Christmas is over. The paper is off the presents. And now it’s time to play…
My daughter received a vast variety of gifts from Santa. One particular game, Disney Dazzling Princess, is a bit like charades with players choosing cards based upon their knowledge of the Disney Princesses and, with successful answers, earning gemstones to add to tiaras, bracelets and rings. I took the picture above as a fun way to assert my support of my daughter primarily and that it’s ok for dads to play princess dress up with their daughters (or sons for that matter).
Gender socialization starts at birth, and occurs through four major agents of socialization: family, education, peer groups, and mass media. We are all guilty of buying into it to some degree, reinforcing gender roles based on norms, or standards, created by society that we bought into. We like to think it’s organic but by the time a child is three or four they’ve been bombarded. By not allowing our children to define the way they choose to express themselves does them, and others, harm. It’s a constant struggle and I admittedly have a lot to learn. Our family is in someways non-traditional; my wife is the primary breadwinner and I am the primary care giver, I’m the cook and she’s more mechanically inclined, and though in recent years gender roles have softened, there is lingering pushback against non-conformity. Hard gender-based stereotypes form the basis of sexist, prejudiced beliefs. Transgender, genderqueer, and other non-conforming gender people still face discrimination, oppression, and violence for not adhering to society’s traditional gender roles. It’s our families belief this must stop and we wish for our children to be on the right side of progress.
As I’ve stated before, my wife and I long ago consciously decided not to hold our children hostage to the social constructs of gender especially as they play together or with us. In their choices of toys we encourage diversity. Example: our kids love LEGOs and though pink and purple dominates the LEGO Friends line they are decidedly better than cringeworthy domestic sets for girls not that long ago. Typically attitudes and expectations surrounding gender roles are based upon stereotypes, not on any inherent or natural gender differences. In the United States, masculine roles are associated with strength, aggression, and “macho” dominance, while feminine roles are associated with passivity, nurturing, subservience and being “ladylike”. Well, in our home, “ladylike” is knowing your way around a double bladed lightsaber. And that’s just as valid.
We’ve encouraged our kids in being very fluid with overgeneralized societal gender roles both conforming and not as it suits them. For example, my daughter is a Star Wars geek. Highly skilled in the Jedi arts and deadly with her huge collection of plastic lightsabers, she can go blow for blow with her older and physically stronger sibling. My son loves Disney princesses, plays dress up with his little sister, and will sing long sections of “Let it Go” on his sister’s Karaoke machine. He loves pottery, art and has a vast rock collection (mainly assembled after they tumble from his pockets in our washing machine). They both also enjoy what one may describe as “typical” roles like my daughter’s love of all things pink and princesses and my son’s encyclopedic knowledge of superhero mythos. They are both huge fans of Disney Infinity. My son’s favorite character currently is Queen Elsa while my daughter’s is The Hulk.
What do you do when your daughter wants to play the Disney “Dazzling Princess” Game? Same as your son when he tries on a light-up singing Elsa dress. In my household you go with it. Let them take the lead on self-expression and support them. Gender roles are society’s concepts of how men and women are expected to act and are shaped by cultural norms. It’s a social construct that bears little weight in reality. Be conscious of the signals we send to our kids impressionable young minds and hearts. Through them we affirm or change attitudes about the real way they treat people and ultimately how they feel about themselves. If you believe the status quo is wrong, take a stand in support of equality.
Man up and wear your Tiara.
Photo courtesy of the author. Find more from Alex Yarde on The Good Men Project.
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