Monday, January 19th, 2009
Discuss: Teaching Classic Gender Roles
After the mixed reaction to the Embryo video, here’s a tougher nut to chew on about gender roles.
The following 6 minute short film is about a girl who loves a boy and a boy who loves his bike. The film took first place in Tropfest Australia 2008, “the world’s largest short film festival.” It has me thinking about how we raise our children, from toddlerhood.
Before I became a parent, I would have called this film “sweet.” Today, I see it as a “classic” film, classic meaning chock full of age-old stereotypes.
Consider: a girl ensconced in pink is obsessed with changing herself to attract a boy rather than being happy with who she is. Doing things to attract the attention of the other sex is one thing, but she changes herself for him (learning to ride without training wheels by herself) and changes her possessions (removing pink doodads from her spokes, and later painting her bike black with a pen).
Meanwhile, the boy shrugs and ignores the girl for being a girl, and rejects girlish things (her pink spoke doodads, and the color and style of her bike).
The message conveyed is that it’s good for girls to change themselves for boys and for boys to eschew girls and girlish things unless they become boy-like.
I’d be okay with the film if it ended with the girl’s triumphant jump from the boy’s bike ramp, leaving him in the dust. But no, after the credits roll, we learn he reluctantly accepted her pretend/fantasy marriage. Translation: her efforts paid off.
My reaction is probably pronounced because of an experience last weekend at a grocery store…
I was in line with my 4-year-old daughter behind two high school cheerleaders. The clerk said to the girls with a smile, “She’s checking you out.”
In fact, my daughter was probably just looking toward the cheerleaders because that what you do when you’re in a line — you look forward. Or, maybe she was trying to figure out why girls would wear ultra high skirts in winter, at 8 a.m.
Then, when we got to the head of the line, the clerk laid on thick compliments about my daughter being cute cheerleading material. Oh, and it’s such good exercise.
I said, “Oh dear God, I hope not.”
Okay, I didn’t really. I politely smiled and said nothing. Sometime I’ll write about the non-ballet non-cheerleading activity my daughter enjoys that is athletic, social, musical, co-ed, cross-generational and a real confidence builder with public performances.
My true reaction is due to the whole not-embracing-gender-stereotypes pink-in-moderation no-princesses no-Barbie thing. It’s fine for you and your kids. Some of my daughter’s friends are entrenched in that culture. It’s just not the choice we’ve made for our daughter. Make no mistake — girls embracing the pink princess syndrome is a parental choice, not some genetically determined outcome.
So, as a cultural outsider, I view the short film as very traditional. I’m supposed to be amused at how far the girl goes to woo the boy and think it’s amusing / sweet / precious / darling when she wins him. And by the same token, a traditionalist accepts the boy’s earliest reactions toward the girl as normal.
Normal? Half my daughter’s friends are boys. The 9-year-old boy across the street from me has non-romantic girl friends. Anyone can enjoy digging in the dirt, riding bikes, playing with a dollhouse or dressing up. The only conflict arises when a child has be taught a gender stereotype. And yes, by avoiding the Barbie aisle at Target I am teaching her a reverse stereotype of sorts, I suppose.
A while back my wife and I wrote parenting vision statements summarizing the qualities we wish to instill in our kids.
My wife: “My children will be self confident, resilient, and live a life concerned about the people in the community and world around them.”
Me: “We will raise our children to be ambitious, empathetic, and have a spirit of endurance.”
Can those qualifies be achieved equally well with a fairy wand or a toy hammer? Yeah, I suppose, but they are not necessary.They’re simply pervasive in our culture (America’s culture anyhow).
I’m wondering how you reacted to the film, and to what degree you do or don’t encourage gender stereotypes coming at your kid(s) from popular media, playmates and even strangers.
See previously: Ideas for anti-princess syndrome baby shirts (I never did get one made).