myths about gender roles

myths about gender roles

What is male? What is female? Your answers to these questions may depend on the types of gender roles you were exposed to as a child. Gender roles can bedefined as the behaviors and attitudes expected of male and female members ofa society by that society.

Gender roles vary. Different cultures impose different expectations upon themen and women who live in that culture. The United States has experienced tremendous upheaval and revising of its traditional gender roles in the last generation. These changes in gender roles affect the home, the workplace, and the school, and they affect all Americans to some degree.

Gender Roles in the Workplace

Over the past few decades, Americans have made great strides in accepting andadjusting to new definitions of gender roles. Part of the cause is the increased number of women in the workplace. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, white men (who once dominated the workplace) now account for about 45percent of all workers. White women and women of color make up 47 percent ofthe workplace. In 1995, 76 percent of women between the ages of 25 and 54 worked outside the home, up from 50 percent in 1970.

With the increased presence of women in the workplace, old attitudes and behaviors have had to change. Men and women are more aware of sexual harassment than previously; whereas 20 years ago a woman who refused to have an affair with her boss may have had to quit, she now has other options. Companies are now experimenting with policies that are family-friendly, such as flex time, job sharing, and on-site child care--policies that benefit both men and women.

In the nascently and experimentally egalitarian workplace, some men are concerned about being accused of sexual harassment, and they feel they must be extremely cautious in their everyday dealings with the women they work with; this caution may stifle creativity, some experts say. In addition, women still earn far less money than men do for the same work, even though their salariesare vital to maintaining their families' economic health.

Where Do Gender Roles Come From?

A person's sexuality comes from within him or her, making a person heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, or asexual, depending on the partners he or she is(or is not) attracted to. Unlike sexuality, however, gender roles are imposedfrom without, through a variety of social influences. Formed during the socialization phases of childhood and adolescence, gender role issues influence people throughout their lives; conflict can arise when some one does not feelat ease with his or her gender role.

The first and one of the strongest influences on a person's perceived genderrole is his or her parents. Parents are our first teachers--not only of suchbasic skills as talking and walking, but also of attitudes and behavior. Someparents still hold traditional definitions of maleness and femaleness and what kind of activities are appropriate for each.

Parents start early in treating their baby boys and baby girls differently. Although baby boys are more likely to die in infancy than girls, and are actually more fragile as infants than girls are, studies have shown that parents tend to respond more quickly to an infant daughter's cries than they are to those of an infant son. Parents also tend to cuddle girls more than they do boys. They are also more likely to allow boys to try new things and activities--such as learning to walk and explore--than they are girls; parents tend to fear more for the safety of girls.

According to Dr. Benjamin Spock, people are likely to appreciate girls' cuteness and boys' achievements. For example, a girl may receive the comment, "You look so pretty!" for the outfit she is wearing. While this complimentisn't harmful in itself, repeated over and over the message the girl gets isthat she is most appreciated for her looks, not for what she can do. Boys, on the other hand, are praised for what they can do--"Aren't you a big boy, standing up by yourself!" Many parents encourage and expect boys to be more active, to be more rough-and-tumble in their play than girls. A boy who does notlike rough play (and so goes against the gender role he has been assigned) may be labeled a "sissy." A girl who prefers active play to more passive pursuits may be called a "tomboy."

Children look to their parents for examples and role models. If a girl sees her mother taking part in physical activities, for example, she will grow up with the idea that it's okay for girls to play sports. If a boy sees his father helping to take care of the new baby, he will integrate this image of "daddy as care giver" into his developing definition of masculinity.

But just as parents can provide positive role models, so too can they serve as negative role models. For example, children who grow up with parents who are in an abusive relationship have been found to repeat the same pattern as adults: male children of abusive husbands often grow up to abuse their own wives, and daughters of abused wives can grow up to be victims of domestic violence, because their parents have shown them that this is "normal."

Children develop their gender identity (knowing whether they are male or female) by the age of three. As preschoolers, they use some sexual stereotypes tohelp them differentiate between men and women--for example, to a preschooler, long hair may mean "female" and short hair, "male."

Another influence and reinforcement of gender roles comes from the toys children play with. During their infancy and toddlerhood, children get most of their toys from parents and other family members; their choice of toys supportstheir own view of gender roles. For example, parents may give their little girl a doll to sleep with, while the boy gets a teddy bear. A grandparent may give a grandson a toy truck but never consider giving the same to a granddaughter. Such gifts set children up early on for the roles they are expected to play.

