Something I sometimes wonder about, as the father of two boys (a 4 yr old and a 10 month old), is the kind of messages my wife and I give our sons about growing up male in a world that is very different than the one we grew up in, let alone the world our parents grew up in.
It can be quite a heady question sometimes.
On the whole, I don’t think we worry too much about gender-orientation, but we’re obviously influenced by social norms — and our parents.
For clothes, we buy boys stuff and the colours and styles that the various companies push at us. These, of course, tend to have lots of “boy stuff” on them (trucks, space ships, sports things, etc) and “boy colours” (typically dark colours I guess). On the other hand, we don’t have any problems buying things that are bright, or “girl” coloured.
Both boys have had sleepers, hats, t-shirts, etc., that have been light-green, orange, etc. Both boys have worn the orange-striped “Tigger” jacket and pants that makes it almost impossible to tell if they are boys or girls. And really, so what? The biggest push we get for “gender appropriate” clothing is more from my own mother, who is very insistent that we dress them to look like boys. This comes subtly by the things that she buys for the boys and more overtly by the things she tells us.
For things other than clothes — toys and books — we try to be pretty open. Our eldest boy has dolls. He has a tea set. He also has lots of trucks, trains, dinkies and Lego. He tends towards the more traditional “boy” toys, but I don’t think we push him in that direction. We have kept him away from violent toys and action figures, but that’s more to preserve his innocence I think. He’s never expressed an interest in those sorts of things.
In terms of activities, we’re not too far along there to really notice any bias. The oldest boy has been in music classes, dance classes and swimming. I seem to recall that he was the only boy in his Scottish dancing class, but I don’t read too much into that.
In terms of role models, obviously I want them to learn from the example that I set, which hopefully reflects a respectful and tolerant attitude. I haven’t worried about (yet) trying to get them to adopt a “manly” attitude. I’m quite happy to let them find their way in the world, observing what they will, answering whatever questions they may have, as long as they keep an open mind and show respect and tolerance for others.
TV and movies really haven’t played a part in that as far as I’m concerned. Most of the things our eldest son watches are educational and seem pretty balanced as far as gender roles are concerned (The Backyardigans, Sid the Science Kid, various Leapfrog videos, etc). OK, ok, he has a pretty big fascination with Mighty Machines but I attribute that more to his insatiable interest in how things work and vehicles in general rather than some sort of gender bias.
Obviously things change as they get older and get exposed to a wider range of people and ideas. School will change things, I’m sure, as will watching more mature things on TV or in movies. But in the end, I feel that as long as we continue to be open and honest with our kids, and push the open-mind, respect, and tolerance angles that things will turn out just fine.