Gender Stereotypes – Are They Always a Bad Thing?

I have seen so many opinions, strong opinions, concerning the announcement that Target is removing gender labeling from their stores, particularly within the kid departments. While Target is the topic of discussion at the moment, gender neutrality has been an ongoing conversation for some time now. I think anyone who knows me in real life knows I am not politically correct. I am respectful of differing opinions, but my goal is most definitely not to be politically correct! Therefore, this shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to anyone: I have no problem whatsoever with gender stereotypes. *cue gasp*

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Sure, it’s easy to say as the girl who was a dancer throughout high school, who had early dreams of marriage and motherhood, and who married her first real boyfriend. To many, I may seem the epitome of a female gender stereotype, and in many ways, that is a fair assumption. However, you may not know, while growing up I was a huge tomboy. I can remember my mother saying things like, “That’s not ladylike” and responding with, “Well, I’m not a lady!” I enjoyed digging in the mud, swimming in creeks, never wearing shoes, picking scabs, cutting the hair off my barbies (think nice mohawks or general spiky ‘dos), and being determined to be a professional softball player. (No one ever told me that I wasn’t any good at the sport. They should have!) I hated pink and went through a phase where I desperately wanted my name to be Sam or Alex or some other “boy” name. (Think Secret World of Alex Mack on Nickelodeon or Sam from the movie Now & Then). I grew up to be a woman who fully embraces her role as a homemaker but who also put my fiancé turned husband through school for 5 years by working and paying the bills. I get that women can be more than stay at home wives and mothers. Is anyone familiar with the Proverbs 31 woman? That lady was a beast!

Even in my tomboy years, never once do I recall being confused or embarrassed by the fact that I may like a toy in the boy section. If I wanted something in the boy section then I would go and get it. Maybe this was because I was raised to have a high self-esteem and not really care what other people thought of me. I was overweight early on and had my fair share of the “ugly” stage most kids go through. A few years later, I was built like a 25 year old when I was only 12. My point being that I had plenty of reasons to be self conscious, but my value had nothing to do with what others thought of me. Never in a million years would it have bothered me to walk into a “boy” aisle to grab a toy, and my parents certainly never would have kept me out of the aisle, because the sign said “boys” or had blue on it.

I don’t believe gender stereotypes are a bad thing. Most of the stigma is associated with the fact it is a “stereotype” in general, and stereotypes are shunned. As a general rule, I believe some things need to be taught. For instance, I believe both girls and boys need to be taught to do laundry and make an edible meal, but I feel it is primarily a woman’s job in most homes. I believe both girls and boys need to be able to change a tire on a car. Although, you better believe I’m going to pass that job off to my husband when the time comes. Am I capable of doing it? Absolutely. My daddy raised strong, capable daughters. But I also have no problem letting a man lead me and take the bulk of that type of work. In the same way, my husband is extremely capable of making his own meals and washing his own laundry. In our home, as a stay at home mom, that is my role. My girls will assist in cooking and dishes probably more than their brothers will. My boys will be taught early in life to open doors for women and pump gas for women in the car. If my girls want to get down on the floor and join in on the wrestling match, so be it, but my boys will be taught that they may not just attack their sister in a playful manner like they can a brother. In a story depicted by John Alderidge in his popular book Wild at Heart, he explains boys don’t need toy guns and such to play war. As he learned with his own sons, give them crackers and they will bite them into the shape of guns and begin to “shoot” each other. Little boys will find a way to play “Cowboys and Indians” regardless of the toys we give them access to. (What is the politically correct term for this game now?) In other words, boys will be boys, and girls will be girls. Though, sometimes boys play with dolls, girls play with trucks, and there is absolutely no problem with that.

I’ve read many comments such as, “kids will be confused if the toys aren’t labeled,” or the other side, “my kid doesn’t need a label to choose a toy.” I agree with the latter as I do not believe the lack of labels will be confusing. However, I do feel it is not necessary to remove the labels and colors altogether. Have we gone so far out of our way to appease people and be politically correct that having blue signage on an aisle with monster trucks and super heroes is offensive? Is pink signage directing a shopper towards Disney princess dolls unacceptable?

I know all kids play with all toys, especially when a family unit includes boys and girls. I have no problem with this whatsoever. Where I do have a problem is a society that stands so strongly for gender neutrality that anything clearly or even borderline gender specific is unacceptable. If we see a little girl with a baby strapped to her like she sees mom doing with little brother or sister, or we see her doing dishes or helping with dinner, people automatically think “this poor girl is being brainwashed into being a stay at home mom with no choices in life!” That’s absurd! A girl needs to know her way around a kitchen. She needs to know how to calm and care for a baby. Can she know how to change the oil on a car, mow the grass, and build a fort? Absolutely! Knowing one set of skills doesn’t disregard the other. A boy should know how to be a provider and a protector. He should know how to be chivalrous and assist in the heavy lifting so-to-speak when needed. Can he know how to cook a gourmet meal and clean a house top to bottom? Of course! We can teach our kids everything they need and still allow their God-given gender roles to shine.

Will I stop shopping at Target because of this decision? No. Nevertheless, I do feel purposefully attempting to turn off all gender specific roles and stereotypes in society and our homes is a huge mistake and will only lead us farther down a path we should not tread.

What about you? What do you think? Did buying an opposite gender toy bother you as a kid?

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