Can someone please tell me why our generation of parents has decided to turn back the clock and raise our children with 1950s gender expectations? Or has our generation forgotten to even think about how we want to raise our children with regards to gender? As a psychologist and a researcher, my opinions about gender difference are based on the data and the data says this: psychological gender differences are few, small and statistical only. By ‘statistical only’, I mean that there are psychological differences between the average man and the average woman but there are no psychological differences between all men and all women e.g. on average men are more physically aggressive than women but plenty of men are not physically aggressive at all and many women are. As a human being, I believe that regardless of sex, gender, race, disability, sexual orientation or anything else, every single person on this planet is worthwhile and deserves basic human rights, personhood, equal opportunities, freedom to pursue their own happiness and to be understood on their own terms as a unique individual. In becoming a parent, I was determined to raise my children with this same belief and to raise my children, whether they be sons or daughters, with each and every door held wide open. So I expected to clash at times with contemporary gender roles. But I didn’t expect to find myself clashing with out-dated gender roles that have been resurrected and applied to children. You may share my views on gender and human rights, or you may not. Perhaps you are happy with the current gender status quo that two waves of feminism have given us. But my question remains; why are we, as a generation, raising our children with more extreme gender roles than with what we are living? Within our generation there are many of us who aren’t in the least alarmed, or even surprised, by a man cooking, or cleaning, or taking care of a baby, or pursuing a career as a teacher or a nurse or by a woman mowing the lawn, or building a cabinet or pursuing a career as an engineer, or a doctor or a mechanic. Most of us react positively to these violations of traditional gender roles. Many of us barely react at all — it is just life as we know it! So then why are cars and tools still found in a boy’s aisle in toy shops? Why are so many toy dolls and kitchen utensils still pink? Why do fathers who happily push their own babies in prams not want their sons imitating them with a baby doll and a toy pram? Why do mothers who passionately defend their own right to be taken seriously rather than judged on their appearance give their daughters so many appearance-based compliments? Maybe you are like me and want to raise your children to live in a world filled with open doors, regardless of what is between their legs. Or perhaps you want to maintain the gender status quo. But can we as a generation, at the very least, agree to make the current status quo the minimum? If we, as a generation, think that a man settling a baby is acceptable, even desirable, then we should also give our sons baby dolls so they can start practising and understanding, from an early age, that settling a baby is a skill that we expect men to have. If we don’t, we may find that we have passed onto our children less social progress than we ourselves inherited from our own parents. We may live to see our own children confused, ill-prepared for the modern world and accusing us of hypocrisy.
Apply it to your life: What are your beliefs about gender roles? Are your expectations of young boys and girls in line with your expectations of adult men and women? Are they in line with the kind of world you yourself wish to live in?
Summary of research on gender difference: Hyde (2005) The gender similarities hypothesis. American Psychologist, 60 (6), 581-592. DOI: 10.1037/0003-066X.60.6.581