As they get older, children are influenced in their choice of toys by television. Remote-controlled vehicles, although they can be equally enjoyed by males or females, are generally targeted at boys by advertisers. Girls are the advertising targets of the manufacturers of dolls, craft kits, and so on; advertisers are careful not to call boys' toys "dolls"--they're "action figures"!Again and again, we see toys and toy advertisement reinforcing the traditional gender roles: boys are active and adventurous, while girls are passive andmothering. Parents need to be aware of the messages TV advertisements and toys present to their children. They need to help them understand and reconcilethe person they are with the sexual stereotypes they may see on TV and in other media.

Nevertheless, parents can and do reinforce sexual stereotypes, whether deliberately or unwittingly. Not wanting to see a daughter fall and get hurt, a mother may forbid her from climbing trees--although her brother is allowed to doso with gleeful abandon, and his bumps and bruises are taken in stride. Clothing manufacturers produce (and parents buy) clothing in gender-neutral shades such as yellow and green, but the traditional blue for boys and pink for girls are still favorites. Even the cultural habit of assigning pink to girls and blue to boys raises a question--what's to become of the boy who genuinelylikes the color pink? This question leads us to another group that has stronginfluence over gender roles: peers.

Peer pressure is a means of reinforcing a culture's traditional gender roles.It can come in the form of taunting or teasing a child who does not fit thetraditional gender roles that other children in the peer group have been exposed to, even to the point of excluding that child from group activities.

Peers react more positively to children who fit traditional gender roles. Forexample, the Washington Post reported the case of a five-year-old boywhose favorite color was pink, and as a result, when the time came to buy him his first bicycle, he naturally wanted it to be pink. The parents had no problem with this, and the boy even told the salesman (who tried to tell him that boys should ride blue or red bikes) that color was just color. The ones who teased him about his bike were not the other boys, but the girls in the neighborhood. Not long after, the boy stopped telling other people that pink washis favorite color.

Resisting such teasing takes a strong ego, something that takes many people years to develop. In a study conducted at Suffolk University in Boston, researcher Krisanne Bursik studied the ego development of 209 undergraduates and compared the results to gender-related traits. She found that students who weremore likely to express non-traditional gender role traits had higher levelsof ego development. She found that among male students, those who had less-developed egos viewed high levels of traditional masculinity as the ideal. Shenoted that in these men, "gender role conflict may occur for men when rigid,sexist or restrictive gender roles, learned during socialization, result in personal restriction, devaluation, or violation of others or self." However, Bursik's research was unable to answer the chicken-or-the-egg question: whichcomes first? Do people who have strong, well-developed egos feel free to go against traditional gender roles? Or does early exposure to alternatives wheregender roles are concerned lead people to develop strong egos?

Gender roles are also reinforced by school. Teachers and school administrators have great influence as they pass along cultural information and expectations.

In school, children are expected to sit still, read, and be quiet. Such expectations may have been part of the gender role that a child has been learningfrom the parents, especially if the child is a girl. But for a boy who has been encouraged to be loud and boisterous prior to starting school, these expectations can lead to trouble. In fact, some researchers maintain that all boysface difficulty with expectations such as these because the structure of their brains makes them less able to meet these expectations than girls are.

Although viewed with dismay by some, schools around the country are trying out single-sex classes. About three percent of the children in the Baltimore school system are enrolled in such classes. Not only have the children's scoreson performance assessment tests increased, but the single-sex classes have given advantages to the children. Boys who had been shy to speak in class do well in them, and girls develop leadership skills. Students at other single-sex schools have been found to be less susceptible to social pressure. Are these successes due to the positive gender role expectations their teachers present, or does going to a single-sex school or class eliminate part of peer pressure? The research is continuing.

Differences between the Sexes

Physical differences do exist between males and females. Studies of the brainhave revealed that female brains are stronger in the left hemisphere, whichrules language. As a result, they do better when tested for language abilityand speech articulation, for example. In males, the right hemisphere, which governs spatial perception, is stronger, giving them an advantage in tasks that require moving objects or aiming.

Tasks or tests that do not take into account the differences between males and females tend to penalize one gender or the other. For example, boys tend toscore better on standardized achievement tests, but girls do better on teststhat require writing. Math, science, and geography are subjects that males tend to do better in than females, but females may have the advantage in meeting the social expectations of school, such as behaving in class and producingneat work.

