Gender stereotypes are everywhere. As a parent it’s something I’m really conscious of. I don’t want my daughters to think they can’t do something just because they’re girls. This book didn’t really fill me with confidence that this won’t happen, just because those stereotypes are so hard wired into our culture and society that they’re almost impossible to avoid.
There’s a lot of interesting stuff in here, and Spears Brown investigates the so-called differences between genders and debunks a lot of myths about them, going into how the studies that are usually publicised gather and interpret their information (and that those that find no differences between genders aren’t published at all). She evaluates whether there actually are differences between boys and girls and how big those differences are if they exist. Spoilers: there aren’t many and they’re not that big. And yet a lot of schools are basing their teaching of students on these so-called differences, hurting boys and girls alike.
There’s a lot of intro to this book, lots of deep dive into how and why we stereotype and what is and isn’t different about boys and girls, but not as much about how to actually put that into practice and fight against these stereotypes. It boils down to being mindful of stereotypical messages – on toys, clothing, TV etc; altering your language so you’re not focusing on their gender so much – say ‘big kid’ instead of ‘big girl/boy’; and help your kids stop forming those stereotypes themselves by challenging them on it when they use them. If they say ‘all girls like pink’ counter with ‘some girls’ and give examples of those who don’t.
I would have liked some more real life examples or case studies in the book to draw from, especially in how to avoid raising them in stereotypes (since that’s the subtitle of the book). That part just seems shorter/weaker than the rest. It’s also quite a dry book, and I did skip parts that seemed repetitive to me.
But it has made me more conscious of how I talk to my girls. I haven’t been using numbers as often as I probably should. Pointing out how many there of things. My girls are only two, but I should be doing that. As someone who has a hard time with maths (being yelled at and things thrown across the room when you get stuff wrong has that effect…) I don’t want them to struggle like I do. And I don’t want them picking up on my reluctance or unease around numbers. I don’t ever want them to think that boys are better at it naturally either. But I think we’re also doing a lot already to counter the assault of stereotypes. We’re in an easy stage that we can do this – they’re not in school and don’t have peers shoving Barbies down their throats – but we have both ‘boy’ and ‘girl’ toys, we keep them active, I try to avoid pink because my god it is everywhere. But it’s all coming, down the line. According to the book most kids start off exactly the same, same interests and emotions, but once you hit school they start to pick up on those ‘differences’, they’re fed to them daily. And that’s what shapes their behaviour.
As with everything parenting related, I’m gonna try not to fuck it up.