Our generation is faced with this problem, because the only way that we are going to get anywhere near to creating equality amidst the genders is by starting with our kids. The fundamentals are more likely to stick if our children grow up with them. Both sexes suffer greatly from gender inequality. If you think that you are immune to it, then I urge you to take a closer look. I was just discussing with a male friend of mine the other day the pain that he went through in regards to his body image issues, and the fact that men in our society are simply not permitted to have these emotional battles, and it is wrong. I still remember my mother teaching me around age ten how important it is to allow boys to win at sports. Our parents didn’t know any better than to pass the sickness onto us, but we do have the knowledge to prevent us from passing it onto our own children. I want to offer up some simple ideas on where to start.
1. Give up on the pink and blue. It is a trap, and it isn’t good for our kids. It sets up a fundamental categorization system so that by the time that our kids become old enough to be aware of simple differences, like those of color, they are already associating themselves either with the girl or boy group, and everything that goes along with it. Cars or dolls, princesses or pirates, Legos or glitter.
2. Teach your children self-love. It is truly paramount for their wellbeing, and it is something that many parents neglect to see as important. We often only praise our children’s behaviors, and not their selves or the motivations that drive their behaviors. It is important for us to remind our kids how much we respect their kindness, or their curiosity, or their helpfulness.
3. One of the hardest steps for any parent to take is this one: it is important that we stop praising our kids for their physical appearance, and start praising them more for their intellectual and emotional abilities. I know how incredibly difficult it is not to look at the faces of our own children and absolutely melt over their simple beauty, but it does a disservice to them when we gush on and on about it. We need to take a stand and recognize collectively that when we tell a little girl how pretty she is, or tell a little boy what a heart-breaker he is going to be when he grows up, we are actually putting pressure on them to live up to those destructive labels.
4. It is vital that we offer up more gender-neutral options to little boys and girls. If I can inspire just a few more people to be brave enough to start giving little girls model airplanes and science kits on their birthdays, and offer the gift of a baby doll or a plush animal to a boy; I will be truly overjoyed.
5. It is important that we allow our children to explore their individual interests without judging them based on our own gender-biased opinions. Adults will still suggest to a parent that their little boy will end up gay if they keep letting him play dress up, or that their daughter is going to be unpopular in school, because she is obsessed with sharks. As adults, we have seen the results of this type of gender bias in society, and we owe it to our children not to saddle them with the same burden that we have been passing on for generations.