Do you want to be a Princess?

8 11 2013

Video courtesy of ABC News – You Can’t Be a Princess!

It’s been a few weeks now that my attention is drawn to how we continue to cultivate and nurture stereotypes between boys and girls even in my very own enlightened and progressive society.  For those readers who have daughters, have you ever stopped to take notice of some of the overt and subliminal messages we send to our girls?  There are so many platitudes we typically and dare I say irresponsibly use:

  • You are so cute!
  • What a sweet heart!
  • How adorable are you?
  • What a pretty princess!

Of course rarely are such statements made with ill intent, whether it be from family members, friends or folks we meet at the grocery store.  Regardless of the intent though, I believe such statements do reinforce stereotypes that detract from the essence of the person that is the child.  When we make superficial comments based on outward appearances are we noticing how smart, bright, strategic, creative, innovative, energetic, strong, or fast our girls are?

What about our boys?  If our girls are considered pretty princesses are boys handsome princes by default?   Not really, it seems that we hold a whole bunch of other stereotypes for them in the name of “boys will be boys!”   When was the last time you heard someone acknowledge a boy for his calm, gentle, artistic, or stylish nature?

I tend to live my life based on the belief that all people are equal and interestingly the Universe of late seems to want to prove me wrong!  Noticing how prevalent many gender stereotypes still are, even in the immediate surroundings of my evolved community, has created a direct challenge to my belief in equality.

I was struck by an observation my daughter made recently when reading a text for homework.  The text was in French and used the masculine context, which my daughter picked up on and questioned – why the reference to men and not women?  “Pourquoi ça dit avant l’apparition de l’homme et pas la femme?” Hmmm, why indeed! I was conflicted in searching for an appropriate response.  Was there no other text that could have conveyed the same information in a gender neutral way?

Following this interesting exchange with my daughter, I heard about a new game this week that was being played at a local elementary school.  In this game, young boys were enjoying themselves by taking female classmates “hostage”, lining them up against the schoolyard fence and running into them.  The matter was addressed but how does one explain how this can be happening in places where there are focused campaigns, programs and communications on anti-bullying?

Personally, as a girl growing up, I have generally felt encouraged to be myself.  I also had strong female role models to draw from and never really considered myself a feminist.  Now with two daughters of my own, I feel very protective of their freedom, their rights.  I wanted to stand up and cheer the mom whom I overheard telling her daughter after someone declared how cute she is, “remember what I say, it’s not how cute you are but how smart!”  As the future unfolds however, will this same empowering mom be able to guarantee that her daughter won’t be passed up for a job opportunity because she is either pregnant or on maternity leave; even if she is the smartest, and most qualified candidate?!

Gender stereotypes have the insidious power to shape the beliefs we form of ourselves and subsequently influence our behaviour and our interactions.  As parents we can inspire our children to live stereotype free by having the courage to stare our own labels in the eye and choose something different.  In taking a breathe, consider….

  • What adjectives do you typically use to describe boys or girls when you are speaking to them?
  • How do you define yourself as a man or a woman?
  • When were you encouraged to be yourSELF? How did it feel?
  • What will you do to encourage others to be themselves?

We all have the capacity to look beyond the braids, ponytails and baseball caps to see the real person beyond our own stereotypical filters, if we choose to.  Given that we also know that we become what we believe ourselves to be makes us accountable as parents to connect with our truth and be wise in the messages we communicate to our children and ourselves.  So my challenge is to build on my belief in equality by focusing on cultivating a more kind, good, generous, smart, bright, strategic, creative, innovative, energetic, WORLD through the children I encounter.  What’s yours?

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