Even if a boy and a girl were raised identically, without gender expectations, they would not turn out the same, researchers say.

Boys and Gender Roles

Research into the differences between girls and boys is relatively new and ispolitically charged. Some researchers fear being labeled "anti-female" by delving into the study of boys and gender roles. But over the last three decades, gender roles have changed dramatically, and the impact on boys needs to beexamined.

Some researchers maintain that boys may not develop their full capacity for emotional depth because of a combination of factors, including parenting, education, biological and genetic factors, and the messages they receive from popular culture. As a result, some boys are less able than girls to deal with the emotional upheavals that accompany adolescence; recent statistics show thatteenage boys commit suicide at five times the rate teenage girls do. Ultimately, a lack of emotional development as a boy makes it difficult for the adult man to develop healthy relationships.

As gender roles have changed, they have opened greater opportunities for females (which will be discussed more fully below). But men face a dilemma. The old model of the "macho man" is less acceptable in today's world than it was even three decades ago, and men are struggling to reinvent themselves. Some men are so dependent on the old roles for their identity that they find themselves at a loss when confronted with new expectations. For example, some men cannot adjust when they discover that their wives or girlfriends earn more money than they do, and end the relationship. Silly? To some, perhaps. But plainly, for such men the new options they have regarding gender roles are limitedand limiting.

What does it mean to be a man? That's a question many of today's men are wrestling with. In his book Reaching up for Manhood, author Geoffrey Canada wrote, "The image of male as strong is mixed with the image of male as violent. Male as virile gets mixed with male as promiscuous. Males as intelligent often gets mixed with male as arrogant, racist, and sexist." Small wonder that so many men in western society are flailing about for a new definition. However, today's parents have the opportunity to show their sons that they don't have to be violent to be strong. Rather than taking the attitude that "boys will be boys" if their son gets into a fight, parents can take the chance to teach their child new ways to solve conflicts--without using fists.

Women and Gender Roles

Just as men's gender roles have changed, women's gender roles have changed inthe last few years, opening new opportunities. However, opportunities have their price, and some things are slower to change than others.

Women can no longer be discriminated against in the workplace. If a woman isqualified for a job, she is by law able to have it. However, few women hold top positions at large companies. A 1995 survey found that among Fortune 500 companies, only 90 had women as their chief executive officers. About 65 percent of Americans believe that women are discriminated against in getting such well-paying positions--a phenomenon called the "glass ceiling," in which a woman rises only so far in management and no further.

However, women are looking more and more at the tradeoffs involved. Even though they may be able to get ahead in the workplace, things at home remain remarkably the same as they did in their parents' generation.

Due to gender roles, women--even if they work full-time outside the home--arestill perceived as having the primary responsibility for taking care of homeand family. Generally, if a child is sick and both parents work, it is the mother who leaves the office, picks the child up, and stays home until the child is well enough to return to school. Researchers have also found that the woman is still the primary doer of housework (although today's men tend to domore housework than their fathers did). Working mothers do 20 hours of housework each week, compared to working fathers, who do 10. The tasks considered "male," such as yard work and car maintenance, were sporadic in nature and involved an aspect of leisure. The tasks considered "female" were generally repetitive, and had to be done daily--researchers called these tasks "unrelenting, repetitive, and routine." In addition, women are still responsible for mostof the food shopping, child care, laundry, cleaning, cooking, and even for how the house looks.

Despite great changes in the workplace, life at home is still much the same as it was in past generations. Women do most of the work. Men earn most of themoney. And this is not sitting well with women: researchers report that 38 percent have a problem with how much their husbands do. It's a dilemma for women to feel they have the right to choose their own career paths, an opportunity few of their mothers and grandmothers had, and then realize that they arestill ruled by many of the same old gender role expectations.

The More Things Change

The shifting of gender roles in the past 30 years has been huge. It has happened so quickly that men and women are still trying to sort out what the new roles and rules mean to them. Although women are no longer expected to be thekeepers of the house, in reality, they are in most families. Although men aregenerally open to the successes enjoyed by the women they share their liveswith, some still find it hard to celebrate a woman's triumphs because they feel it diminishes their own.

