All parents want their children to have the opportunity to grow up to be happy, fulfilled adults, and part of that involves raising them in such a way that they can feel confident to become who they want to be, regardless of their sex.
Parents can start to establish an attitude of gender equality by being aware of how they themselves interact with one another, and with friends and family members of the same and the opposite sex. Above all, parents need to show their children that they respect each other, regardless of what sort of work they respectively do, and of whether or not one of them is a stay-at-home parent. In this way, they show children that all work is valued (including unpaid work), whether it is done by a man or by a woman.
If both parents work outside the home, it is important for their relationship, and for their children’s understanding of fairness and equality, for them both to be seen engaging in housework and the care of the home. If one parent does all the cleaning up while the other watches TV, children inevitably pick up the message that the former belongs to the sex that is born to serve.
It is also very important to avoid using derogatory terms associated with sex or gender characteristics and to point out obvious forms of denigrating or offensive behaviour they may encounter on TV or on the Internet (which, inevitably, they will). Even very young children can learn a lot from a family discussion about why there are more boy characters than girl characters in cartoons, for example, or about why men are often depicted as weak if they cry or show that they are upset. By holding these conversations in an accessible manner, with a vocabulary that your child can understand, you are helping them to articulate their feelings and views in a world that remains deeply gendered in many ways.
As children grow older, parents can encourage them to become assertive and confident and to make the choices that are right for them, whether they are a girl or a boy. It is crucial to bear in mind that, while it is important to make it clear to kids that it’s just fine if their goals are inconsistent with gender stereotyping, it’s also OK if they are consistent with it. What matters is that they aim to live in a way that reflects positive values and their own personal strengths and talents. Of course, girls should be taught that there is no reason for them not to pursue a career in engineering or maths if that is where their talents lie—while at the same time being careful not to suggest that stereotypically ‘feminine’ careers such as childcare or interior design are not valid choices. The same goes for boys, when they are considering what they want to do when they grow up. More equality is often presented as being good for girls and women—and it undeniably is—but it also opens up more opportunities for boys and men. While there are obviously biological differences between girls and boys that have an impact on how they experience the world, most careers and lifestyles are open to either sex.
WHO CAN I SPEAK TO FURTHER ABOUT THE ISSUES IN THIS ARTICLE?
For help with the issues discussed in this article speak to one of our therapists here at Private Therapy Clinic for a free initial chat or to make an appointment.