Friday, May 02, 2014

Parenting Month 42: Gender roles for preschoolers

I need to turn this to get the eye in the project
Making a birdbath at Home Depot
Earlier this month, a girl at church around the same age as T told him that he could not sing songs from Frozen because he is a boy.  Fortunately, his friends at daycare don't care so much about who is singing what.

When T was born, we did not care if T was going to be a boy or girl. When we were given clothes we did not care, figuring a baby can wear lots of pink stuff and not care (we do draw the line at wearing dresses though).  We always figured that kids develop gender roles on their own time, so we did not feel the need to hurry it along. And in the meantime, let him develop a range of interests.

Planting parsley and oregano
But the reason for being deliberate about this is not because of the pre-school years, where things like dresses are merely cute. The issue comes when this is a pattern, when this becomes statements on what someone can and cannot do.  I was talking with an undergraduate whose senior research project I was mentoring about the need to not lose talent because of preconceived notions of what people could do.  Previously I've had those conversations with students about why diversity is important, to increase the pool of talent that can be drawn from (of course, if someone is doing something where there is no problem to find a mindless, unskilled workforce, I can see why diversity is not an issue).

What is the alternative?  When it can become acceptable to viewing entire categories of people as without value and as things unworthy of being considered of worth. When I was in grad school a friend commented that it was of no use to make friends with christian females because they would just get married and end any friendships.  Another friend viewed it as a profound act of disloyalty for believing that his girlfriends life was of value and responding to her calls for help in the backcountry. A pastor declared that a girl I was seeing as well as any other friend of mine were social freaks, while trying to convince me that I was romantically interested in a girl whom I never made it to the point where I could recognizing her name.

The alternative to rejecting gender roles, as presented in this middle-to-upper class American society is to claim that they have nothing to contribute to the wider world.  That there is no need to recognize that a person has views, ideas, thoughts because of her gender.  That there is no value in recognizing a person other than visually, because there is nothing there to learn.

Are there people who want it that way? Certainly. It was certainly promoted by some of my fellow graduate students.  I have heard it in churches, both Chicago and Pittsburgh.  And if there are people who want to be known only as a possession or as something to look at, it is their right.

But that is not the world that I live in. My world is one where the rarity of talent drives its economy. My professional world is one where I've been taught to think about developing talent over years, and things like childrearing are only a small part of that. And it certainly is not useful to think of entire classes of people as freaks or merely eye-candy without individual evaluation.

We had made a choice not to push gender roles before they are needed on our children. It means that they have choices on their interests, hobbies, and careers. And we hope that it means that they will surround themselves with people who they evaluate based on competence and depth of character and insight, not the surface actions of people who do not wish to be anything more than a figure to be viewed from a distance.
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