However, rather than blaming each other for the situation, men and women areincreasingly willing to work together to learn about their new roles. Successful marriage partners learn to negotiate and share tasks. Managers take employees aside and tell them when comments are inappropriate. It will take time to sort out all the implications of the changing gender roles of Americans, but new expectations should result in better workplaces, better relationships,better schools, and better lives.

"Greek Mythology Gender Roles" Essays and Research Papers

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Role Reboot

5 Myths About Gender Neutral Parenting

Originally appeared on Everyday Feminism. Republished here with permission.

The day I found out the baby I was carrying was a girl, I bought a frilly, pink dress. It had taken me a long time to get pregnant and I wanted a girl. Yes, I wanted a “healthy baby” but I was honest enough with myself to say I preferred a girl.

In retrospect, it seems incongruent with my feminist views that I did something so “pigeonholing9rdquo; to my 20-week old fetus. Shouldn’t I have rushed out to buy The Feminine Mystique to read her in-utero?

Everywhere you look, there are pink princesses and blue football shirts. The “gender neutral” section—defined by blank green and yellow onesies—of a store like Babies R Us is almost non-existent.

Parenting outside the mainstream boy/girl dichotomy can seem daunting to say the least. Am I not allowed to think that dress is cute? Is it OK if I put my baby boy in that jumper with the soccer ball on the butt? What do I do when the photographer calls my daughter “princess9rdquo; for the millionth time?

The desire to not pigeonhole a child into a specific gender based solely on their biological sex is called Gender Neutral Parenting (GNP) and it isn’t easy to know what it is and is not.

Recently a psychologist named Dr. Keith Ablow stated on Fox & Friends that a woman was “nuts9rdquo; for giving her son a doll (you can see the video here). Let’s just set aside for a moment the abelism of calling someone “nuts9rdquo; because you don’t agree with them.

His view of “gender bending” couldn’t be further from the truth and he falls prey to several common myths about GNP.

So let’s set the record straight:

Myth #1: Gender Neutral Parenting Is About Androgyny

This myth posits that GNP’s goal is to create a genderless world by abolishing all concepts of male or female. Parents only allow non-gendered toys in neutral colors and androgynous clothing.

Reality: Although the 1970s saw a smattering of articles claiming androgyny as the pinnacle of human evolution—the theory that gender roles are completely learned—we now tend to see gender as a blending of biological (nature) and cultural (nurture) influences. Dr. Ablow said parents “wrench [it] in to some kind of non-genderness.”

However, GNP does not seek to force androgyny on children any more than it wishes to force masculinity or femininity on children.

The whole point of GNP is that it doesn’t force any preconceived gender norms onto a child in the hopes that they can find their own comfort spot on the continuum we call gender.

Myth #2: Gender Neutral Parenting Will Make Your Kid Gay

Many organizations, such as Focus on the Family, specifically conflate gender-bending behavior in children as “signs of pre-homosexuality” and recommend interventions to promote “gender-proper9rdquo; behaviors.

Reality: Most ongoing research points to a strong genetic component to homosexuality. Therefore, being gay is not something a parent can “train9rdquo; a child to be. Even children raised by lesbian mothers or gay fathers aren’t more likely to be gay themselves. A child’s sexual orientation will be what it will be. Nothing a parent does will change that.

GNP will not influence their final sexual preferences, but it can have a profound effect on how traumatizing their upbringing is. A child with the freedom to choose their own comfort level on the gender spectrum and the sexuality spectrum will be less likely to be crushed under parental expectations that conflict with their inner life.

The whole point of GNP is that sex—e.g. the assignment at birth based on external genitalia—should not dictate “allowable9rdquo; behaviors. If you like pink tutus, you should be able to like them with acceptance regardless of your sex.

Myth #3: Gender Neutral Parenting Is Anti-Feminine Or Anti-Masculine

Dr. Ablow also said, “What9rsquo;s so bad about kids being able to be masculine and feminine?” His statement implies that GNP suppresses or shames feminine or masculine behaviors.

Reality: GNP isn’t “neutral9rdquo; at all; it is about diversity and removing limitations to gender expression.

If we limited girls from wearing pink or boys from playing football, then we would be replacing one set of artificial limits for another.

What we want to do is expose kids to a wide range of gender-types and give them the freedom to explore without judgment those that call to them.

If your daughter proudly proclaims that “dolls are for girls” while playing, instead of correcting her, open a dialogue.

