been trained that cars are for boys, she was clearly transgressing gender stereotypes in wanting to join in.

On the face of it she was the victim on that occasion. In reality the boys are having their horizons limited by being funnelled to four wheel play. Whether that was truly their thing or not.

Boys Don’t Dance…

The most awful/hilarious example was when myself and some other dads got together to watch some Six Nations rugby, with kids in tow. But don’t go thinking this combination of childcare and sport made everyone so modern in their outlook.

One of the girls, aged around four, was showing off the ballet moves she’d learned that morning. Her little brother, just a toddler, copied her exactly. “Look at him,” exclaimed one of the dads, “he’s a right little Jean Claude Van Damme”.

The boy was doing ballet. But to at least one of the men there that was too transgressive. For while girls dance, boys fight. Right? So he had to step in, police the gendered behaviour.

I still wonder to this day, if he was doing it for the boys ‘benefit’ or for the fellow dad. Was he trying to spare his friend the shame of having a son who took part in ‘girly’ activities? So quickly dressed it up as a hyper masculine act thereby restoring balance and normality to the gendered world.

Another incident I witnessed broke my heart.

Browsing in a toy shop with the kids I noticed a boy of primary school age taking an interest in marvellous dolls houses on display. The boy’s father emerged from round the corner and loudly proclaimed: “Caught you! Playing with the dolls houses!” The kid dropped his head, loudly insisted “No I wasn’t” and ran off down the shop.

I could’ve hit that dad – if it wouldn’t have been too much of a stereotypically male response. The boy was shamed for behaving beyond the boundaries of his gender. Policed, limited, by his own father.

Boys Will Be Men.

In reality, we know that girls grow into women who of course can / will / do drive when they’re older. That boys copying their sister’s ballet moves can grow into men who lead illustrious ballet companies as the principal dancer. Most importantly, all boys who are pressured to confirm to gender stereotypes may one day be fathers. Who will feel pressure to confirm, and so the cycle continues.

Perhaps that boy who ran off in the toy shop may wish to be a hands on father and take shared parental leave. But that guilt and shame of wanting to do something “girly” may stop him from doing do. As long as the government gives men two weeks of paternity leave and women up to 52 weeks, the message is loud and clear. Looking after babies is for women.

If parental leave remains poorly funded the implication will remain stay that it is a low status activity. Which by association devalues anything that is exclusively for women.

How Am I Combating Gender Stereotypes For Children?

Combating gender stereotypes

With both The Gender Agenda and my second book, Dads Don’t Babysit, we sought not to whine but to offer practical solutions.

So, for example, in The Gender Agenda we offered lists of books and films. All featured a diverse range of role models beyond the girl as princess and active boy norms. One rule we enforced at home, was that every second film we watched at the cinema had a female lead. This meant I sat through a lot of Tinkerbell films before Rey turned it around in Star Wars!

Some of the research we did into combating gender stereotypes for our children threw up some counter intuitive actions points. For example you might think that you’re modelling something positive by taking your daughter to watch sport. In fact, it’s better if mum takes the kids to sport. She’s a bigger role model in impacting your daughters outlook and attitude than any number of female athletes.

In Dads Don’t Babysit my co-author and I drew up an eight point manifesto for change. Point one is to make paternity leave a day one right at work. Unbelievably you don’t currently qualify for paternity leave unless you’ve been in the job for six months.

The list shares points including  a call for longer, better funded paternity leave. And taking a critical look at daddy role models (Homer Simpson, I’m looking at you…)

Point eight is the suggestion that Sex and Relationships Education in schools could be tweaked to encourage young people to think about fatherhood and fathers more. The route to achieve these changes boils down to three simple instructions…

With both The Gender Agenda and my second book, Dads Don’t Babysit, we sought not to whine but to offer practical solutions.

So, for example, in The Gender Agenda we offered lists of books and films. All featured a diverse range of role models beyond the girl as princess and active boy norms. One rule we enforced at home, was that every second film we watched at the cinema had a female lead. This meant I sat through a lot of Tinkerbell films before Rey turned it around in Star Wars!

Some of the research we did threw up some counter intuitive actions points. For example you might think that you’re modelling something positive by taking your daughter to watch sport. In fact, it’s better if mum takes the kids to sport. She’s a bigger role model in impacting your daughters outlook and attitude than any number of female athletes.

In Dads Don’t Babysit my co-author and I drew up an eight point manifesto for change. Point one is to make paternity leave a day one right at work. Unbelievably you don’t currently qualify for paternity leave unless you’ve been in the job for six months.

The list shares points including  a call for longer, better funded paternity leave. And taking a critical look at daddy role models (Homer Simpson, I’m looking at you…)

Point eight is the suggestion that Sex and Relationships Education in schools could be tweaked to encourage young people to think about fatherhood and fathers more. The route to achieve these changes boils down to three simple instructions…

Act

By being a role model for change. Take more paternity leave, and get involved at home.

Communicate:

About your experience and talk about the benefits at work and with friends.

A few years ago played five-a-side football on a Monday night followed by beers in the pub. I remember an occasion when a team member said, he found he was ‘throwing like a girl’. I pointed out the gendered language. Since we both have daughters, it was limiting language for them to hear. I was increasingly left out of the post match invite to the pub after that.

But speaking up can work. When a man I did some freelance work for asked me if I’d cover his paternity leave, I asked if he was doing shared parental leave. He hadn’t thought about it. The next time I saw him he told me he was taking an extra month of shared parental leave. Win /win, I progressed gender equality and gained a month of work.)

Agitate

By using your position as a man to call for change. Whether that be in the workplace or by lobbying politicians for changes in legislation.

It can be difficult, and it isn’t always well received. But I speak up, I challenge, and I model the gender equality I want to see in the world. I am a hands on father, I encourage my children to be anything they want to – no matter their gender. We don’t use gendered, and limiting language. Be the change you wish to see in the world…

Speaking up, role modelling ways of parenting that challenge gender stereotypes. These are straightforward, if not always easy, ways to change the world. If we do that we can create a world free of limits and full of more possibilities for our children.

Watch the Relevant Dad Chats Live Episode

If you’d like to watch and listen to James talking about his experience of equal parental leave, don’t forget you can watch his guest appearance on Dad Chats Live. Our weekly parenting chat hosted on our Instagram Account.

Combating Gender Stereotypes to ensure a better future for our children
Combating Gender Stereotypes to ensure a better future for our children

Has this post helped you?

Has this post got you thinking about how you can work to combat gender stereotypes? Maybe you have some ideas to help, and would like to write a post on the subject yourself. Please leave your comments in the section below and share this post and other  Dadvengers Posts with your family and parenting friends.

Dadvengers is a community of parents (that’s Mums and Dad’s) focused on supporting Dads on their journey through parenthood.

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About author
James is a father, husband, author, working dad and feminist. James works =relessly to combat gender stereotypes, and works to change the issues faced by working dads. James is the editor of The Working Dad website, and co-author of two books, The Gender Agenda, and Dads Don’t Babysit.
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