In Defense Of Gender Stereotypes

My kids are straight-up gender stereotypes.

My 7-year-old son can add up three-digit numbers in his head. He can build a Magnetile structure that Frank Gehry would envy. He is fiercely competitive on the baseball, basketball and soccer fields. He hates being told what to do, makes insensitive comments to his friends and family members and lashes out like Donald Trump whenever he doesn’t get his way. His superpower is his confidence.

My 9-year-old daughter is the teacher’s pet. She read the entire Harry Potter series last summer. She believes in magic and fairies and mermaids and leprechauns. She just tried out to play Veruca Salt in the school play and is writing a screenplay of her own with parts for all of her friends. She only wears dresses and plays with her hair incessantly. She is a pleaser, by nature, and she cries easily when she feels something is wrong. Her superpower is her empathy.

But if I didn’t use pronouns and tell you that one was my son and one was my daughter, I think it would be largely obvious which one was which.

These are just two children. But if I didn’t use pronouns and tell you that one was my son and one was my daughter, I think it would be largely obvious which one was which.

(Except in the many cases where it’s NOT obvious.)

Which brings me to this article: Like Tomboys and Hate Girlie Girls? That’s Sexist.

Because I have a girlie girl daughter, I don’t want to make her “wrong” for quitting soccer or not caring about the outcome of board games like my competitive son. But there’s a lot of backlash to promoting “femininity” in a world where masculine is perceived as good. Says the NYT piece:

“Why are some of us so disapproving of feminine girls and so approving of masculine ones?

The answer is that we have internalized a kind of sexism that values masculinity in both boys and girls, just as it devalues femininity in them.

But perhaps my culture of lefty liberals has a problem. While there is a proven and troubling connection between preferences for traditional femininity and girls’ low self-esteem, liberals’ hand-wringing over girlie girls could be an overcorrection, a backfired strain of third-wave feminism.

Believe me, I’m giving my daughter books about strong women. We’re watching Jessie Graf on American Ninja Warrior. She knows the history of treating women as second-class citizens and is a natural-born feminist. But she’s still very much a girlie girl. And I don’t want to pathologize her sensitivity and proclivity for feminine things – which, by the way, makes her just like her mom. Continues the article:

“While some scholars have argued that masculine women are lowest on the social totem pole, with their inherent lack of power in the world and their failure to live up to impossible standards of beauty, masculinity still carries prestige and femininity carries the whiff of subjugation, regardless of the gender it’s applied to.

In our attempt to free ourselves from the history of women’s oppression, we may have internalized a sexism that makes us want to shut off whole strains of items and experiences — to steer clear of pink or ballet or lipstick — and to associate the feminine with the bad. Some of that is because we do not want our kids to pick up on the messages usually cleaved to those things, that a girl must be a decorated object, pleasing to the male gaze. The original Barbie, after all, is anorexically thin, white, blond and literally unable to stand on her own two feet. But some of it is unexamined.

The problem is the way we devalue anything that’s associated with women and girls. All children are better off when we don’t stand in the way of what makes them happy because of our own gendered prejudices.”

The moral of the story isn’t that stereotyping is good. Men can be stereotypically feminine. Women can be stereotypically masculine. The argument is that it’s okay for men to act like male stereotypes and women to act like female stereotypes. There’s nothing wrong with being what you are.

Your thoughts, below, are greatly appreciated.

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