You might find that a friend at school told her dolls are for girls or that someone had teased her about playing with her dinosaur collection. Opening a dialogue is so much more powerful than a room full of gender neutral toys that raise no questions.

Myth #4: Gender Neutral Parenting Is Only For Trans* Kids

This myth supposes that GNP is only valuable or should only be employed after a child has displayed gender-bending behaviors. GNP helps trans* kids overcome the pain of being different, but it has no value for a cisgender ((the term used to describe people who identify as the gender they were assigned at birth) child.

Reality: First, no one knows when a child is born if he/she/they are trans*. According to Transgender Law and Policy Institute, 2-5% of all people are trans* and most gender-bending kids will not be trans* as adults.

It is true that GNP will provide a safer and more nurturing environment that’s absent in most trans* children’s lives. However, cisgender children can also benefit greatly from GNP in two ways.

One, without strict gender rules children tend to find their place on the spectrum that is not so extreme as hyper-masculine or hyper-feminine but instead represent a spectrum of expression that allows children to find their own strengths and weaknesses.

A child might be amazing at construction and become a prominent architect but only if they have access to building toys and the freedom to explore with them.

Secondly, even stereotypically feminine/masculine children raised in a GNP environment will have the ability to critically question gender assumptions and to appreciate the diversity of gender roles.

Myth #5: Gender Neutral Parenting Is A Social Experiment

When families say they won’t divulge the gender of their child, some get in an uproar about “using9rdquo; kids for political purposes or brainwashing them as some type of science experiment.

Reality: Everything we say and do with our kids is our attempt to teach them to function in the world at large. I want to raise my children to be good people. To me, this does not mean teaching them to tow the line and conform. It means them being strongly feminist with a passion for equality and social justice.

Traditional gendered parenting is every bit as much indoctrination. Gender-norms are taught to mold a kid into an adult that fits into society’s definition of the gender binary. Girls wear pink, like to nurture others, and are emotional. Boys don’t cry, play sports, and make money.

GNP is trying to break down that narrow definition of what a child can be. If that is a political statement, then it is one I’m proud to make.

So What Does This Look Like?

Was buying that pink dress anti-GNP? I don’t think so. As an introspective person, I had an awareness of my gender-laden choice. What if my daughter doesn’t like dresses? Doesn’t like pink? Doesn’t identify as a girl?

Practicing traditional, gender-biased parenting would be only letting your girls wear pink frilly frocks and making statements that subtly limit the choice. For example, “that9rsquo;s not girly enough” or “you9rsquo;d just look adorable in the pink one” all train her to know that mom (and society) expect her to be girly.

It would be just as gender-biased to tease my daughter for wanting to wear pink. For example, rolling my eyes with a “ugh, that is so frilly” could make her feel bad for liking feminine things.

The main way I strike a balance? I encourage her voice. I try to take my opinions out of the equation.

I’m always looking for an opening to say “which one do you like?” and respecting her choice. I let her tell me what she wants to do with her hair (no forced barrettes and uncomfortable headbands in the name of not being mistaken for a boy).

I don’t get bent out of shape when photographers call her “princess,9rdquo; but I make sure at home to comment on what a superhero she is when she lifts the garbage bag out of the trash can.

Most parents I know cringe when their 7-year-old says “that9rsquo;s for girls.” But really, this is a great opportunity to start a dialog about gender. When the photographer calls her princess, we can later discuss why that is and what it means to be a princess.

And I can let her hear my voice. I’m girly. I own a pink hammer. Not sure if that is nature or nurture but I am self-aware. I’ve let gender expectations limit me in the past and my growing awareness of it has made me a better person.

Someday, if she asks why pictures of her at 3 months old are an explosion of pink, I’ll tell her that was my way of celebrating her.

Then I’ll tell her that now I celebrate her so much more by watching her learn to celebrate her own unique self.

5 False Myths About Gender Differences

  • By: DivineCaroline
  • May 30, 2011
  • About Melissa
  • Follow Melissa at @DivineCaroline

By: Allison Ford, DivineCaroline

Over the last few decades, touchy-feely self-help books have painted a picture of male-female relationships as something between an ongoing battle and a complete exercise in futility. They lecture that men and women are different, with completely different styles of communication, thinking, and behavior. They’re not just different sexes, they’re from entirely different planets, and never the twain shall meet.

