Raising kids without gender presuppositions and barriers is a hot topic in the parenting world right now. There seems to be a real shift in how parents and caregivers nurture their children's identity. Promoting old gender tropes seems to be a thing of the past, as those that have been disadvantaged and even damaged by them speak out. Having arbitrary expectations and roles placed on a child from birth is pretty heavy stuff. Thankfully, there are some ways to raise girls without the gender binary.
This notion of breaking gender binary is not just politically correct — it has huge implications on a girl's future. A study out of the University of Michigan found that even the most well intentioned parents sometimes have an unconscious or implicit bias towards gender. The most ground breaking, and frankly disappointing, finding in the study found that parents provide more math supportive environments for sons than daughters. One can assume that parents don't purposely hold their daughters back from STEM knowledge or careers, but not offering a girl the space in which to try it out or see if she has an interest could potentially shut her out from ever thinking she should pursue it in the first place.
As you can gather, how a parent treats their daughter goes well beyond painting a nursery yellow instead of pink or blue. (Although if you want to fight against the gender binary, neutral colors are a way to start). Creating a gender free environment for girls involves rejecting so called "boy colors" and "girl colors," but it also goes beyond. Here are nine tips for raising a girl without the gender binary.
1. Chill Out About Gender
"The more open and relaxed you are about gender, the easier it will be for you to avoid subtly reinforcing gender binary stereotypes," Jo Eckler, a licensed clinical psychologist that works with many transgender clients, tells Romper. Eckler explained that taking a loose and open approach is the first step to busting down gender binaries. That doesn't mean it will necessarily be easy. You may find it hard to shed yourself of the antiquated gender norms that have infiltrated society for a long time, but doing so is key to raising girls without the gender binary.
2. Notice Your Own Gender Biases
Your kids are soaking up everything you do, so it's important to check your self on gender bias. This will take some honest introspection and self-awareness on your part. Even if you're pro-woman and equality, you may still have an unconscious gender bias or casual sexist behaviors.
"Our minds get used to seeing certain images and then recognize and categorize accordingly, so when something triggers that default image that tells us to identify something, we stay stuck in the same patterns of categorization," author Lisa Marie Jenkins wrote on The Huffington Post.
3. Check Your Language
"Any talk that makes generalizations about 'boys' or "girls, 'men' or 'women' feeds into the binary," Eckler says. "It's not uncommon to hear someone say, 'that's a boy's toy' or 'that's for girls.'"
Remember when Target said it was eliminating gender labels for their toy and bedding departments? That's what you have to do to your language - eliminate the gender bias.
"We do it when referring to adults as well, saying things like, 'You know how men are' or 'We girls gotta stick together,'" Eckler says. "Shift to talking about people rather than genders."
4. Expose Them To Sports And Culture
It's no secret that boys are often steered in the direction of sports and girls are guided to culture type activities like dance, theater, etc. The result is a huge equality gap.
A 2015 study called, "Girls, Sports and Equality: A State by State Ranking of Title IX," confirmed this gap by surveying co-ed high schools across the country. Not one state had gender equality in sports. Furthermore, the study concluded that high schools across the country are not providing girls with their fair share of spots on sports teams.
Sports can provide life-long benefits for both boys and girls, just as exposing boys to ballets, plays, and the arts does too.
5. Explore All Toys With Your Child
If you only present your kid with toys marketed for girls you're reinforcing the belief that girls only want to play with "girl" toys. One could assume that over time, doing so has a large impact on what they think is expected of them and what they aspire to.
"When we tell children dolls are for girls and trucks are for boys, we're telling them not only are you a boy or a girl, but that being a boy or a girl is going to determine how you think and act and the skills you will develop," University of Kentucky psychology professor Christia Spears Brown, author of Parenting Beyond Pink and Blue told CNN.
6. Present All Types Of Clothing And Colors
It probably goes without saying, but clothing items marketed to girls are often pink, and blue for boys. The colors aren't so much problematic as are the messages that are sometimes displayed on these clothing items.
7. Share Domestic Duties With Your Partner
There is no "woman's work" in my house — all chores and domestic duties are shared equally with my husband. It's important to me for our daughters to see their dad cooking, doing laundry, and scrubbing toilets. Just as it's equally important for them to see me up on a ladder, changing light bulbs, and using a screw driver.
According to Parents, children imitate what their parents do and their actions when they are really little. If all your daughter sees you do is sweep, clean, and cook, they're going to think that they are expected to do the same. One could assume that seeing these singular actions performed over and over again by the same gender (the mother) is limiting to the daughter.
8. Use Gender-Neutral Pronouns
Some might find this to be extreme, others find it to be really helpful in breaking down gender associations. There are several options for gender neutral pronouns, as exemplified on the LGBT resource page of the University of Wisconsin website including: "zie," "zim," "zir," and "zis."
They were created because some languages, such as English, don't have a gender neutral or third gender pronoun available. "They" and "their" is becoming a widely accepted solution to the singular gender pronoun problem.
9. Allow Your Child To Make Their Own Choices
"Let your child explore and make their own choices," Eckler says. "Remember, it's OK if your child naturally chooses clothing or activities that are stereotypically associated with the gender they were assigned at birth. The idea is to allow for freedom, not to box them into any expectations regarding gender. Go with the flow as their interests and preferences evolve over time."
The main premise behind raising girls without gender binary is to give them the power, right, and flexibility to be who they are. Empowering them with options and supporting them along the way will help them come into their own identity.