If all these things were true, it would be a miracle that any two people managed to have a functioning relationship at all. Indeed, recent psychological research has shown that women and men are far more alike than they are different, and many of the things that we’re taught about the supposed differences in men’s and women’s brains are nothing but mere myths.

Myth #1: Men Are Better at Math

It’s been established that boys tend to do better on math tests and are more likely than girls to choose math-centric career paths, such as engineering, technology, and computers. The real problem, though, is not an actual biological handicap, but the perception that girls are inferior at math. Many tests, like one professors at the University of Texas and New York University conducted, found that when they tested groups of people who were primed to think about the bias against women, the women scored poorly, but in groups that were primed to think about gender-neutral subjects, the score gap disappeared. This “stereotype anxiety” is a well-known psychological phenomenon in testing, and many researchers now believe it accounts for much of girls’ lower performance on math tests.

Myth #2: Men Are More Competitive

In many societies, the stereotype is that men are competitive and women are collaborative. Some studies of Western subjects confirm this bias, but a study conducted by professors from Columbia University and the University of Chicago found surprising results in cultures that haven’t been subjected to this bias, such as the Masai, a patriarchal tribe from Tanzania, and the Khasi, a matrilineal group from India. In the patriarchal society, the men were more competitive than the women were, but in the matrilineal society, it was the women who were more competitive. The researchers interpreted their findings as evidence that there is no biological basis for competitive drive, and that differences between the sexes are merely social biases, reflecting the fact that young girls and boys are socialized differently.

Myth #3: Women Are More Emotional

In a study conducted by Vanderbilt University psychologist Ann Kring, male and female college students watching movies reported feeling the same levels of emotion, but the females felt more comfortable expressing them. In fact, many studies have shown that there’s no difference in the experiences of emotion between men and women, but since women are already perceived to be the more emotional sex, they consistently score higher than men on tests of emotional expression. According to a study published in the February 2004 issue of Sex Roles: a Journal of Research, male and female subjects were equally likely to express feelings of sympathy or lend support to friends, but often the circumstances surrounding the outward expression of emotion are highly dependent on the context, such as whether the subject is being watched by onlookers.

Myth #4: Women Are More Talkative

One popular stereotype claims that women speak tens of thousands of words per day, while men manage to utter only a few hundred. In fact, there’s virtually no difference between the number of words spoken by men and those spoken by women. A 2007 study at the University of Arizona monitored 396 college students and found that both the men and the women spoke an average of about sixteen thousand words per day, without any statistically significant difference between the sexes. In the June 2007 issue of Science magazine, researcher Matthias Mehl reported that the study’s three chattiest subjects actually happened to all be men, each of whom uttered about forty thousand words per day.

Myth #5: Women Are More Intuitive

Many women pride themselves on their powers of intuition, but new research reveals that intuitive, empathic thinking isn’t solely the province of ladies. A study conducted at the University of Hertfordshire in Great Britain tested subjects’ ability to decipher real smiles from fake ones. Although more women than men reported that they were “highly intuitive,” there was virtually no corresponding improvement in performance. Men detected 72 percent of the real smiles to women’s 71 percent. When asked specifically to decipher the expressions of the opposite sex, men did even better. They detected 76 percent of false female smiles, while women picked out only 67 percent of men’s fake smiles. Intuition is traditionally considered a female attribute, but research such as this shows that men’s and women’s abilities are just about even.

According to psychologist Janet Shibley Hyde, whose article “The Gender Similarities Hypothesis” was published in the September 2005 issue of the American Psychologist, there are only a few areas in which men and women are substantially different. They differ in measures of motor performance in tasks like speed and throwing power (since after puberty, men are bigger and have more muscle mass), and in certain facets of and attitudes about sexuality. Also, women and men differ in expression of aggression: men exhibit more physical aggression, while women score higher on tests of relational aggression and verbal bullying.

Reinforcing stereotypes about men and women is damaging; it can prevent people from expressing themselves, and it solidifies outdated gender roles. Some women may talk more than their husbands and some men may be more competitive than their wives, but those differences are created by society, not biology. Anyone who’s been in a marital argument can attest that sometimes it seems like his or her partner is on a separate planet. But the truth is that men and women are far more alike than we are different.

5 Myths About Gender Neutral Parenting

The day I found out the baby I was carrying was a girl, I bought a frilly, pink dress. It had taken me a long time to get pregnant and I wanted a girl. Yes, I wanted a “healthy baby” but I was honest enough with myself to say I preferred a girl.

In retrospect, it seems incongruent with my feminist views that I did something so “pigeonholing” to my 20 week old fetus. Shouldn’t I have rushed out to buy The Feminine Mystique to read her in-utero?

Everywhere you look, there are pink princesses and blue football shirts. The “gender neutral” section – defined by blank green and yellow onesies – of a store like Babies R Us is almost non-existent.

This is largely because most parents today know the sex of their child prior to birth thanks to ultrasound technology. The demand for clothes that are non-gendered is lower and companies step in with specialized clothing that increases their sales.

Parenting outside the mainstream boy/girl dichotomy can seem daunting to say the least. Am I not allowed to think that dress is cute? Is it ok if I put my baby boy in that jumper with the soccer ball on the butt? What do I do when the photographer calls my daughter “princess” for the millionth time?

The desire to not pigeonhole a child into a specific gender based solely on their biological sex is called Gender Neutral Parenting (GNP) and it isn’t easy to know what Gender Neutral Parenting is and is not.

Recently a psychologist named Dr. Keith Ablow stated on Fox & Friends that a woman was “nuts” for giving her son a doll (you can see the video here). Let’s just set aside for a moment the abelism of calling someone “nuts” because you don’t agree with them.

His view of “gender bending” couldn’t be further from the truth and he falls prey to several common myths about Gender Neutral Parenting.

So let’s set the record straight:

Myth #1: Gender Neutral Parenting Is About Androgyny

This myth posits that gender neutral parenting’s goal is to create a genderless world by abolishing all concepts of male or female. Parents only allow non-gendered toys in neutral colors and androgynous clothing.

Reality: Although the 1970s saw a smattering of articles claiming androgyny as the pinnacle of human evolution – the theory that gender roles are completely learned – we now tend to see gender as a blending of biological (nature) and cultural (nurture) influences. Dr. Ablow said parents “wrench [it] in to some kind of non-genderness.”

However, GNP does not seek to force androgyny on children any more than it wishes to force traditional masculinity or femininity on children.

The whole point of GNP is that is doesn’t force any preconceived gender norms onto a child in the hopes that they can find their own comfort spot on the continuum we call gender.

Myth #2: Gender Neutral Parenting Will Make Your Kid Gay

Many organizations, such as Focus on the Family, specifically conflate gender-bending behavior in children as “signs of pre-homosexuality” and recommend interventions to promote “gender-proper” behaviors.

Reality: Most ongoing research points to a strong genetic component to homosexuality. Therefore, being gay is not something a parent can “train” a child to be. Even children raised by lesbian mothers or gay fathers aren’t more likely to be gay themselves. A child’s sexual orientation will be what it will be. Nothing a parent does will change that.

GNP will not influence their sexual orientation but it can have a profound effect on how traumatizing their upbringing is. A child with the freedom to choose their own comfort level on the gender spectrum and the sexuality spectrum will be less likely to be crushed under parental expectations that conflict with their inner life.

The whole point of GNP is that sex – e.g. the assignment at birth based on external genitalia – should not dictate “allowable” behaviors. If you like pink tutus, you should be able to like them with acceptance regardless of your sex.

According to TransActive, 85% of gender bending children/youth are cisgender and identify as heterosexual in adulthood. So, you heard it here. Johnny (or Beckett) wearing nail polish will not make him gay.

Myth #3: Gender Neutral Parenting Is Anti-Feminine Or Anti-Masculine

Dr. Ablow also said, “What’s so bad about kids being able to be masculine and feminine?” His statement implies that GNP suppresses or shames feminine or masculine behaviors.

Reality: Gender Neutral Parenting isn’t “neutral” at all it is about diversity and removing limitations to gender expression.

If we limited girls from wearing pink or boys from playing football, then we would be replacing one set of artificial limits for another.

What we want to do is expose kids to a wide range of gender-types and give them the freedom to explore without judgment those that call to them.

Paige Schilt uses the term “gendery” to define this concept;

Rather than just begrudgingly allowing our children to play with “opposite gender” toys, the gendery parenting paradigm would encourage us to give children the language to think critically about gender binaries and gendered hierarchies.

With this in mind we would not pass judgment on a child’s choices but help them to think critically about the options society presents.

If your daughter proudly proclaims that “dolls are for girls” while playing, instead of correcting her, open a dialogue.

You might find that a friend at school told her dolls are for girls or that someone had teased her about playing with her dinosaur collection. Opening a dialogue is so much more powerful than a room full of gender neutral toys that raise no questions.

Myth #4: Gender Neutral Parenting Is Only For Trans Kids

This myth supposes that Gender Neutral Parenting is only valuable or should only be employed after a child has displayed gender-bending behaviors. GNP helps trans and gender non-conforming kids overcome the pain of being different but it has no value for a cisgender child.

Reality: First, no one knows when a child is born if he/she/they are trans, non-binary, and/or gender non-conforming. According to Transgender Law and Policy Institute, 2-5% of all people are trans and as mentioned above, most gender-bending kids will not be trans as adults.

It is true that GNP will provide a safer and more nurturing environment that’s absent in most trans childrens’ lives. However, cisgender children can also benefit greatly from GNP in two ways.

One, without strict gender rules children tend to find their place on the spectrum that is not so extreme as hyper-masculine or hyper-feminine but instead represent a spectrum of expression that allows children to find their own strengths and weaknesses.

A child might be amazing at construction and become a prominent architect but only if they have access to building toys and the freedom to explore with them.

Secondly, even stereotypically feminine/masculine children raised in a GNP environment will have the ability to critically question gender assumptions and to appreciate the diversity of gender roles.

Myth #5: Gender Neutral Parenting Is A Social Experiment

When families say they won’t divulge the gender of their child, some get in an uproar about “using” kids for political purposes or brainwashing them as some type of science experiment.

Reality: Everything we say and do with our kids is our attempt to teach them to function in the world at large. I want to raise my children to be good people. To me, this does not mean teaching them to tow the line and conform. It means them being strongly feminist with a passion for equality and social justice.

Traditional gendered parenting is every bit as much indoctrination. Gender norms are taught to mold a kid into an adult that fits into society’s definition of the gender binary. Girls wear pink, like to nurture others, and are emotional. Boys don’t cry, play sports, and make money.

Even if you aren’t intentionally trying to train this into them you are by the default of gender suggestions that ubiquitously surround us everyday. Think Barbie saying “Math is Hard” and then ponder why so few women enter science, technology, engineering, and medicine. Think “boys don’t play with baby dolls” and then ponder why men don’t have the same skill level with newborns that women do.

GNP is trying to break down that narrow definition of what a child can be. If that is a political statement then it is one I’m proud to make.

Was buying that pink dress anti-GNP? I don’t think so. As an introspective person, I had an awareness of my gender-laden choice. What if my child who was assigned female at birth doesn’t like dresses? Doesn’t like pink? Doesn’t identify as a girl?

Practicing traditional, gender-biased parenting would be only letting your girls wear pink frilly frocks and making statements that subtly limit the choice. For example, “that’s not girly enough” or “you’d just look adorable in the pink one” all train her to know that mom (and society) expect her to be girly.

It would be just as gender-biased to tease my daughter for wanting to wear pink. For example, rolling my eyes with a “ugh, that is so frilly” could make her feel bad for liking traditionally feminine things.

The main way I strike a balance? I encourage her voice. I try to take my opinions out of the equation.

I’m always looking for an opening to say “which one do you like?” and respecting her choice. I let her tell me what she wants to do with her hair (no forced barrettes and uncomfortable headbands in the name of not being mistaken for a boy).

I engage her in conversations about people’s abilities (e.g. “Why is Alicia your favorite character on Go Diego, Go!”) so she can articulate things beside gender.

I don’t get bent out of shape when photographers call her “princess” but I make sure at home to comment on what a superhero she is when she lifts the garbage bag out of the trash can.

As she gets even older, I can ask “why do you like that one?” and start conversations based on stereotypical answers.

Most parents I know cringe when their seven year old says “that’s for girls.” But really, this is a great opportunity to start a dialog about gender. When the photographer calls her princess, we can later discuss why that is and what it means to be a princess.

And I can let her hear my voice. I’m girly. I own a pink hammer. Not sure if that is nature or nurture but I am self-aware. I’ve let gender-expectations limit me in the past and my growing awareness of it has made me a better person.

Someday, if she asks why pictures of her at 3 months old are an explosion of pink, I’ll tell her that was my way of celebrating her.

Then I’ll tell her that now I celebrate her so much more by watching her learn to celebrate her own unique self.

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